Best of November: Here are the top things we ate in SWFL

Will Watts
Correspondent

In November, things came in pairs. We featured two Marco Island establishments, and two from South Naples. We welcomed two chains, Tropical Smoothie Café on Marco Island and Wendy’s opened in South Naples.

Here’s the best things we ate during the past month. Happy eating!

Thai Thai Sushi Bowl, South Naples

Thai Thai Sushi Bowl is located in the Naples Outlet Mall. I started out with my one of my new favorites, the “Tom Kha Soup” ($5.99). It features an aromatic infusion of kaf-fir lime leaves (an essential ingredient for cooking authentic Thai food), lemongrass, galangal (closely related to ginger and turmeric), mushrooms, scallions and cilantro in a hot and sour spicy broth with coconut milk. The broth is like what you’d find in a red curry dish. Simply put: this soup is amazing and will leave you wanting more.

I also ordered the “Super Crunch Roll” ($15.99) from the sushi bar. It’s a deep-fried roll of salmon, eel, imitation crab, cream cheese, masago and scallions with eel sauce and spicy mayo. So naughty. So good.

For my entrée, I had the basil fried rice ($15) with fried tofu as my protein. The rice is sautéed with basil leaves, bell peppers, onions, scallions and a spicy chili garlic sauce. The basil flavor is subtle. The tofu bits are huge. All told, a solid meal and a big enough serving for two.

My dining companion started with a simple green salad ($6.99) featuring a ginger dressing and the “Fresh Spring Roll” ($9.99) featuring cooked shrimp, fresh salad, krab, kanpyo (dried shavings of Lagenaria siceraria, a variety of calabash gourd), avocado, cucumber and Thai herbs wrapped in soft rice paper and served with peanut sauce. He gave high marks to both dishes.

For his entrée, he partook of the blue crab fried rice ($20.99), rice sautéed with blue crab, egg, onion, peas, scallions carrots and featuring a brown sauce. Another solid performer.

Fresh and refreshing: The food is fresh, and you can tell that attention is paid to the details.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: The details define Thai Thai Sushi Bowl

Ciao Bella, Marco Island

Craving Italian? Ciao Bella is one of my favorites on Marco Island, Ciao Bella Ristorante Italiano.

We start with the antipasti or appetizers, picking the “Mozzarella en Carrozza” ($9.95), fried mozzarella over marinara sauce, and the eggplant rollatini ($10.95), eggplant slices stuffed with ricotta and topped with mozzarella and marinara sauce.

If you like cheese sticks, consider the “Mozzarella en Carrozza” a level up (or two, or three). Imagine a giant cheese stick in the shape of toast and cut into triangles. Amazing! And the sauce? Just the best! Drooling!

The eggplant rollatini is a tasty treat too! It reminds me, in flavor, of one of my favorite Mexican dishes, chile relleno. My only regret is that I didn’t have more!

For my main entrée, I had the gnocchi gorgonzola ($19.95), featuring potato pasta in a sauce of cream, butter and gorgonzola cheese. This dish is decadent and delicious, one of the best dishes featuring gnocchi that I’ve ever had.

My dining companion selected the stuffed shells ($19.95) as his main dish. It features giant shells filled with ricotta and topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. A true mark of a great restaurant, turning such simple ingredients into a masterful dish. I highly recommend this entrée.

In addition to the high quality, Ciao Bella is one of the more reasonably priced sit-down restaurants on Marco Island. Hello Ciao Bella, we see you!

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: Craving Italian? Ciao Bella is the real deal

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Tropical Smoothie Café is a a national chain you’ll find all over Collier County, and now in the under-renovation Marco Town Center.

When it’s got smoothie in the name, you’d be hard-pressed not to order one. From the “balanced fusion smoothie” collection, I picked the “Lean Machine” ($5.99) featuring strawberries, banana, “fat burner” and an “energizer.”

You can definitely taste the featured fruit, with the banana coming on strongest. I liked this smoothie because it didn’t taste too sweet and was very refreshing. I’ll try it again soon.

My dining companion had the seasonal cranberry truffle smoothie ($5.99) from the featured products menu. It features strawberries, cranberries, Ghirardelli white chocolate and non-fat yogurt and is served with a strawberry flavored edible straw. This one is on the sweet and would make for a great dessert or treat.

During our visit we tried the “Smoky Mozza Grilled Cheese” ($5.99) featuring fresh mozzarella, white American cheese, bacon and smoked tomato spread on toasted sourdough bread. The

price includes a choice of side: chips, whole fruit, or kale and apple slaw. We picked the kale and apple slaw that while petit is packed with goodness and flavor.

The bread is amazing and yes, there are chunks of mozzarella inside.

We also tried the “Smoky-Cado Grilled Cheese” ($6.29) featuring white American cheese, a firehouse cheese blend, bacon, smoked tomato spread and smashed avocado on toasted sourdough bread.

Both are a nice departure from the traditional grilled cheese. You can’t go wrong here.

We also enjoyed the three-cheese chicken quesadilla ($4.99) featuring grilled chicken, queso blanco, cheddar and a smoked cheese blend all on a flour tortilla, served with roasted tomato salsa.

While the salsa is not the best we’ve ever had, the quesadilla is a solid performer. This place knows its cheese.

One of the best things I ate from the cafe was the ultimate club ($7.29) from the sandwich menu featuring ham, turkey, bacon, swiss cheese, shredded parmesan, tomatoes, romaine and a chipotle mayo on a ciabatta roll. The bread was fresh and delicious, and the ingredients were tried and true. It was amazing.

I also had the Baja chicken wrap ($7.29) featuring grilled chicken, rice, black beans, smashed avocado, romaine, pickled red onions, cheddar and roasted tomato salsa. While the overall taste wasn’t bad, the blend was not as appealing as it sounds.

My dining companion went with the hummus veggie bowl ($7.29). In addition to the namesake ingredient, it features smashed avocado, pepper jack cheese, romaine, rice, black beans, pickled red onions, tomatoes and a lite ranch dressing. This dish earned high marks. His best dish of the night.

He also picked a peanut butter crunch flatbread ($3.99) featuring peanut butter, banana, granola and honey. And yes, it is as good as it sounds. Don’t miss this one.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe puts a healthy twist on comfort food. And in today’s world, that’s needed more than ever.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: Healthy comfort food at Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Wendy’s, South Naples 

Fast food. I eat it now and again. I’m not sure why though. It’s typically not good for you. It never looks as advertised. And you rarely feel good after eating it. Alas, crave it we do.

And for those of us with a craving, there’s a new fast food option in South Naples. I should say a new location for an old favorite: Wendy’s.

This Wendy’s is the most modern one in Collier County. There’s a nice spot for outdoor dining. Upon entry there’s a staffed register as well as electronic ordering stations. You can also order ahead on your phone for pickup inside or at the drive through. The indoor dining area is cozy.

One thing – as if there’s just one – that sets Wendy’s apart from its counterparts is the chili. Not only one of the best in fast food, but customizable. It’s served hearty and mild, with crackers, and for those who need a little kick, a packet of hot sauce to spice things up. Or several packets.

I was also looking forward to Wendy’s “Pretzel Bacon Pub Cheeseburger” ($5.69), a quarter-pound of fresh, never- frozen beef (Wendy’s famous square patty), a warm beer cheese sauce, Applewood smoked bacon, smoky honey mustard, crispy fried onions, pickles, and a slice of muenster cheese all on an extra soft pretzel bun. The burger was the bomb! And kind of fancy for a fast food joint.

Even though I had a single, you can double or even triple your patties.

This sandwich also comes with lightly breaded or grilled chicken. And you can’t go wrong with either.

Unlike many fast food establishments, Wendy’s offers a host of big fresh-made salads.

I took home the “Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad” ($6.69) featuring a signature lettuce blend, pepper jack cheese, diced tomatoes, cool and creamy avocado, Applewood smoked bacon, and grilled chicken breast, all topped with southwest ranch dressing. And yes, it’s zesty! The chicken was all white meat, the salad was big, delicious and satisfying.

My dining companion had the “Apple Pecan Chicken Salad” ($6.09) with the lettuce blend, crisp red and green apples, dried cranberries, roasted pecans, crumbled blue cheese and grilled chicken breast l, all topped with a pomegranate vinaigrette. Where else you going to get a salad like this in a drive through? Amazing!

In addition to the typical soft drinks, Wendy’s also has their famous Frosty. But I went a different direction, ordering off Wendy’s coffee menu. I had a vanilla “Frosty-ccino.” And it truly hit the spot. Just keep stirring it, or the flavor of the last half will suffer.

As fast food chains go, I’m happy to welcome Wendy’s to South Naples. The restaurant is located in the Tamiami Crossing’s shopping center.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: Wendy brings her old-fashioned burgers to South Naples

This newspaper pays for all meals related to dining reviews. We do not solicit or accept free food. Not all dishes are featured in print, but you can find a gallery of all reviewed dishes online at marconews. com.

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

If you go

Thai Thai Sushi Bowl

  • 6060 Collier Blvd., Naples
  • 239-732-9520
  • thaithaius.com

Ciao Bella Ristorante Italiano

  • 1000 North Collier, Marco Island
  • 239-970-0505
  • ciaobellamarcoisland.com

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

  • Marco Town Center Mall, 1093 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island
  • 239-970-8866
  • tropicalsmoothiecafe.com

Wendy’s

  • 13030 Tamiami Trail E., Naples
  • 239-774-0089
  • wendys.com