You can come by boat or you can come by car to Marker 88 Restaurant. There’s always a glorious sunset, convivial atmosphere, good food and one of the most extraordinary wine lists in South Florida. Bobby Stoky took over a tradition when he bought the restaurant from Chef Andre Mueller who in turn took it over from legendary Keys fisherman and cook Bill Baxter.
Bill got Marker 88 started by cooking up his fishing client’s catch of the day. Renown spread. It was difficult to find a good restaurant in the Islamorada area in the 1960s, especially a place right on the bay. The Stokys continue Marker 88’s tradition.
Bobby Stoky and his brother Scott grew up in the Florida Keys. They went everywhere in their boat catching fish and trapping lobsters. Bobby became a successful restaurateur and author of a popular book, ‘Recipes and Tall Tales from Legendary Restaurants of the Florida Keys.’ Everything anyone wants to know about exotic cocktails and Floribbean food can be found in Bobby’s book. Everything that suits the palate can be discovered at his Marker 88 Restaurant.
That’s exactly where it is. Right at Mile Marker 88 on the bayside in Islamorada. Key West is Mile Marker 0 along this exotic stretch of US 1 also called the Overseas Highway. It begins south of Homestead. While there are some public places to park along the strip of islands, to get to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, called Florida Bay, private property often makes viewing sunsets challenging. There is plenty of parking at Marker 88. Their pier offers tie up space for boaters. Diners can walk along the sandy cove beach, wade out into the bay and sit in chairs on the water to view sunsets. There is dining inside in air-conditioned comfort or outside on the patio. A tiki hut serves as a bar.
Barbara Abdow, Marker 88’s General Manager, has put together an extraordinary wine list that has Wine Spectator Magazine’s plaudits. “This is my baby,” Barbara said showing us her wine storage room. “We have 540 bottles kept at 58 degrees Fahrenheit. We chill white wines a little more. I rotate and spin them once a week to be sure the corks do not dry out.”
Barbara pulled a bottle of Romanee Conti Echezeaux from a special locker. Marker 88’s wine list prices the bottle at $1,190. “This bottle was on the auction block for $9,800 last week,” Barbara smiled. Born and raised in Putnam, Connecticut she worked as manager of a famous steakhouse for 15 years. Barbara moved to the Keys in 2002 to work for Andre Mueller at Marker 88. “Andre trained me about wine,” Barbara says.
Barbara remained when Bobby Stoky bought the restaurant. “I love his brain. Bobby’s greatest asset is his mind. Andre had 200 bottles. A hurricane came through. With every negative there is a positive. Bobby rebuilt and said ‘Expand the wine list.’ He is not afraid to spend money to make money. He’s tripled sales in the last five years.”
Barbara admits that she didn’t like wine at first. “Andre taught me. I learned an awful lot. You can never have enough knowledge in wine. Napa has grown so much. Our wines are all 88 and above on the Wine Spectator ratings. I chose 88 deliberately,” Barbara laughed. This good-natured Connecticut transplant now says that she loves wine. “I taste 25 different wines a month. I try them all before I put them on our list. We want to feature U.S. wines,” she said.
This summer Barbara plans to take courses leading to becoming a sommelier. “We are going to bring the restaurant to a level no one has yet seen in the Keys. We are out of season now and we are doing great,” she asserted.
Marker 88’s wine list is exceptional. There are eight sparkling wines listed like Napa Valley’s Mumm blanc de blanc at $75 a bottle. Argyle Winery’s brut is $54. Champagne lovers will discover extraordinary vintages like Krug’s grand cuvee brut, $395, Veuve Clicquot gold label, $110, Louis Roederer cristal brut, $325. Moet and Chandon’s Imperial is $81 the bottle. For sauvignon blanc lovers Pascal Jolivet’s pouilly fume from the Loire Valley is $58.
Barbara Abdow has insured a goodly measure of Chardonnay with 52 selections. They include Sonoma’s 2011 Runde Estate, $68. Pinot noir lovers will discover 49 selections. Featured is Cote de Beaune 2002, Domaine de Courcel Pommard Rugiens, $108. Cabernets and blends on the list total 140 selections with a supreme choice of Pauillac 1998, Chateau Lafitte Rothschild 1ere cru classe, $1,500. Tropical cocktails are featured as are wines by the glass that run about $8. The Hemingway cocktail is made with 23 year-old Zacapa rum, simple syrup and lime juice. A watermelon mojito uses fresh watermelon, rum, mint, cane syrup and soda, $10.
Appetizers include oysters, $12 the half-dozen or oysters Rockefeller. There is cracked conch, lobster and mango guacamole $13. Crispy crab roll is $11 and crab cake with Pommery mustard, $16. Lobster bisque and conch chowder are also featured.
Marker 88 salads are amazing creations. Their Alligator Reef is piled high with jumbo lump crab meat, cold shrimp, avocado, tomato, hearts of palm and mixed greens, $16. The alligator salad is a meal in itself, fresh and delicious with generous portions of real crab. A special included jumbo shrimp cocktail. It came to table with four large shrimp, fresh and savory.
Marker 88’s entrees include their rib eye. The steak is large bone-in western beef grilled and basted with mangrove honey, served with chipotle glaze, $38. There is filet mignon, grilled and seasoned, $32, as well as double cut French pork chops grilled and finished with apricot glaze, $26.
Fish and seafood lovers will have ample selections as well as daily specials. Florida lobster is locally caught in the Keys. Lobster is broiled and served with drawn butter, $32. Onion crusted Mahi Mahi is finished with white wine, $25. There is seafood penne with lobster, shrimp and blue crab sautéed in key lime and Tabasco butter, $32. Shrimp lovers will want to try Marker 88’s jumbo shrimp sautéed with Haiku tomatoes, cooked in olive oil with garlic, fresh herbs in penne pasta, $28.
Save room for dessert at Marker 88. Homemade key lime pie topped with meringue is supreme. Their molten chocolate cake is served with espresso ice cream and offers sensational taste with a steaming cup of cappuccino. Desserts are $8.
“I have great customers. Everyone is a VIP. If they are here for a fish sandwich with a glass of Chardonnay they are treated the same as full course diners. We never shut down before 10 PM. If someone comes in at 9:55 PM they are treated as if they were here at 7 PM. We open at 11 AM and close at 10 PM, 365 days a year. Unless there’s a hurricane,” Barbara smiled. Great food and excellent service has made Marker 88 one of the best restaurants in the U.S. Be sure to time dinner to include sunset. A glorious end to any day spent in the Florida Keys.
“Bobby was born and raised in the restaurant business. As I was. My parents are Greek,” Barbara mused, remembering her growing up. “I had to slow down here. The pace in the Keys is different,” she laughed.
The recipe for a great restaurant is simple: begin with fine ingredients, offer great service, have a good location and hands-on management. It is no wonder Marker 88 excels in an area where good food is paramount.
For more information and to make reservations visit www.marker88.info or call them at 305-852-9215. The restaurant is hard to miss with their large roadside sign at Marker 88, bayside in Islamorada. For information about Islamorada call their chamber of commerce toll-free at 1-800-FAB-KEYS or 305-664-4503 or visit their website at www.islamoradachamber.com.