Veteran Marco Island snowbirds are no doubt used to encountering changes to the community’s restaurant scene when they make their annual return to their refuge from winter’s wrath.
The situation today is no different, with some new eateries having appeared over the last year, while still others have changed ownership or where they conduct business. What follows below is a snapshot of what’s new in the community’s dining front.
At the Island Café Restaurant, a name familiar to the island’s gastronomes is now at the helm, Arturo Perez, for many years the chef and co-owner of the now closed Arturo’s Ristorante Italiano. Many of his family members joined him in the kitchen at the popular Bald Eagle Drive restaurant.
In 2014, he sold his interest in Arturo’s and teamed up with his daughter and son-in-law, Marisol and Juan Cortazar, at the Ciao Bella Ristorante Italiano. Ciao Bella is located on North Collier Boulevard, next to the Philly Grille, which is owned by Perez’s son, Edgar.
The Island Café has become a Marco institution after more than 24 years of operation and Perez became the bistro’s fourth owner last August, said the restaurant’s general manager, Diane Aruta. The family theme continues there, with Arturo Perez, Jr., serving as executive chef.
Aruta said the menu has not been changed drastically, aside from some new additions and an updated wine list.
“It’s authentic European with a French influence,” she added. “The menu is really unique. We have roasted duck, we have rack of lamb, duck à l’orange and we have a quite a selection of seafood.”
Another change is that the restaurant’s hours and days of operation have expanded under Perez’s ownership to seven days a week during season and six days a week over the summer.
Aruta said the changes have been well received and that the following Perez has developed in his three decades on the island’s restaurant scene is serving the restaurant well, as are the Island Café’s loyal customers.
“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback. People are really happy with the quality of the food, the portions and the presentation.”
At the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, the food and beverage operation has been undergoing an overhaul directed by director of restaurants, Dalio Calado.
A native of Portugal, Calado studied in France and then spent more than 15 years in New York City working under the tutelage of such industry heavyweights as Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, at The National Bar and Dining Rooms and James Beard Award Winning Chef Todd English at The Stinger Cocktail Bar and Kitchen. His first venture with the Marriott was at the brand’s JW Marriott Essex House in the Big Apple.
Under Calado’s stewardship, the overhaul encompasses operations at the resort’s well-known existing dining options: Ario, Quinn’s on the Beach, Korals, Kane, Maia, 400 Pazzi’s, Café San Marco, Menchies, the Rookery Grill and the Hammock Bay Grill at Hammock Bay Golf Club.
He’s also overseeing the creation of two new eateries in the adult-exclusive tower that is being constructed as part of the resort’s $320 Million renovation and brand transition to a JW Marriott. They are 10K Alley, a combination gastro-pub and state-of-the-art gaming emporium which will feature 50 craft brews from Florida s and 50 selections of bourbons, and a rooftop restaurant that has yet to be named which will feature Mediterraneanstyle small plates and an assortment of sangrias and other shareable drinks.
While the room towers aren’t yet open at The Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa, The Deck at 560 Bar and Restaurant is indeed serving up food and drinks to customers.
“We’ve been trying to promote it with the local community that yes, our room towers are closed, so it’s a great opportunity for them to visit us without that component of hotel guests,” said Andrew Neubauer, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.
At present, only outdoor dining is available at The Deck at 560 as a renovation project that involves both the indoor and outdoor areas winds down, with completion expected in mid-February. The updates include touches such as increasing the amount of soft seating, banquettes, and a fire pit to the indoor area, family sized tables for larger parties, as well as a private dining room.
The Hilton’s event space and The Deck closed in June of 2017 after fire struck the resort’s room tower, where work was underway as part of the overall renovation project that also includes the restaurant, the lobby and pool areas, and the event space. However, The Deck and the event space reopened one month later.
Neubauer describes The Deck as “a beautiful, indoor-outdoor, modern, yet casual and relaxed restaurant for indoor-outdoor dining and the same holds true for the bar. The bar is constructed so that you can sit outside or inside. The doors and all the windows, we have floor-to-ceiling windows and they collapse in the restaurant and open up to the outdoors. And of course we have the most spectacular views of the sunset on Marco Island.”
The Deck at 560 offers “upscale fare in a casual atmosphere,” said Neubauer.
The restaurant’s executive chef, Corey Hepburn, said the menu is heavily influenced by seafood. “The ‘Floribbean’ kind of cuisine is what we’re going after,” he added.
The Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa is located at 560 S. Collier Boulevard. For more information, visit hiltonmarcoisland.com or call 239- 394-5000.