Best of June: The top things we ate in SWFLA

Will Watts
Correspondent

June marked the return of raining season and while it may have been pouring down outside, we were comfortable and cozy dining inside and celebrating good meals with friends and family. It’s a nice place to return too.

Here’s the best things we ate this month.

CJ’s on the Bay, Marco Island

CJ’s On The Bay is a great place to spend a leisurely afternoon. We decided to do things a little different this time. You see, CJ’s is a Blue Zones Project approved restaurant featuring a variety of plant-based options. There are items throughout the menu with a blue check mark to make healthier choices easier.

Everything we selected for the review had that little blue check mark.

Things got off to an appetizing start with CJ’s hummus ($11.49). Made with garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic and cumin, it’s served with sliced whole wheat pita, cucumbers, carrots and celery. The restaurant offers three hummus toppings: classic, roasted red pepper, spicy or black bean and corn.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Were friends, family share good food

We picked the roasted red pepper which was a beautiful and tasty puree. The hummus was super fresh and delicious with all the dippers, although I was partial to the pitas.

My dining companion picked the “Crunchy Kale Salad” ($11.99) featuring Julienne kale, garbanzo beans, cucumber, broccoli, a grape tomato medley, red onion, dried cranberries and a peppadew vinaigrette. This dish earned rave reviews, especially the dressing.

For my main entrée, I selected the Beyond burger ($14.99), a plant-based “burger,” topped with lettuce, tomato and onion and served on a whole wheat bun. I had mine topped with a slice of pepperjack cheese. I’ve had Beyond burgers before, but this was perhaps the thickest.

I won’t pretend this is just like real meat, but the Beyond is the closest we have to date. The taste is amazing and there’s a bit less guilt associated with this one. And I think you’ll find the way CJ’s uses the Beyond meat is better than most restaurants.

My partner in dine picked the “Veggie Wrap” ($11.49) featuring portabella mushrooms, hummus, bell peppers, carrots, green onions, tomatoes, pepperoncini, and micro greens. You can add feta, goat cheese, avocado or chicken for an extra charge. He added feta and avocado. You can have it in a whole wheat tortilla or in a lettuce bed. The ingredients were super fresh and the tortilla, which was quite tasty, was packed. I highly recommend this dish.

Our waitress for this trip was very attentive, checking on us often. The entire staff is all smiles. Every seat has a water view, there’s an indoor and outdoor bar, and the restaurant features some beautiful artwork inside.

For more on Blue Zones, visit bluezonesproject. com.

Full review:'Watts for Dinner’: CJ’s on the Bay – you’re about to enter the Blue Zone

Marek’s Bar & Bistro, Marco Island

Marek’s Bar & Bistro in Olde Marco is located in the historic Collier House (the home of William “Captain Bill” Collier, the first postmaster of Marco Island and the son of Marco’s fist permanent settler, William Collier, outside the Calusa Indians). The building is beautifully restored, light and airy with interesting nooks and crannies at just about every turn.

Things got off to an appetizing start with the “Coral Reef Calamari” ($11) featuring a “sun-blushed” tomato sauce and the “Wild Mushroom Risotto” ($14) featuring a creamy risotto, truffle oil and parmesan shavings. Three things stood out about the calamari. First there were only tubes. Love that! My fav! Second, the light and amazing tempura-like breading and lastly, the incredible sauce. In other words, everything about this dish stood out.

We also had the appetizer-size “Wild Mushroom Risotto” (it also comes as an entrée). This was perhaps my favorite dish of the night. So creamy! So colorful. I savored every bite.

For my main entrée, I picked a dish from the specials list, the seafood pasta ($30) featuring assorted fish, crab, shrimp and mussels in a white wine garlic cream sauce over fettuccini. That sauce was the star of the show. Put it in a glass and I’d drink it. It was also impressive just how much seafood there was in this dish. My compliments to the chef.

My partner in dine selected the garlic jumbo shrimps and scallops ($29) and served with your choice of side: steamed vegetables, stir-fry veggies, rice, mashed potatoes, fries or scallop stack potatoes. He picked the latter. Another incredible blend of flavors that was as nice to look at as to eat.

The wait staff is kind, patient and always checking in. And the kitchen is filled with talented artisans.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: A seafood soiree at Marek's Marco Island

Arturo’s Bistro, Marco Island

At Arturo's Bistro, things got off to a cheesy start with the French onion soup ($6). It comes covered in cheese that coats nearly the entire bowl. You can see fresh herbs on top, and large bits of tasty bread inside.

For my main entrée, I selected the eggplant parmigiana ($21), featuring seasoned eggplant, baked with marinara sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese and is served with a side of spaghetti.

This dish is huge. And it’s one of those dishes that just satisfies. So delicious. And the pasta? Cooked to perfection.

My partner in dine picked the porcini mushroom and goat cheese ravioli ($24), topped with a creamy wild mushroom sauce and truffle oil drizzle. This dish was amazing. The flavors blend into a perfect symphony. I highly recommend this dish. You can add chicken ($6), shrimp ($8) or salmon ($10). He picked the latter. And while the salmon earned rave reviews, he admitted that this pasta dish didn’t need it or anything else.

The dining room is cozy. The employees always seem happy to see you and deliver service with a smile, that you can almost see through the masks. And from the bread that’s delivered to your table upon being seated to your last bite, you’ll be smiling too!

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: A symphony of flavor from Arturo’s Bistro

The Oyster Society, Marco Island

The Oyster Society on Marco Island has something for everyone. A raw bar, seafood and pasta dishes and so much more.  

We had two rolls from the sushi bar, the “Dragon” ($24) and the “Scorpion” ($25), the latter was on the “specials” for the day. The “Dragon” features shrimp tempura, asparagus, spicy blue crab and cream cheese on the inside; avocado, shredded krab stick, a spicy aioli, kabayaki sauce and crispy beet strings on the outside. The “Scorpion” roll features shrimp tempura, crab, cucumber and avocado inside and torched tuna, tempura flakes sesame seeds, a volcano sauce and eel sauce outside.

Both sushi rolls were gigantic and tasted amazing. You could tell the ingredients were fresh and were made with care.

For my main entrée, I selected the “Pistachio Chilean Sea Bass” ($40). This filet is huge and cooked lightly. It sits atop a Tuscan bean and shrimp ragout, broken olive oil and a basil purée. If you are careful, no two bites are the same. I highly recommend this dish.

My partner in dine picked the “Society Scampi” ($39) featuring king crab and shrimp, a Thai basil pesto, garlic and oil, linguine, spinach, parmesan and botarga (a delicacy of salted, cured fish roe, typically of the grey mullet or the bluefin tuna). This hearty dish won high praise.

Try The Oyster Society today. You’ll likely apply for a lifetime membership. Happy eating!

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: Sign me up for lifetime membership to The Oyster Society

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:Best of May: The top things we ate in SWFLA

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

If you go

CJ’s on the Bay

  • 740 N Collier Blvd #105, Marco Island
  • 239-389-4511
  • cjsonthebay.com

Marek’s Bar & Bistro

  • 1121 Bald Eagle Dr., Marco Island
  • 239-642-9948
  • mareksmarcoisland.com

Arturo's Bistro

  • 918 N Collier Blvd., Marco Island
  • 239-394-7578
  • arturosbistro.com

The Oyster Society

  • 599 S. Collier Blvd #218, Marco Island
  • 239-394-3474
  • theoystersociety.com