Best of January: The top things we ate in SWFL

Will Watts

We started out the new year eating somewhere new; followed that off with some waterside dining in the Esplanade; visited an old-fashioned ice cream shop and a grill just off the greens and the Island’s best barbecue.

It was a January that broke resolutions and added to the waistline, but so worth it. I give you, the best of January.

Breakfast offerings from the Lakeside Eatery, Marco Island.

Lakeside Eatery, Marco Island

As you may or may not know, most of the breakfast/lunch places close at 2; but one of the island’s newest eateries give you an extra hour and that’s just the beginning of the amazing discoveries we found at Lakeside Eatery.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Lakeside Eatery brings something new to the table

The “build your own two-egg sandwich” option allows you to pick from white bread, multi-grain, rye, a croissant or wrap for $4; and you can add cheese and bacon, ham, sausage or avocado (which brings the price to $6). I selected cheddar cheese, bacon and avocado in the form of a wrap while my

partner in dine selected cheddar cheese and sausage on toasted multigrain bread. We also decided to share a breakfast quesadilla featuring eggs, cheese and bacon ($6.50).

Each item arrived at our table as a work of art. Many dining experiences these days can appear as if it was hastily prepared and rushed to the table – even if you’ve waited 30 minutes or more for it. But these dishes appeared to be done with care.

The two-egg dishes came with a side of strawberries; the quesadilla had a pico-like side that included bits of avocado.

More:Photos: The Lakeside Eatery, 2019

All the ingredients appeared fresh. Nothing was overcooked or under cooked; always a plus. And the food itself hit the spot; just what we were looking for.

The Mongolian pork ribs appetizer from Mango's Dockside Bistro, Marco Island.

Mango’s Dockside Bistro, Marco Island

Mango’s Dockside Bistro at the Esplanade Shoppes on Marco Island is the perfect stop for an evening of waterside dining while enjoying the Gulf breeze.

We enjoyed the Mongolian pork ribs (baby back ribs with a hoisin sauce, which is a thick and fragrant sauce – think syrupy soy – with ginger and garlic, $14).

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Something for everyone at Mango’s Dockside Bistro

I also had the veggie and black bean burger ($12), served on a brioche bun, a real plus. The patty was a little loose, typical with this type of burger, but the taste was superb. You won’t miss “real” meat.

We also enjoyed the “Boom Boom” shrimp salad ($16), fried shrimp in spicy sauce with blue cheese crumbles, cucumber, tomatoes and toasted almonds on mixed greens with a buttermilk ranch dressing.

On the sweet side, we sampled Mango’s signature strawberry “not-so-shortcake” ($8). This dessert is big enough to share, with dual of delicious sponge cake, a syrupy strawberry compote goodness and heavy whip cream. A must try!

The Californian from Hammock Grill, South Naples.

Hammock Grill, South Naples

We ventured off island (just barely) for a new dining experience, at least for us – the Hammock Bay Grill, located in the JW Marriott Marco Island’s country club and golf course inside Hammock Bay on Mainsail Drive.

So, your first thought might be, isn’t this only for members. And the answer is no. Everyone’s welcome. But this is not a commercial establishment, in the sense that the grill does not actively solicit customers.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: A fresh twist at Hammock Grill

We sampled the quarterback sliders ($16; may not be available now that Football season is over); four mini Angus burgers with cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato and crispy battered French fries. We also tried some house-made potato chips and house-made onion dip.

For my entrée, I picked the classic club ($14); thinly sliced turkey breast, applewood bacon, lettuce, tomato and citrus mayo, on three slices of thick white toasted bread (quartered) and served with a pickle wedge. This sandwich was huge and delicious.

More:Photos: Hammock Grill, 2020

My partner in dine selected “The Californian” ($15); blackened chicken with avocado, bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo and – wait for it – a fried egg – served on a naan. Huge! Fresh! Amazing! What a unique sandwich!

Ribs, pulled pok, chicken, corn on the cob, baked beans and cole slaw from Michelbob's, Marco Island.

Michelbob’s Championship Ribs & Steaks, Marco Island

We ordered a full rack of ribs ($18.99) from Michelbob’s Championship Ribs & Steaks. Dinners come with your choice of baked potato, potato salad or corn on the cob and cole slaw, baked beans and grilled garlic toast.

We also added the pulled pork and chicken breast combo ($13.49) For our sides this trip, and with two combos, we had a baked potato (which came with a packet of sour cream), two ears of corn, two cole slaws, two baked beans and a couple of garlic toasts.

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We were also supplied with butter and generous servings of both sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. This food is simply out of this world.

Underneath the smoke and sauces, the secret to Michelbob’s success might just be the meat, which is imported from Denmark. The pulled pork is some of the best I’ve ever had. The ribs are falloff- the-bone delicious with or without the sauce and the chicken breast is a tender, boneless delight. As for the sides; the potato, while petit, is packed with flavor. The corn is juicy and delicious. And even if you’re not a fan of baked beans, you’ll become one when you try these.

A scoop of non-dairy coffee almond fudge (bottom) and a scoop of “Twixie” (with bits of Twix bar in it) in a waffle bowl from Sweet Annie's, Marco Island.

Sweet Annie's, Marco Island

The sweetest place on Marco Island; that’s saying a lot. But I believe I’ve found it. As the name so rightfully indicates, Sweet Annie's of Marco has something delicious in store.

Before pondering over the many selections, you’ll first need to pick a cone or bowl. There are waffle cones, sugar cones, cake cones and even gluten-free cake cones. Something for everyone.    

Next, you’ll need to pick from one or more of the 47 flavors.

More:Food Finds: The sweetest place on Marco Island

I selected a scoop of the non-dairy coffee almond fudge, for the health conscious person I’d like to be, and a scoop of “Twixie” (with bits of Twix bar inside) for the “real” me. And those scoops resided in a waffle cone bowl.      

My friend had a scoop of the “Daiquiri Ice” and a scoop of the toasted coconut, also in a waffle cone.

What can I tell you about the ice cream? Firstly, it has a homemade quality to it. It’s dense, like a quality ice cream should be; not whipped up and airy.

Due to the rich flavor, you won’t be able to tell the non-dairy coffee almond fudge from the regular coffee almond fudge. It’s that good. The Twixie is just as it sounds, a candy-coated good time. Well, ok, maybe not coated. But it sounds better than a candy-bar-crumbled-into-a-million-bits good time.

More:Photos: Sweet Annie's of Marco, 2020

The “Daiquiri Ice” was blue. Not my cup of tea, or ice cream; but my friend liked it. The toasted coconut on the other hand was simply stellar.

Sweet Annie’s will take you back in time to relive those days of yore. And the service? Top notch!   

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More:Hey Marco Island, looking for a place to eat?

This newspaper pays for all meals related to dining reviews. We do not solicit or accept free food.

If you go

The Lakeside Eatery

  • 2 Marco Lake Dr #1, Marco Island
  • 239-970-0812
  • Open from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., Monday through Friday

Mango's Dockside Bistro

  • Located in the Esplanade, 760 N Collier Blvd # 109, Marco Island
  • 239-393-2433
  • mangosdocksidebistro.com

Hammock Bay Grill

  • 1370 Borghese Ln, Naples
  • 239-394-2511
  • marriott.com

Michelbob’s Championship Ribs & Steaks

  • 915 N. Collier Boulevard, Marco Island
  • 239-394-0302
  • www.michelbobs.com

Sweet Annie's of Marco

  • Located in Island Plaza, 692 Bald Eagle Dr., Marco Island
  • 239-642-7180
  • sweetanniesicecreammarcoisland.com