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Taste of the Islands to feature 16 restaurants

By Staff | Nov 4, 2015

The 34th annual Taste of the Islands will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8, in the Sanibel Community Park, 2221 Periwinkle Way. Sixteen restaurants will be serving up some of the islands’ tastiest concoctions - all for a great cause. PHOTO PROVIDED

Booths will sprinkle the Sanibel Community Park this weekend for the longest running food festival in the area featuring a wide variety of appetizers, entrees and desserts from local restaurants.

“It (was) the very first food festival in Lee County,” CROW Board President Melissa Congress said of Taste of the Islands.

The 34th annual Taste of the Islands will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8, in the Sanibel Community Park, 2221 Periwinkle Way. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children 12 and younger.

“The Taste is our biggest fundraiser,” Jan Egeland, who has been involved with CROW since 1979, said. “I’m forever grateful for the restaurants.”

This year’s 16 participating restaurants include Bubble Room; Cip’s Place; Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille; FreshTaqueria; Matzaluna’s, The Italian Kitchen; Rosie’s Cafe & Grill; Sanibel Deli and Queenie’s Ice Cream; Sundial Beach Resort & Spa; Sanibel Fish House; Sanibel Sweet Shoppe; Starfish Grille; The Dunes; The Normandie Seaside Cafe; Thistle Lodge; Timbers and Traders. The restaurants will offer some of its signature dishes, all under $5.

CROW Board President Melissa Congress stands with the owners and chefs of the 16 participating restaurants this year for the Taste of the Islands, set for Sunday, Nov. 8. MEGHAN McCOY

“The food is always fabulous,” Egeland said. “It’s a good way to get the community together for a good cause.”

Attendees will have the opportunity to vote for the People’s Choice Awards during the event, which includes the categories best appetizer; best dessert; best vegetarian; best take-out; best seafood and best meat.

This year’s judges are Elaine McLaughlin, CEO of McLaughlin Tourism Management; Ken Piech, avid shell collector and gourmet food aficionado; Andrew Pritchett, Dick Pritchett Real Estate and Southwest Florida Eagle Cam; Robyn Bell-Valenti, interim business manager for Harborside Event Center; Gwendolyn Howard, owner and chef at Gwendolyn’s Cafe and Catering Co. and Cathy Arentz, Publix food demonstrator.

Matt Asen, owner of Timbers, said he has participated in the event since its inception. He recalled running out of food two hours after the first event started, which was held on Rabbit Road, causing him to close down the restaurant that day because all of his customers were in attendance.

“It’s a good cause,” Asen said of why the participation has continued throughout the years. “We do it to help CROW.”

The Taste of the Islands initially began as a party at the end of the season before it was moved to the month of November six years ago.

“It takes so much community spirit,” Congress said about the restaurants, sponsors, 130 volunteers and attendees coming together for the event.

With the event moving to November, Asen said it gives them an opportunity to welcome residents back that have been away.

New recipes are often times introduced at Taste of the Islands for attendees to try before being added to the Timbers menu at the restaurant.

“We offer things that people picture,” he said, adding that they hope to meet and exceed their expectations.

This year, such menu items as big bang shrimp, gumbo, Asian rice balls and Italian tacos will be offered, Asen said.

Beth Musser, owner of Sanibel Sweet Shoppe is participating in the event for the first time this year.

“We’ve always gone to Taste and are huge advocates of CROW,” she said. “It’s great exposure, fun and a great way to give back to the community.”

The Sanibel Sweet Shoppe will offer such desserts as pumpkin cheesecake fudge, chocolate fudge, authentic Italian mini cannoli and the sand dollar cookie.

“We hope to see everyone out there and support CROW and all the local restaurants,” Musser said.

In addition to food, the event will also feature Az Izz, an Atlanta based band that plays 80s, 90s and Top 40 songs. Silent auction items, CROW gift shop items and the first ever CROW cookbook, “Recipes to CROW About” will also be available.

Egeland said she continues to support CROW because of her love of animals and appreciation of the wildlife’s beauty on Sanibel.

CROW sees more than 250 species of animals, which Egeland said is a real benefit for those who live and visit Sanibel.

“They need the care,” she said of the animals.

The long time volunteer said that individuals are part of the problem of why the animals need care, which ignited the formation of CROW.

Free parking for the event is available at Sanibel Square, Bank of the Islands, Periwinkle Place, Sanibel Community Church, Sanibel Congregational Church and Strauss Theater. A free trolley will provide transportation from Bank of the Islands, Sanibel Community Church, Strauss Theater, Sanibel Congregational Church, Center 4 LIfe, Captiva Trust Company and the Post Office.