Best of September: The top things we ate in SWFLA

Will Watts

The newly expanded Italian Deli and Market on Marco Island opened its doors in September. We also visited a Bonita Springs favorite, a vegan restaurant and more.

Italian Deli and Market, Marco Island

This month the restaurant moved from its longtime home on Collier Boulevard to Park Avenue. That’s a winning move in the game of Monopoly and, in this case, real life as well.

We attended on the second day of their “soft opening.” Arriving around 4, we thought we’d have a little time before the crowd gathered. We were wrong.

The restaurant is offering a newly expanded menu, expanded indoor and outdoor dining and a bar for refreshments. Everything is new, nice and clean.

We started with the stuffed artichoke hearts ($12). The stuffing is Boursin cheese, flash fried and served with a lemon aioli. These were so good! I can’t wait to have them again.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Fresh and fantastic – Thai Sushi By KJ

I also had the eggplant parmesan ($15). You can also get this as a sandwich. It was absolutely amazing. So hearty! It came with a side of delectable fettuccini.

My partner in dine picked the Tuscan salmon over risotto ($15). While the salmon was great, the star of this show was the risotto. Fantastic! I tried it. I could eat my weight with this stuff. Best! Risotto! Ever!

We also sampled the New York-style artichoke pizza ($22). The pizza is white, with the namesake artichokes, roasted peppers, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil.

If this is what the Italian Deli can do on day two, I can’t wait to see what they do in the weeks to come.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: Italian Deli & Market – new location, new menu items, same quality

Vegan Kitchen, Naples

You got to try the “Happy Tamarind” ($10.50). It features wheat protein, tamarind, peanuts and basil and is served with rice chips. The taste is superb, and all the flavors complement each other. And you’d swear you were eating thin slices of beef. In concert with the chips, it’s pure perfection!

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Zorba’s has fresh, fire and focus

Then there’s the “Au Lac Crepe” ($14.95). It’s a rice flour crepe stuffed with mushrooms, tofu, bean sprouts, carrots and onions. So decadent. Crispy on the outside, savory inside. I’m hooked. It looks like a big omelet, but that’s where the comparisons end. I’ll definitely be having this again; I highly recommend it.

If you’re thinking about eliminating or cutting down on meat from your diet, try the Vegan Kitchen. You won’t miss any flavor, and you might well be on your way to a healthier lifestyle. 

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: Who needs meat? Not Vegan Kitchen

Coconut Jack’s, Bonita Springs

Ever since I started writing this feature, I’ve wanted to visit Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grille in Bonita Springs. We tried several times during season, but was always met with a full parking lot and a line of cars waiting to get in. No joke. The popularity piqued my curiosity.

Finally, on a rainy Monday afternoon, just before 6 p.m., I passed by and lo and behold, there were spaces available. What gives? Was it the weather? The time? I didn’t care. I made a U-turn and took my chances.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Thai Thai Sushi Bowl – the bold and the beautiful

First, the view. Amazing! Waterfront dining at its best. Things got off to an appetizing start with the chili lime fried grouper bites covered in a boom boom sauce ($16.95). The sauce is similar to other booms around town, but the grouper bites were hearty and beautifully deep fried. Delicious!

For my main entrée, I had the special of the night, a panko-crusted grouper ($29.95) featuring an orange coconut sauce and served with yellow rice and sautéed fresh vegetables. The fish was amazing! Perfectly cooked. Very nice breading. And the sauce, pure perfection! Nice and sweet. The rice was good, the vegetables felt more steamed than sautéed, but that’s just splitting hairs.

My partner in dine had the “Ultimate Seafood Trio” ($35.95) featuring “fresh Gulf grouper, New England scallops, and premium white shrimp.” You can get the grouper grilled or blackened, he picked the latter, and it comes with yellow rice and sautéed vegetables. This is a huge and beautiful plate. If you have trouble picking what you want to eat, this trio checks off a lot of boxes.

For dessert, I had the “Chocolate Chocolate Cake” ($8.95), a triple chocolate layer cake topped with whipped cream. This dish doesn’t disappoint. One of the best desserts I’ve had eating out.

My dining companion had the coconut cream pie ($8.95) which is dusted with toasted coconut flakes and drizzled with raspberry melba. He gave it high marks.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the desserts come from Sweet Melissa’s, just up the street on Bonita Beach Boulevard.

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: Bonita’s Coconut Jack’s lives up to the hype

Thai Thai Sushi Bowl, South Naples

Thai Thai Sushi Bowl is located in the Naples Outlet Mall.

The “Bubble Tea” is another name for the boba balls, or tapioca pearls. You can get a variety of flavors. We picked the taro. Taro milk tea is identified by its color, which is purple-tinged brown, nearly lilac, and has a coconut-like flavor.

Taro is considered a root vegetable similar to a sweet potato and is normally pureed and added to bubble milk tea to act as a thickener and for flavor. This drink won high praise.

We also had the “Lava Drop” ($12.99). It’s basically a salmon, cream cheese and avocado sushi roll covered in a crunchy tempura crust. So freakin’ good! Naughty! But good!

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Who needs meat? Not Vegan Kitchen

From the sushi bar, we also shared the Hawaiian roll ($14.99), featuring tempura shrimp and cream cheese and topped with sliced mango and mango sauce. The mango was perfect. I would stay awake nights if I owned a restaurant with this on the menu; hoping and praying for mangoes like these.

For my main entrée, I picked the #24 from the Japanese noodle soup menu, a shrimp tempura ramen ($18.99). It features a Shoyu broth (soy sauce flavor), and its topped with Chinese broccoli, scallions, soft-boiled egg, Naruto, enoki mushrooms, sesame seeds and nori.

The tempura shrimp come on the side and I ate them first. The soup is amazing. Love the variety of shapes the mushrooms came in. There were little dumplings with a pink spiral design, called

Narutomaki. That was my favorite. I ate all the veggies and broth and saved the ramen for last. Yum!

My dining companion had the basil fried rice ($14.99) featuring sauteed rice with basil leaves, bell pepper, onion, scallion and a spicy chili garlic sauce. He enjoyed the dish, but picked the mild version, which takes away greatly from this dish. If you can’t stand the heat, stay away from this dish. LOL!

Full review:‘Watts for Dinner’: Thai Thai Sushi Bowl – the bold and the beautiful

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 and the-banner.com.

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

If you go

Italian Deli and Market

  • 902 Park Ave, Marco Island
  • 239-394-9493
  • marcoislanditaliandeli.com

Vegan Kitchen

  • 794 Neapolitan Way, Naples
  • 239-307-4813 
  • vegan-kitchen.us

Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grille

  • 5370 Bonita Beach Rd. SW, Bonita Springs
  • 239-676-7777
  • coconutjacks.com

Thai Thai Sushi Bowl

  • 6060 Collier Blvd., #23, South Naples
  • 239-732-9520
  • thaithaius.com