When you are driving down the Florida Keys to Key West for an island getaway, it’s a tradition to stop along the road for lunch. And a beer. Or a Rum Runner. Or the cold drink of your choice. The idea is not to overindulge (and consequently, drive inebriated). You’re simply looking for some tasty eats, maybe shrimp or a really juicy cheeseburger, and a nice cold Key West Sunset Ale or whatever your pleasure is. The whole point of the stop? To smoothly slide into that Keys frame of mind.
(Would you stop here? We did!)
What’s a Keys frame of mind exactly? Once you hit Key Largo, the northernmost island, life flows at a more laid-back pace. You can’t help but notice the beauty of the water – a luscious Caribbean island blue -- which is present at every turn. Sunsets over Florida Bay become a daily celebration. You drive more slowly, since the road narrows to two lanes. Fresh seafood for dinner? Yes, it’s all part of the experience. I’ve often thought that Jimmy Buffett’s song Margaritaville was more or less the unofficial anthem of the Florida Keys; its lyrics and melody perfectly express the mellow, nature-loving vibe down in America’s southern isles.
(The Seven Mile Bridge en route to Key West)
For folks who love (and I mean seriously love) getting down to Key West, where to stop along the way becomes something of a big deal. Other times, my fellow Island Runaway Zickie, our daughter, and I have taken a break at Alabama Jack’s, a honky tonk kind of joint overlooking mangroves on Card Sound Road. (That’s before you even reach Key Largo.) The food, from fried fish to sandwiches, tastes surprisingly good and the service is friendly. Postcard Inn (formerly Holiday Isle) in Islamorada, with its complex of bars, restaurants, and little tourist shops on the ocean-side of the Overseas Highway, has long been popular with travelers.
This most recent trip down to Key West, this past summer, we wanted to push on further south before lunch, and try someplace new. Around Marathon, the three Island Runaways started getting hungry. But no place looked exactly right. Too crowded, or maybe a place was closed for lunch, and then around Mile Marker 47.5 , I spotted Porky’s.
(It's hard to miss Porky's.)
“Hold on,” I shouted, getting excited. “You’ve got to turn around!” (Zickie was driving the car.)
In a few minutes, our tires were rolling up a cloud of dust in the Porky’s parking lot. A huge surfboard and some painted pigs greeted us. Let me be more specific: the rear-ends of painted pigs greeted us. The place overlooked a canal. Dollar bills hung down from the ceiling. Definitely a Keys classic.
(The classic Florida Keys bar inside Porky's)
One look at the menu told us what the kindly waitress later confirmed: Porky’s is famous for its barbecue. (That explains all the painted pigs.) Not only that, we could actually smell barbecue cooking on a nearby smoker. Generally, these kind of open-air, waterfront joints serve a lot of seafood, and while Porky’s had that, too, barbecue it was going to be. Pulled pork lunch special? Yes, please!
In the meantime, Zickie and I ordered a Red Stripe a piece. (Zickie's home island does brew one excellent island beer!) Our daughter went to inspect some pictures a local artist had for sale at one end of the restaurant. Our table looked out on a canal with boats coming and going. It wasn’t a vista of the ocean, but you felt right smack in the middle of Keys life.
(Red Stripe with a view)
We waited for a little while, but not terribly long, and then big platters appeared at our table as if by magic. The pulled pork smelled good. It looked good. How did it taste? De-licious! Tender. Mildly spicy. You could add your own barbecue sauce, but the meat itself was smoked gradually, not cooked in sauce. We’re talking old school, unbelievably tasty barbecue. Each of us devoured it as though we’d hadn’t seen food in a week.
(A barbecue lover's heaven)
The cole slaw? I could have eaten a huge bowl of it. My daughter’s French fries? Worth breaking any kind of diet to steal. Sometimes the sides are an afterthought, but not at Porky’s. Those sides genuinely stood out.
We left the restaurant reluctantly. If we could have eaten lunch twice, we would have. I’ve visited the Florida Keys many, many times, and eaten at many restaurants, from the upscale to the very no-frills, but I’ve never had a meal quite like this barbecue feast. While Zickie and I love Key West (in fact, that’s where we spent our honeymoon), we may use our next road-trip down there as a covert excuse…to eat at Porky’s.
Porky's Bayside Restaurant can be found at Mile Marker 47.5 on the Overseas Highway, Bayside, Marathon, in the beautiful Florida Keys.