Best of July: The top things we ate in SWFLA

Will Watts

July had five Fridays, meaning five total food reviews. But only three made it to our 'Best of.' You’ll have to look online to figure out who was left out. We hate it when locations don’t measure up, and bad news does not need to be repeated.

Instead, let’s celebrate these three over achievers.

La Tavola Restaurant and Bar, Marco Island

From their website: “La Tavola literally means the table. The place where family and friends gather to share laughter, love and life! We use only fresh, carefully sourced and seasonal ingredients to make sure that your meal is exceptional every time.”

We started with the soup of the day, French onion ($9). We also shared the burrata salad ($14) and the warm brie ($15). The salad comes with sliced beefsteak tomatoes, roasted garlic oil and a balsamic reduction. There are also crispy shallots atop the burrata cheese. The warm brie cheese comes with toasted pine nuts, arugula, a honey drizzle, and ciabatta crostini.

The salad was pure perfection. The fresh cheese is well complimented by the shallots. A delicious dish.

The ciabatta with the warm brie is a bit on the chewy side, in a challenging way. But the taste was worth the effort.

For my main entrée, I had the fish and chips ($26). It’s lightly dusted, and flash-fried Florida flounder served with truffle fries, coleslaw and a tartar sauce and ketchup. The fillet is huge and tasty, but the truffle fries are the star of this show.

My partner in dine had the mushroom pappardelle ($24) featuring cremini and portabella mushrooms, fresh pappardelle pasta, sweet peas, heirloom baby tomatoes, herbs and a garlic cream sauce. You can add shrimp ($10), scallops ($15) or chicken ($8). A beautiful and tasty dish. For dessert I selected the bourbon pecan pie ($9) served with a vanilla bean crème. This pie had the biggest pecans I’ve ever seen in a pie. Different, but very good!

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

Ben Allen’s Backyard Grill & Pub, South Naples

The newly opened Ben Allen’s Backyard Grill & Pub in Freedom Square, Naples (formerly Brook’s Burgers and still with a vast burger menu), was renamed for the Estero musician who competed on NBC’s “The Voice” last year and is a partnership with Todd Brooks of the Naples-based Brooks Burgers chain. Allen has performed multiple times over the years on Marco Island and in Everglades City. He also performed at the restaurant’s recent two-day grand opening.

On to the food. We started with the “Cowboy Nachos” ($13.99) and the “Shrimp and Lobster Fritters” ($10.99). The nachos come with chopped barbecue beef, candied jalapenos, grilled corn, black beans, green onions, tomatoes and “Nashville Ranch.” It comes with a side of melted gouda. We made one small change, we swapped out the chopped beef for shrimp for a slight upcharge ($6). I liked the chips a lot. The barbecue and Nashville ranch were both yummy. The melted gouda tasted a lot like Southern gravy. But oddly, I liked the combination. I give them extra points for originality.

The fritters are soft and fluffy and bread-like. And the dipping sauce, “Ben’s Famous Remoulade,” worked well with it.

I had the blackened grouper, grilled, with lemon ($29.99). It comes with vegetables and saffron rice. I also asked for a side of the “Smoked Gouda Macaroni” ($5). The blacked grouper was a good size and I liked the flavor. The veggies were a mix of roasted baby tomatoes, squash and zucchini. Different. Tasty. In asking for the macaroni, it must’ve cancelled the rice, as I had none. I really enjoyed that side dish. Very flavorful.

My dining companion had the beer-battered Atlantic cod fish and chips ($18.99). It’s supposed to come with steak fries and slaw. But there was no slaw to be had. It did have lemon and tartar, and three giant pieces of fish and lots of fries with big pieces of salt and pepper. This dish delights. You won’t be disappointed; unless you really like slaw.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: Auditioning Ben Allen's Backyard Grill & Pub

Joey's Pizza & Pasta, Marco Island

We started with two unique appetizers from Joey's Pizza & Pasta. First up, grilled bread featuring ricotta cheese and honeycomb ($11.95). You can take a slice of the bread and add as much of the other elements as you like. This starter makes you feel fancy. And it tastes amazing. A really great way to start a meal.

We also partook of the fried zucchini ($10.95), battered and fried zucchini served with a plum tomato sauce. I liked that the zucchini still had some body and wasn’t cooked to mush. And the sauce was the perfect compliment. This is comfort food leveled up.

For my entrée, I picked the spinach lasagna ($21.95), featuring spinach and ricotta cheese layered between pasta topped with plum tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. This is a huge serving. It’s super tasty and you’ll relish every bite.

My dining companion picked the hot portobella sub ($12.95), featuring the namesake mushrooms,

roasted red peppers, spinach and fresh mozzarella cheese on garlic bread. Huge, crunchy and delish! Handy enough for lunch; hearty enough for dinner.

We also took home some pizza, for another night of dining, and a couple of desserts. We picked the large white pizza ($23.95), New York traditional hand-tossed thin crust, featuring mozzarella, ricotta, Romano, fresh garlic, olive oil and your choice of broccoli or spinach. We picked the latter.

The crust was amazing. The cheese was layered on thick. A great pie. And enough to feed two for dinner.

The desserts included a tiramisu ($6.95), which we’re told is made on site, and a triple layer chocolate cake ($6.95), which we’re told is not made on site.

Both are solid performers. But the tiramisu was extra special. If you are torn between the two, the tiramisu is the way to go. Light, fluffy and tasty!

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: Joey’s, for every mood and moment

This is shaping up to be a summer of great eating! Enjoy!

More:Best of June: The top things we ate in SWFLA

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

La Tavola Restaurant and Bar

  • 961 Winterberry Drive, Marco Island
  • 239- 393-4960
  • latavolarestaurantandbar.com

Ben Allen’s Backyard Grill & Pub

  • 12655 Tamiami Trail E., Naples 
  • 239-304-9552 
  • benallensbackyard.com

Joey's Pizza & Pasta

  • 257 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island
  • 239-389-2433
  • joeyspizzamarco.com