The Coastal Breeze News is proud to present Chef’s Corner, a gastronomical column that offers readers a behind-the-scenes look at Marco Island’s favorite restaurants. Each month I visit a different local eatery to get the lowdown on signature dishes, recipes and the chefs who make it possible.
This week my culinary quest for greatness once again led me to the streets of Old Marco. There I met with Sandy Franchino, owner of the beloved Café de Marco, a longstanding restaurant with a whole lot of history.
Like many, Sandy discovered Marco Island by chance. One day she and her husband were looking in the Miami Herald and noticed a small classified ad for a restaurant space for sale on the west coast of Florida. After seeing Marco, they knew instantly that this was the place for them. They purchased the space and moved to the island to set up shop shortly after. The rest, as they say, was history.
Their restaurant Café de Marco made its debut in 1983. For the past 35 years, the restaurant has served up delicious and fresh seafood to all who enter its doors.
“We are the longest owner/operated restaurant on Marco, Goodland, and Isles of Capri,” Sandy said.
Sandy believes that the restaurant has maintained a strong presence on the island due to their ability to adapt to the ever-changing culinary landscape. Throughout their 35 years, they’ve updated the menu to include vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free items. They’ve also revamped their recipes while simultaneously staying true to customer favorites.
“Over the years you follow what’s happening, you stay in touch with what the customers need and want, what’s the trends, and you continue to evolve,” she said.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the recipe for their famous lobster bisque. They’ve been serving it since their inception. Their signature jumbo prawns, which are butterflied in the shell, broiled and served with garlic butter, hasn’t changed much either. The oyster Rockefeller is also a tried and true favorite for many.
For about 20 years, chef Randre Jean has commanded the kitchen at Café de Marco. He works alongside sous chef Charlie Ramirez, another longtime employee. Randre, a native of Haiti, is passionate about cooking and working on Marco Island. His favorite dish to prepare is shrimp curry because that’s what his kids like to eat. It’s a dish that’s close to his heart.
“I make it with passion because I cook it at home for my kids,” he said “I use the same passion to cook it at the Café de Marco also.”
When I visited the kitchen, chef Randre and chef Charlie prepared for me the Clams Casino Mix, an appetizer fit for any occasion. It’s made with chopped bacon, onions, peppers, herbs, and breadcrumbs served on fresh clams. It’s without a doubt the perfect dish to share with a few seafood lovers.
“If you’re having a dinner party at the house and you know there are people who love seafood, in particular people who love clams, I would say that would be a great time to serve it,” Sandy said.
Working with clams may seem intimidating for the uninitiated, but according to Sandy it’s a piece of cake. Just make sure you buy fresh from the grocery store or a local seafood market. Below we have the recipe for how to prepare the Clams Casino Mix, which is surprisingly simple and elegant. Be a little adventurous and give it a try!
Besides delivering wonderful food to their guests, Café de Marco’s atmosphere is warm and friendly. Each guest is treated as if they were a part of the Franchino family.
“Everyone who comes in we try to treat them like family,” Sandy said.
Check out Café de Marco at 244 Royal Palm Dr. For more information give them a call at 239-394-6262 or visit www.cafedemarco.com.
Samantha Husted is a local writer, photographer, and avid food eater. She enjoys the simple things in life, like playing with dogs and eating burritos. Samantha has worked as a staff writer for the Coastal Breeze News for over two years.
Clams Casino Mix
1-2 pounds of fresh clams
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 medium onions
1 pound bacon
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2-3 (approximate) handfuls of
3 shakes of white pepper
1. Finely chop onions, red, green, and yellow peppers. Set aside.
2. Chop bacon into small chunks. Sauté bacon in a large pan until lightly brown. Add peppers and onions and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add chopped garlic last to avoid browning and cook for an additional 30-60 seconds.
3. Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and fold in breadcrumbs. Add enough breadcrumbs to bind mixture together while still being able to see the other ingredients.
4. Place about a tablespoon of the mixture onto each individual clam. Serve with slices of lemon and enjoy!