Experience The Florida Keys Attitude

This regular olí local American restaurant has the typical sounds of clinking silverware along with the lively background chatter of the other patrons. It does have some distinctive aspects, though. Beyond the usual American dishes, the Big Pine Restaurant has some quirky local dishes. But most importantly, the Big Pine Restaurant and Coffee Shop has that laid-back Florida Keys attitude that makes the whole area so relaxing. The locals (many of whom are transplanted northerners) will talk to strangers as if theyíre good friends theyíve known for years. Along with six friends and co-workers (on vacation together), I dined at this small restaurant for dinner, and for breakfast the following morning.

Big Pine Key is among the largest of the Florida Keys. It is primarily a residential area and is located about 25 miles east of the much more lively Key West. The only continuous road through the Keys, US 1, crosses the south end of the island. Most of Big Pine Keyís commerce (including Big Pine Restaurant) is located on or near this road.

The restaurantís exterior and signage is not especially unique nor inviting. In fact, the restaurant is barely noticeable to the first-time passerby. Their sign is a hand-painted wooden slab (presumably pine) which is dimly illuminated with incandescent lights. During the day, itís unlikely to attract your attention at all. The restaurantís exterior is attractive and in good condition, but rather plain... blending in with the neighboring buildings.

The interior has a homey, old-fashioned diner-type feel. Thereís a 10 or 12 seat coffee counter in front of the swinging doors leading to the kitchen. There is seating for about 50 or 60 in the rest of the main dining room. The large exposed roof beams make the dining room feel somewhat spacious. The walls and most of the trim are wood... with a little bit of country-style wallpaper. The tables are wooden one-posters. Unusual tiffany-style light fixtures featuring stained glass (plastic?) dragonflies decorate the dining room. On one side of the dining room, they have a 21-inch TV perched atop one of the coolers. Although it was turned on, it was inaudible over the chatter of the evening diners.


The Big Pine Restaurant has an extensive menu with dozens of selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner... so thereís something to appeal to all tastes. They also have a dry erase board just outside the front door that lists six or eight additional "specials". The dinner menu features steaks and seafood, but this restaurant is known locally for its BBQ pork ribs and chicken, which their menu unabashedly calls "the best in the business". Their steak selections include a 12-ounce New York strip, a 12-ounce ribeye and a chopped sirloin. Their other meat selections include pork chops, liver and onions and country fried steak. The Big Pine Restaurant has many choices for the seafood lover. One may choose from fresh grouper fillet, fresh shrimp, blackened grouper, scallops, catfish and clams. Some of their house specialties are a little snazzier and more exotic. For example... fresh snapper and shrimp sauteed in a white wine sauce served on a bed of greens, and herb-crusted grouper served over fettuccini. I had my heart set on the stuffed lobster, but our waitress informed me that they has "just sold the last two to that table over there".I opted for their "best in the business" chicken and ribs. And ya know what... the BBQ IS pretty good... although Iíve been to several other BBQ joints with equally tasty chicken and ribs. One slight problem... they had just run out of their BBQ chicken breasts, so they gave me a grilled boneless chicken breast with BBQ sauce instead. It was good, but certainly not the same as a piece that had spent the afternoon in the smoker. The dinners come with a choice of potato and a side dish. I went with cole slaw and a baked potato. The slaw was quite tasty. The potato had obviously been batch-cooked two or three hours earlier and had a yellowish color and clumpy texture, versus a white flaky potato fresh from the oven. Dinners range from $9.50 to $20, with most between $11 and $16.


They have several appetizers from which to choose. Most are typical... chicken wings, potato skins, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, fried mushrooms, etc. They also have some unusual selections. We tried the catfish nuggets. They were spicy, but very tasty. They also have "pot stickers" I had never heard of pot stickers before this experience, so I had to try them. The unusual name and our waitressís inability to describe them heightened my curiosity. I have since learned that pot stickers are small Chinese dumplings made with won ton skins filled with meat, water chestnuts, onions and spices browned on one side, then simmered in broth. Our order of six pot stickers were served with soy sauce. Iím still not sure what kind of meat is was... I think it was pork... but the pot stickers were unusual and enjoyable.  Appetizers range from $5 to $7.50.


Make sure to save room for dessert. The desserts are well above average for this type of restaurant and theyíre all huge. They have the obligatory key lime pie. All visitors to the Keys must try at least one slice of this local dessert somewhere. I tasted a bite of my friendís key lime pie... I highly recommend it. They have a three-inch thick Dutch apple pie covered in caramel and whipped cream and available a la mode. I canít remember all the details of my dessert. I think it was ice cream covered in a fried pastry. From my photo, I remember that it was covered in caramel and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was gigantic... I shared it with the others.


Since the Big Pine Restaurant was the closest restaurant to our lodging (our bossís house), we returned there the following morning for breakfast before we returned home to Ohio. If you like a big, hearty breakfast, then youíll love this place. I had an enormous seafood omelette with grits, toast and coffee. They have some enormous skillet-style breakfasts where the meat and veggies are served on top of your hash brown... topped off with a couple of fried eggs and shredded cheddar cheese for good measure. And of course, if you just want bacon and eggs, they can accommodate.


They have a huge selection of reasonably priced lunch choices. They have over 30 sandwiches including burgers, chicken, fish, deli meat, and subs. Their house special is the 8-ounce Big Pine Burger made with black angus beef (if that makes a difference to you). They have soup and several salads including a chef salad, grouper salad, crabmeat salad and taco salad. They also have many other lunch choices like meat loaf, fried chicken, fried clams and liver & onions. Lunch generally falls in the $6 - $9 range.


The employees donít wear uniforms... just shorts, t-shirts and an apron. Despite the handful of minor problems Iíve mentioned, our service was generally good, and definitely friendly. If I recall, they donít serve cocktails, but I think they have wine and they definitely serve beer. Although I donít recall seeing children or a childrenís menu, Iíd feel perfectly comfortable bringing children here.


Final Thoughts

Big Pine Restaurant & Coffee Shop does not have a website, nor are they listed in the AAA Tour Book. Itís not a fancy place, but it does have some unique aspects (like pot stickers, great desserts, gigantic breakfasts and dragonfly light fixtures). The food and service is good... not outstanding. But most importantly, this restaurant encapsulates the carefree Florida Keys attitude. Many times, these little unassuming places turn out to be among the most memorable.


The restaurant is located on the north side of US 1, a.k.a. Overseas Highway near Mile Marker 30 (thatís how they measure it here). Itís between Palmetto Avenue and Ships Way about a quarter mile from the islandís west shore. Thereís only one traffic signal and the street signs can be difficult to spot, so if you have trouble finding it, just stop and ask someone... Theyíll gladly tell you.

Big Pine Restaurant & Coffee Shop

US 1 - Mile Marker 30

Big Pine Key, FL 33043

(305) 872-2790