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A healthy New Year!

By Staff | Jan 1, 2020

Savannah's Chicken — goat cheese, lemon caper butter, diced tomato, and fresh basil — at the Blue Dog. PAULETTE LEBLANC

If eating healthy is a New Year resolution, there are restaurants all over the islands making it their business to help you keep it. Many people assume going out to eat means ruining a plan to be fit, or having to eat something they won’t enjoy, but there are many healthy options for guilt-free outings made and often grown locally.

Whether you’re popping in for a quick bite, planning an elegant evening out, or something in between, there seems to be something for everyone trying to stay fit and local in the new year.

Little Lilly’s Island Deli

Robin Lilly from Little Lilly’s Island Deli is very proud of the healthy menu options they offer, and even more so, that some of the ingredients are grown locally.

“The greens that we use in our salad, and our sunflower sprouts are grown on Pine Island. We have a Veggie Wrap, Black Bean and Humus Wrap, and the Beyond Burger on our menu as vegetarian choices,” said Lilly.

Beyond Burger at Little Lilly’s Island Deli — This vegan option is an all plant-based patty served on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo and (optional) white American cheese. PAULETTE LEBLANC

Little Lilly’s Island Deli is at 10700 Stringfellow Road, Bokeelia, FL 33922. For additional information, visit www.littlelillys.com

Tarpon Lodge

There is a different vegan special each night at Tarpon Lodge, according to Chef Heath Higginbotham. He admits he has a passion for preparing seafood dishes, since he is most familiar with these. According to Shohreh Durkin, dining room manager, the requests for vegan options are becoming more and more frequent.

“We want to offer more than a salad to people who want healthy meals,” she said, emphasizing the need to make them as beautiful as they can be. “There has to be eye appeal as well as making them delicious.”

Durkin points out for those who are health-conscious, though not yet ready to eat completely vegan, the choice is always there to add shrimp, scallops or another seafood option.

The Tarpon Lodge’s Falafel Cakes with a Cauliflower Puree, confited grape tomatoes, roasted red pepper, asparagus and baby carrots in turmeric oil. PAULETTE LEBLANC

“We’ve had a couple of tables that will either add protein, or sometimes people will order the vegan special as an appetizer,” said Higginbotham.

When it comes to buying local produce to build the menu, Durkin said it’s important to support other islanders. She also notes that Higginbotham will get creative with almost anything brought to his kitchen. They both agree that the flavors of fresh local produce are much more abundant than that of produce that may sit in a store for several weeks before arriving in a restaurant. The fish used at Tarpon Lodge is also caught locally, which supports island seafood markets.

Tarpon Lodge is at 13771 Waterfront Drive, Bokeelia, FL 33922. For additional information, visit Tarponlodge.com.

Hooked Island Grill

Barb Koenig of Hooked Island Grill said there should be options for health-conscious diners, especially with so many people finding limits to what they can eat. Having an allergy to gluten herself, she wanted to offer more to her patrons then a bun-less burger or a salad.

Hooked Island Grill’s Veggie Tacos — sautéed vegetables in olive oil; Nutty Salad with grilled chicken— grilled chicken with fresh greens, red onion, feta and almond slivers; and Grilled Redfish and Mango Salsa with side salad and rice. PAULETTE LEBLANC

“We like to use olive oil or coconut oil, which is a healthy alternative to other oils that are not as healthy for your heart,” said Koenig.

Hooked Island Grill is concerned with having fresh greens on the menu, rather than simply a traditional iceberg lettuce, because of the nutrients. Grilled items have also become a leading healthy favorite for many in an attempt to get away from the deep fryer. Koenig recommends not ordering things that come with a lot of seasoning or oils.

“Season yourself,” Koenig said. “These days many things come with a lot of heavy seasonings and salts, so you never get the true flavor of the item that you ordered. You want to stay with the basics without adding a lot of creams and sauces. Sometimes when you’re trying to change, you have to change your diet first, before you can change the rest of your life.”

Hooked Island Grill is at 4200 Pine Island Road, N.W., Matlacha, FL 33993. For additional information, visit Hookedislandgrill.com.

Blue Dog Bar and Grill

At the Blue Dog Bar and Grill, choosing an entree’ that’s blackened or grilled has become a popular choice. Owner John Lynch goes out of his way to support neighboring businesses, admitting this is a cornerstone of his restaurant.

“We buy as much locally as we can,” said Lynch. “We buy shrimp from the Capt. CJ Shrimp Boat; soft shell crab and mullet from Barnhill’s Seafood; blue crab, stone crab and fresh fish from Island Crab Company and also Island Seafood Market. We also grow much of our own sprouts and herbs.”

Lynch said because of the nature of serving a fresh catch, it’s often a challenge to plan the “catch of the day” ahead of time with any certainty. Instead, he looks forward to calls from local fish houses, with a report on what they have coming in that day.

“We may get a call that there are pompano or sheepshead coming in, and we do a ‘fish of the moment,’ because it’s exactly that,” said Lynch. “We’ll get a call about a dozen sheepshead and make that a special.”

Supporting local businesses is of major importance to Lynch, so much so that even the hot sauce they use at the Blue Dog is made with locally grown ghost pepper from Fruitscapes in Bokeelia. He’s just as proud to support local venues as he is that the grouper fisherman they use do the same by coming in often for dinner.

“We bend over backwards to make our guests happy, because we are in the business to have them come back. Whatever we can do to cater to people’s dietary needs, we do that every single day,” said Lynch.

Blue Dog Bar and Grill is at 4597 Pine Island Road, Matlacha, FL 33993. For additional information, visit www.bluedogmatlacha.com.