The top three finalists in each of the Best of Marathon people’s choice awards have been decided by the voters, which means things will heat up in the daily voting contest that runs Sept. 3-17. After taking a year off due to the pandemic, the Best of Marathon is currently in its 12th iteration of celebrating the best the Middle Keys community — all while raising funds for the Marathon Rotary Club’s public service initiatives.
After two weeks of online nominations, this year’s finalists include those with iconic status, along with some surprises and many first-time nominees.
Marathon’s taco trend is front and center with Takeria La Palapa and La Isla Taco Grill each garnering first-time nominations for Best Taco to go along with their nominations for Best Food Truck. La Isla is also up for Best New Business with Marathon Mermaid Charters and Bongos Cafe — another food truck favorite on the ballot with Irie Island Eats — an island BBQ joint recently featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Irie and La Isla will also face off for Best Lunch with Burdine’s Waterfront. Burdine’s previously won Best Key Lime Pie (2010), Fish Sandwich (2011), and Lunch (2017).
New categories for 2021 include Best Sports Coach with MHS baseball skipper Joey Gonzalez slugging it out with MHS football coaches Chef Flavor and Mac Childress — who is also up for Best Educator alongside middle school math teacher MP Coleman and STEM instructor Robert Driscoll.
“These are sure to be the most hotly contested categories because of their fiercely loyal fan base,” said Keys Weekly Publisher Jason Koler. “Their students love them and could use the power of social media to swing the vote.”
Another big personality category is Best Elected Official — with current councilmen Mark Senmartin and John Bartus competing against Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay, whose only win came in 2013, while both Bartus and Senmartin have won multiple times in recent years.
In the private sector, ascending Ocean Sotheby’s Realtor Alley Kelley is a first-time nominee for Best Realtor, joining Coldwell Banker Schmitt’s Teri Hiller and Sam Williams. Hiller won in 2019 after Williams captured the crown in 2017 and ’18.
Other first-time nominees include Rider Photography, Grassy Flats Resort, Capt. Mike Mako, and Dockside bartender “Jenerator” who squares off with the Overseas Bar and Grill’s Andy Sharf and … Cheddar, Best Bartender winner in 2014, 2018 and 2019.
“There were two nominations that didn’t surprise, including Best Happy Hour and Best Vet,” said Koler. “Sparky’s Landing and Mike Dunn hold the distinction as the only two winners in town to capture the same category consecutively since 2008.”
This year Sparky’s challenge comes from Florida Keys Steak and Lobster House and the Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar, while Dunn’s competition includes Dr. Geri Diethlem and Dr. Shavonne Corbel.
“I think it’s great to see so many new faces and businesses nominated along with the iconic establishments,” said Koler. “As the Best of Marathon has grown, the voting has increased dramatically, which increases the competition in each category.”
Koler said he believes several factors led to some new faces on the final ballot in 2021. Aside from years of growing popularity, social media has become the premier method to solicit votes for the Best of Marathon. And many of this year’s current nominees were notably active on social media, which provided a stronger platform for local campaigns.
But make no mistake. Many previous winners are still on the ballot, which makes the 2021 Best of Marathon one of the most unpredictable and exciting contests so far. Voters can log in once per day to cast a vote over the next two weeks. Voting ends at midnight on Friday, Sept. 17.
“I always remind people of two things,” said Koler. “First, the voters decide the three finalists and the voters decide the winners. And secondly, it’s literally a win just to be nominated. It’s a subjective contest with one common goal: to raise money for our annual nonprofit. If we can have fun while raising awareness for a great cause, then we’ve accomplished what the Best of Marathon was created to do.”
The 2021 Best of Marathon is sponsored by the Florida Keys Electric Co-op, Centennial Bank, Promotions Guy and Fishermens Community Hospital. Winners will be announced Saturday, Sept 24 at the Marathon Community Park.
All proceeds from the 2021 sponsors, ticket sales and event proceeds go directly to the Marathon Rotary Club.