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

Will Watts
Correspondent

In December, we tried something old that became something new, something bready and something that made us blue. We featured three Marco Island establishments, one of which was a first-time to this column and one South Naples chain restaurant.

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

Smith House, Marco Island

Something old has become something new in Olde Marco. The family-run Smith House has some striking similarities to a 30-year business recently shuttered at Tigertail Beach. And for good reason, the Smith in Smith House is Tony Smith, the concessionaire who walked away from that business after failed negotiations with the county and to the chagrin of many Islanders.

At Smith House you’ll find a host of lighter fare, vegan and vegetarian options, gluten-free bread, as well as some unique dishes, like the Collard-Green “Pastra-mi” melt that features spiced-braised collard greens with coleslaw, Swiss cheese and cherry pepper dressing on toasted rye bread and shrimp and grits.

Breakfast/brunch selections include huevos rancheros, an array of breakfast sandwiches, omelets, Benedicts, scrambles, skillets and griddle favorites such as French toast, Belgian waffles and pancakes.

Lunch entrees include grass-fed burgers, beer-battered fish and chips, coconut shrimp, chicken or tuna salad croissants, among others.

The menu also includes a soup of the day, salads and other lighter fare like avocado toast ($9), made on gluten-free seed bread and featuring fresh-sliced avocado, tomato, radish and cilantro and topped with chia, flax and hemp seed. This dish is both a thing of beauty and a health-bomb to start your day. I highly recommend this dish.

From the omelets section of the menu, I picked the Xaviar ($12), with features mushrooms, garlic, asparagus and Brie cheese. You can pick your toast, a bagel, croissant or English muffin to accompany your eggs, and either homestyle potatoes, hash browns or fruit as your side.

First the omelet: absolutely amazing. This is a great blend of ingredients and it was perfectly produced with no breaks or undercooked spots. Two thumbs up!

My dining companion decided to build his own omelet ($9.50), picking red peppers, mushrooms, provolone cheese and a plant-based sausage. First, kudos for offering plant-based options. This dish scored rave reviews.

He also ordered the steel-cut oats ($9) which were topped with walnuts, brown sugar, fresh fruit and topped with chia, flax and hemp seed. Amazing! These folks know how to make healthy appetizing.

Smith House is in the former Petit Soleil at the Shops of Olde Marco and is currently open from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., daily. Check ‘em out! You won’t be disappointed.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: Familiar face opens new place in Olde Marco

The Speakeasy, Marco Island

We started off with the amazing French onion soup ($6.99). It’s not the easiest carryout order, but worth it. The bread. The cheese. The onion broth. What a heavenly combination.

I also had the Caesar salad ($8.99) and added blackened shrimp ($7). There were like seven shrimp on the salad, so I was thrilled. The dressing is nice and tangy, just like I like it. The croutons could use a little work, but that’s a minor detail.

My dining companion had the Caprese salad ($12.99) featuring sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, sliced onions and basil, all of which is drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. A work of art!

The blackened salmon ($22.99) topped with a lemon butter beurre blanc sauce and served with sautéed spinach and your choice of potatoes (in this case French fries) is a bit on the pricey side, but this dish is a solid performer with lots of visual appeal. And the sauce is a must try.

Talk about amazing: The cheese curds ($7.99) which comes with a side of chipotle ranch. These are the best curds I’ve had on Marco Island; and may be the best in Southwest Florida. A must try.

Then there’s the white spinach pizza ($19.95) featuring oil, garlic, mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Those islands of ricotta stole the show. Amazing!

The speakeasy’s comfortable atmosphere and wide assortment of dishes offers something for everyone. So, if the kids want pizza, you want fish and the hubby wants burgers … no problem!

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: The Speakeasy has something for everyone

Panera Bread, South Naples

Quality ingredients. If that’s important to you, you’ll like Panera Bread. We ordered online for rapid pickup, and yes, just 10 minutes later are sizable order was done. One of the perks of modern technology. You can also have your food delivered or schedule for curbside pickup.

Scoring high on the yum scale, the “Baja Bowl” ($9.19). It’s a Mexican-inspired vegetarian rice and quinoa bowl with black bean and corn salsa, salsa verde, avocado and feta cheese. The avocado chunks were huge and the dish, as a whole, was so satisfying.

My dining companion opted for the Mediterranean bowl ($9.19) featuring cilantro-lime long-grain brown rice, a mix of red and golden quinoa on a bed of arugula, red grape tomatoes, kalamata olives, diced cucumbers, hummus, a lemon tahini dressing, feta crumbles and whole-milk Greek yogurt with a squeeze of lemon. This dish earned rave reviews. I highly recommend it.

We also shared a whole Mediterranean veggie sandwich ($5.69) featuring zesty sweet peppadew piquant peppers, feta, cucumbers, emerald greens, vine-ripened tomatoes, red onions, hummus, salt, and pepper on tomato basil bread. I had never had a vegetarian sandwich before. But let me tell you, with this one, you won’t miss the meat. Yummy!

Conclusion: If you’re looking for the more wholesome side of food on the go, you can’t go wrong with Panera Bread.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: Panera Bread – The lighter side of to-go

Pinchers, Marco Island

Located in the Marco Walk Plaza, if you’re wanting to avoid crowds, avoid this place on the weekend.

We started by sharing the grouper nuggets ($14) and “Boom Boom” shrimp ($15). The nuggets are flash fried bites of “local” grouper served with a side of “Boom Boom” sauce. They have a muddy flavor, much like catfish. The batter is light and tasty.

One might think the shrimp are modeled after Bonefish Grill’s “Bang Bang” shrimp. I hoped so. But I did not see any relation. These shrimps were soaked, not seasoned, and the sauce is just not up to par.

I sampled the “Famous” fish and chips ($15). The dish features Alaskan Pollocked served with fries and coleslaw (you can substitute the sides).

This dish is huge! The fish was cooked just right. The fries were delicious. I was surprised that this dish doesn’t come with a couple of hush puppies. Maybe I’m thinking of Long John Silvers or Captain D’s or Red Lobster or every other fish and chips dish served in the world.

My dining companion enjoyed the mahi mahi ($19). You can get it fried, grilled, broiled or blackened. He chose the latter. It comes with two sides. He picked the garlic mashed potatoes and the “locally grown” green beans. This dish was the most visually appealing and earned the highest marks of the night. The entire meal was cooked and packed to perfection.

For our dessert, the crab Rangoon ($13), handmade fried dumplings stuffed with blue crab, cream cheese and green onion and drizzled with “Asian sauce” and side of sweet chili for dipping. Yummy!

It’s good that Pinchers is neighbor to so many hotels. I can see it as a good place for visitors, but I doubt too many locals go there. That’s my way of saying, it’s not bad, but it’s not great either.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: Panera Bread – The lighter side of to-go

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

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

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

If you go

Smith House

  • Shops of Olde Marco, 210 Royal Palm Drive, Marco Island
  • 239-389-8414 
  • facebook.com/SmithHouseMarcoIsland

The Speakeasy

  • 1106 N. Collier Blvd, Marco Island
  • 239-970-2929
  • speakeasymarco.com

Panera Bread

  • 12720 Tamiami Trail E., Naples
  • 239-963-0351 
  • panerabread.com

Pinchers

  • 591 S. Collier Blvd, Marco Island
  • 239-970-5391
  • pinchersusa.com