Island Gypsy Cafe, Isles of Capri/Marco Island, Florida

The Island Gypsy Cafe is so popular it recalls Yogi Berra’s statement, “It’s so crowded that nobody goes there.” Everybody goes there. The Island Gypsy is a sprawling place, right on the water.

It’s on the Isle of Capri just across the bridge from Marco Island, with several seating areas and a walk-up bar that does a land office business.

There is always a wait. We’d tried to go a couple of times in prior years and were daunted by the wait. We went once at about 7:30 pm, and they were full through the 10 pm closing. This time, Nancy and I arrived at 3:00 pm for a late lunch/early dinner and the wait was only 30 minutes. We got a buzzer so that we could wander around.

There’s a lot going on at the Island Gypsy. It has a lot of seating for people who are enjoying drinks while waiting for a table or just joining in the lively atmosphere that’s part of the Island Gypsy’s attraction. The wait is a good time, at least for those in an island frame of mind. I grabbed a beer, and Nancy and I grabbed seats in the shade and chatted with a friendly couple from northeast Iowa. They’d already eaten, and were just enjoying being there.

We were called after only 20 or so minutes and seated in a gazebo overlooking the water, the one on the far left the picture above.

There was one other table in the gazebo, and a jolly group of women were just finishing up.  Our server, Chris, materialized tableside almost immediately.  Drink? Why yes. Another of these, please.  Appetizer? Yes indeed. Smoked fish dip.

The smoked fish dip will be a theme of our Marco posts.  This version was an excellent one, with both the flavors of the fish and the smoke holding their own, and the everything flatbread was just the thing. Are you wondering when I was going to mention all of those jalapeño and cherry peppers? I like having something to balance the creamy texture and richness of the smoked dip, but you want to be careful not to overdo it, as you could well here. You don’t want to overwhelm the dip’s flavor, and I took care not to. At the same time, I happen to like jalapeño peppers, and over the years I’ve cauterized my digestive system. I ended up eating almost all of the jalapeños and some cherry peppers, but mostly with flatbread. Consult your physician before trying that.

Chris reappeared and took our entree orders. First, let me say another word about Chris. He’s utterly affable, one of the people that you like as soon as you set eyes on him. He also managed to be attentive without being intrusive, and was relaxed as well as professional. Imagine the perfect server for a beach vacation — no not her — and that’s Chris.

I ordered the Island Grouper.    

There you have two generous pieces of grouper atop cilantro lime rice, and topped with a mango salsa. The sauce is a mandarin chili reduction. The grouper was delicious. It had been nicely seasoned and beautifully cooked, just to done through. The salsa and the sauce were nice, but the grouper definitely was the star of the dish, and a very bright star at that. The only off note was that the asparagus was past its prime, and should at least have been trimmed. Frankly, though, I didn’t come for the asparagus.

Nancy ordered the Macadamia Nut Mahi-Mahi.

That pretty crisp was a mixture of panko and macadamia nuts that was heavy on the panic. Nancy said that there was just a hint of macadamia, but then she was recovering from a nasty cold. Again it came with cilantro lime rice and asparagus –much fresher asparagus than mine — and the sauce was a Meyer rum/pineapple beurre blanc. Nancy would have preferred it to have been cooked a touch more, as she prefers seafood, and meats for that matter, cooked somewhat longer than I do. It was a pretty piece of fish, however, fresh and flavorful.

We didn’t order some of the Island Gypsy highlights, at least not this time. I definitely will try their Wick’d Pissah Cape Cod Clam Chowder, and if someone wants to share I’m game for their gargantuan onion rings, each about two inches tall. I don’t order dessert, but I noted that their cakes, a carrot cake and a “Towering Chocolate Cake” are marked “Table Share.” If someone else orders some, I’ll do my share.

And I’ll relax about the wait. By 4:00 pm, people were pouring in, and I’m sure the wait was passing an hour. But what’s an hour at 4:00 pm when you’re on vacation and there’s room for the kids to run around, cold beer on tap, and new friends to meet? And delicious grouper awaits. Next time you’re in Marco Island, maybe wait a day to recalibrate your mood. Perhaps go to Stan’s. When you can take a wait philosophically, head straight to the Island Gypsy for a great time and a great meal.


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