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Choosing the word “chop” along with the local area code 239, Marco Porto and his wife Deanna haven’t looked back since in 2013 throwing open the doors of their Chop239 Steak. Lobster. Wine. Bar.

“Since then, we’ve added a lot of fresh seafood,” says Porto. “Some people assumed we were just a steakhouse, but now we have plenty of diversity.”

Other tweaks, Porto says, have included the addition of “small plates” (between $9 and $22) for people with smaller appetites or who don’t want to splurge on big steaks and sumptuous seafood dishes. The small plates would include items such as baby lamb chops and ahi tuna.

The restaurant, overlooking Smokehouse Bay at the Esplanade, carries 150 wine labels comprising about 2,000 bottles at any given time. Happy hour is 4:30 to 7 p.m. in the (full) bar, and during that time the bar menu is half off.

Porto says a prix fixe menu at $28 for early diners has proved popular, and that the four-piece Moony Man Band Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in the bar area has proved a good drawcard.

Along with other restaurateurs in town, Porto says the Marriott hotel’s upcoming transformation into a JW Marriott property is going to boost business.

“They can’t lock there people in there seven days a week, so it’s going to be great for restaurants, a game-changer,” Porto says. “Also, the island is going to become less seasonal.”

Porto and his wife Deanna, along with long-serving chef Javier Sanchez regularly discuss any menu changes, which occur every couple of years.

At the moment, Porto says, the 6oz filet steak dish is the runaway favorite at the restaurant, but that seafood of all types is right up there as well. On the higher end, he says, surf and turf is king. He adds that he uses the sweet and tender Maine lobster, unlike many other local restaurants that opt for Florida lobster.

For this particular food shoot, Porto and Sanchez conjured up black grouper with caper berries and Meyer lemon sauce along with roasted potato and asparagus; bone-in ribeye steak with veggies and garlic whipped potato; and the popular 10 oz pork rib chop with blackberry demi sauce, asparagus and sweet potato mash.

“These dishes show our diversity,” says Porto, who started in the restaurant business in Michigan before he was a teenager. Marco beckoned in 2003 when he looked out his window and saw “snow on the ground and snow in the air.”

Porto is also a regular wine columnist for the Sun Times, and his latest contribution is now online at marcoislandflorida.com. It will feature in print in the January 14 print issue.

On the cover: The black grouper dish

If you go:

What: Chop239 Steak Lobster Wine Bar

Where: Esplanade

Food: Steak, seafood as well as chicken, pork and lamb, soups, burgers

Prices: Mid-range to higher end

Reservations: Suggested for big groups

Hours: 4:30 p.m. onwards until around 10 or later

Call: 394-0212

Website: chop239.com

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