Admittedly, being from the south myself, at first, I was skeptical.
“I don’t smell smoke,” I prodded Marathon’s newest barbecue joint owner Larry Neese.
The Burlington, North Carolina native who transplanted 33 years ago to Florida now resides on Little Torch and insisted that he and his wife jumped in feet first to the restaurant business because of the BP/Deepwater Horizon explosion.
“She owns a property management business, and we saw that completely dry up,” he lamented. “We knew that if oil was coming here, tourism would be gone, but people will always need to eat.”
Neese previously operated an area fire and security alarm outfit Keys-wide, and with his restaurant experience limited to his teenage years, Tammy admitted this is not what she originally had in mind.
“I wanted to a have a water weenie and sell hamburgers and hotdogs to fishermen on the docks,” she laughed.
But back to that smoke.
“We have already sold hundreds of pounds of barbecue just within the first couple of weeks,” he insisted, adding that he’d practically have to construct a barn and a pen to house all the pork he’s sold in only their first couple of weeks of business.
The lack of Southern comfort food and good barbecue, available at a reasonable price, is at the heart of the business plan for Bubba’s BBQ.
“We focus on three things: being the cleanest place in town, the happiest, family-friendly place in town and offering the tastiest Southern food at affordable prices,” he explained.
There are two options on the growing menu for pulled pork barbecue – a quarter pound or a half pound, and both are served with beans, slaw and “a bun if you want it” for under $10.
Larry is the face of the operation in the front of the house, and he’s delighted in introducing local Conchs to Southern classics like Brunswick stew and hush puppies.
“Most people don’t know what it is, but now they’re coming back in asking for it,” he said proudly of the stew made with his mother’s recipe.
His slaw is vinegar, not mayonnaise-based, and his menu is built around, simple, classic recipes from his family’s collection. A daily rotation of vegetables like fried okra, corn nuggets, and stewed cabbage is also available. Pan-fried pork chops and country-fried steak are available. He’s got a recipe for Southern Slaw Dogs in the works just in time for his upcoming Grand Opening festivities Dec. 1-7.
In fact, he’s most proud of the Signature Sauce, one of five placed before you on the table when you order the pulled pork. It’s a vinegar and tomato-based sauce, in stark contrast to the thick, dark and sweet Rib Sauce to which most are accustomed. There’s Bubba’s Mustard Sauce (self-explanatory on the ingredients) and a Caribbean sauce made with lots of fresh fruit. Sauce number six is still in the works – it must be “Bubba-approved” – and Larry said the final one promises to pack a punch.
So, just who is Bubba?
Larry points to a black and white photo of a man leaning against an old entrance sign into Key West.
“Monroe Country historian Tom Hambright is trying to figure out where he was standing in that photo taken in 1938,” Larry explained.
And that smokehouse?
“We have an off site smokehouse,” he finally confirmed. “We’re getting shipments sent down at least once a day right now!”
Bubba’s BBQ, located at 11399 Overseas Highway in Marathon, is open 11 am – 9 pm Monday through Saturday and Noon to 9 pm on Sunday. Dine in or carry out is available.
James Wells, Joey Van Buren and Larry Neese are proud to offer the Middle Keys some barbecue and Southern comfort food at 11399 Overseas Hwy. (formerly Island Seafood Shack)
Half a rack of ribs, never boiled but smoked for 18 solid hours, served with a salad and two sides, is available at Bubba’s BBQ for $13.95.