Taste story: Haute cuisine in a hand-held plate

  • Doing the rounds%2C tasters content with feeding on the wing had choices about as wide as they get.

It's an annual smorgasbord of samplings conjured up by local restaurant chefs. It's haute cuisine in a hand-held plate, a true chef's showcase that works in two ways – exposure for the restaurants and hard cash for a cause.

In this case, the cash beneficiary of the Taste of Marco is the Marco Y, which is accumulating funds to build a much-vaunted youth center at its Sandhill Street headquarters on Marco Island. It's a go, and CEO Cindy Love has already said the center will likely swing open its doors in the fall.

On a toasty Sunday that felt suspiciously like summer at the Esplanade off Collier Boulevard, Marsha Thompson took on a duty shift at the Y's table, and summed up the reason why dozens of volunteers, like herself, step forward.

"I enjoy volunteering," she said. "It's a good cause, and it's a good way to give."

Doing the rounds, tasters content with feeding on the wing had choices about as wide as they get.

There were pulled pork sliders and potato soup from Stonewalls; traditional Philly steaks from, naturally, Philly Grille; chicken parmesan and mini cannolis from Gino's; generous taco salads and chicken California wraps from Susie's Diner; Mongolian beef and chicken tikka skewers from the Hilton resort and New Zealand rack of lamb, grilled tiger shrimp, skewers and duck pot stickers from Verdi's.

Water, please.

From Marker 8.5 came grouper, conch, clam chowder and yellowtail snapper – "all kinds of good food," according to Gary Foltz, who occasionally filled half the Esplanade courtyard with bursts of smoke that were as eye-catching as they were aroma-filled.

And, Mango's maintained their traditionally big selection, which included Swedish meatballs, sliders, bacon-wrapped shrimp, beef tenderloin chunks, honey sesame chicken, lobster BLTs, and sushi. Not forgetting CJ's on the Bay's ceviche shrimp tossed with fresh tomato, and jalapeno vinaigrette; Kretch's St. Louis style ribs and bread pudding; Sal e Pepe's panini with provolone cheese and Florida yellowtail snapper with arugula and Peruvian peppers; and Kirk's Coney Island serving up their special brand of Detroit-style dogs.

And so on. At between $2 and $8 for servings, you could go home satiated, as the term goes, and probably forget about dinner that evening.

See more photos on Pages B6 and 7 of this issue, and don't miss our slide show at