Thirty-five years ago a tradition started for one island restaurant that has ignited an excitement for the employees who want to work the annual event year after year.
"It's a welcome back for people," Matt Asen, of The Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market, said of CROW's Taste of the Islands, which at one time was held at the end of season in May.
The event, he said, is a continuation of family, due to attendees now bringing their children.
Asen decided to participate in CROW's Taste of the Islands after a former Timbers' employee and server talked him into the idea. He said since the restaurant was located on Rabbit Road at the time, they were close neighbors to CROW.
"This is their money-maker. Hopefully they can raise a lot of money," Asen said. "It's a good cause and you get to try a lot of food . . . eat samples and take some home."
The 35th CROW Taste of the Islands will be held from noon to 5 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Sanibel Community Park. Admission is $5 for adults and children ages 12 and younger are free.
Sixteen restaurants are participating this year, four of which are new to the festival - IL Cielo, Love Boat Ice Cream, Shima and Blue Giraffe. The remaining restaurants include The Bubble Room, Cip's Place, Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille, The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, Fresh Taqueria, Matzaluna Italian Restaurant, Sanibel Deli, Sanibel Fish House, Sanibel Sweet Shoppe, Thistle Lodge, Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market and Traders.
The dishes range from $1 to $5 in CROW bucks. A menu will be given to attendees once they enter the event.
This year, Deb Neri, co-chair operations for Taste, said in an effort to alleviate some of the long lines, CROW is offering attendees the opportunity to purchase their CROW bucks on the organization's website, www.crowclinic.org. The CROW bucks will be available at will call the day of the event.
Neri said this year attendees can redeem their toll receipt for two CROW bucks.
The official Taste T-shirts, which are available at Bank of the Islands at the intersection of Periwinkle Way and Casa Ybel Road, will be available at the event for $20. Neri said the women's shirts are lighter material with a v-neck. Tank tops are also available to accommodate requests they have received.
Live entertainment will be provided by Pocket Change from Delaware Beach.
A silent auction will also be available during the event featuring participating restaurants.
Attendees will have the opportunity to further support CROW and its mission through its Adopt-A-Species program. Individuals can adopt a river otter, bald eagle, pelican or sea turtle for $25. With the adoption comes a signed adoption certificate, a box, plush animal and a species card sharing information about the animal - its average day and how much it costs to feed them.
Nine locations are available with free parking. The trolleys, which run throughout the event, have stops at Bank of the Islands, Sanibel Community Church, Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ, BIG ARTS Strauss Theater, Sanibel Captiva Community Bank and Center 4 Life. Neri said Adventures in Paradise and Tarpon Bay Explorers have been generous with their trolleys for the event.
"It's the community that supports this - the businesses and families," Neri said.
Asen said he remembers bringing some product from the restaurant, as well as his backyard grill to the first Taste, which took place on the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club golf course. About an hour after the event started, he said they began running out of food prompting him to jump in his dune buggy and head back to Timbers to grab such food as shrimp and oysters - food he could grill or serve raw.
Before leaving the restaurant, Asen put a sign on the door sharing that they would be closed for the rest of the day and to visit them at Taste of the Islands.
Now, the doors stay open at the restaurant, making it a bit more challenging in staffing both the restaurant and their booth at Taste of the Islands.
Although some things have changed throughout the years, a constant attraction is the reunion of all the old restaurant people, Asen said. He said the restaurants all share what they are preparing that day in a "try this and I'll give you that" kind of atmosphere.
Taste of the Islands has been a trial and error type of event for Asen. He said if people like a dish, they oftentimes add it to the menu at the restaurant.
One of the early dishes they served was shark because a lot of people had never tried the fish before.
Over the years people's tastes have changed, resulting in new creative dishes. Last year, Asen said they served an "itsy bitsy, teeny weeny chocolate peanut butter panini" and this year one of the dishes is a Twinkie tiramisu.
Taste of the Islands, in addition to food, Asen said, also included a waiter challenge years back, which involved filling up six wine glasses, racing a specific distance and returning without spilling. He said the wine left in the glasses was measured and whoever had the most won the contest.
The annual event is made possible by the many volunteers that provide a helping hand. Neri said that list of volunteers includes 15 key people that help put the event together, as well as 125 volunteers who had already signed up to volunteer the day of the event as of last week.
Neri said many of the individuals only provide a helping hand every year for Taste of the Islands. She said they provide their support, time and talent, which CROW appreciates.
Although coolers are not allowed at the event, lawn chairs are encouraged.
The money raised from Taste of the Island, Neri said, will help CROW to continue to do what it can to help wildlife.