Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Culinary Travels: Marco Island, FL

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It's been somewhat quiet here lately and that's because life has gotten hectic! Work has been busy, leaving little time for me to dedicate to kitchen fun. However, our family took a much needed getaway where we headed south for Spring Break. Our destination? Marco Island, Florida. It was a wonderful time where we relaxed, took in as much warmth and sun that we could and more importantly, had our fair share of culinary adventures! Here's one of the gorgeous sunsets we enjoyed during our stay...

One of the first things I love doing when I'm visiting a new travel destination is to hit the grocery stores. There, I can find some great food items to take home with me as souvenirs. Since we rented a vacation home for a week, we stocked up on some daily snacks and a few meal items. While there, I came across these seasoning packets that captured the tropical vibe evident in the area cuisine.

Did you know the Darden Restaurant Group is based in Florida? Some well known chain restaurants under this group include Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and they previously owned Red Lobster. While at the grocery store, I also picked up these seasonings from these popular restaurant chains...

I also picked up some more treats to bring home for friends so they can get a taste of my travels. Key lime is well known in Florida so these key lime cookies, key lime salt water taffy and key lime juice were a must to bring back home.

Another popular treat are these coconut patties. There are a few different flavors and chose the popular Pina Colada flavor that are drenched in dark chocolate.

Meal planning is something I also enjoy figuring out before going on vacation. We typically ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at our rental home to take advantage of the pool. But for dinners, we splurged at local restaurants to enjoy the area ambiance.

Our first meal was after our flight in, where we stopped at Dolly's Produce Patch. This is a place my in-laws remembered fondly from their previous trips to Florida. It's a great spot right off the expressway from the airport, located in Bonita Springs. This is a no-frills spot that made me feel like I was eating at an old friend's house. The best part of Dolly's Produce Patch is their baked goods - pies especially. We left with a key lime pie to enjoy for dinner later that night, which made for a perfect dessert to kick off our Florida stay.


The next place we tried out was Tommy Bahama Restaurant, located in downtown Naples. Although this is a chain restaurant, there is no location in Chicago. And what better place to enjoy Tommy Bahama than a tropical area?! The restaurant specializes in American fare with a tropical twist. I loved my lunch -Grilled Shrimp Cobb Salad- and plan on recreating it soon so I can enjoy it again!

Another restaurant we checked out while in Marco Island was Mango's Dockside Bistro. Located at the Esplanade, it's right on the water overlooking the docks. Service was a tad slow due to the busy Easter holiday weekend. It was expected though, considering we chose to dine here on Good Friday since they are especially known for their excellent seafood options. That said, I chose to try out conch fritters - a popular appetizer in Florida. For dinner, I enjoyed their market fish of the day - Grouper with a mango beurre blanc sauce and coconut rice.

Conch Fritters

Grilled Grouper & Coconut Rice

Many friends who've visited Marco Island gave us plenty of restaurant recommendations and the most recommended restaurant was Snook Inn. We finally made our way out to Snook Inn and loved it. The views from the restaurant were tranquil yet entertaining - there's lots of great people watching! We also were able to visit when a live band was playing. But the biggest draw for my husband was the Prime Rib Dinner special they offer every Saturday night. He loves prime rib and will often order that when on a menu.

To kick off dinner, I tried the Key Lime Martini. It was creamy, full of that great citrus flavor and a wonderful start to our meal.

We also enjoyed Gator Bites, which are tasty alligator tenders dredged in seasoned corn flour, deep fried and served with a remoulade sauce. 

We also ordered Conch Fritters where this version had minced conch blended with green peppers, onions, and Bahamian spices. 

I had to get my seafood fix while I can so I ordered their Caribbean Style Blackened Grouper, which was served over a bed of black beans and rice. It was so good!

Our last day of vacation fell on Easter Sunday. We knew a majority of the area restaurants would be closed or packed with folks hungry for Easter Brunch. Thankfully we were able to snag a table at NeNe's Kitchen. The owners hail from the Western Chicago suburbs so it was a great choice to support their cute and cozy spot. I ordered their Farmers Omelette... which was huge and filling!

Aside from enjoying some delicious area restaurants, we also had a lot of fun on a dolphin tour. We were able to see quite a few dolphin swimming about! Part of our tour also allowed for some time to go shelling on a far out sandbar. Here's some of the shells we picked up and were able to take home! We ended up taking half of what we collected back to Chicago and we're so glad that we did...

Another fun experience we had was touring the Florida Everglades on an airboat with Dreamlander Tours. There, we got some great opportunities to see alligators and crocodiles in brackish waters. We even got a chance to hold a baby alligator!

And in honor of our Everglades safari, I picked up some seasoning to play with at home for a taste of swamp country:

Before long, it was time to head home. While at the airport, I came across some Tortuga rum cakes and new they had to come home with me. I can't wait to dig into these with some coffee for a taste of the tropics!

So that's our spring break recap while in Marco Island! Hope you are enjoying the spring weather and are anxiously awaiting more sun as I am! :)

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