When Islanders want a sandwich for lunch, they go to Big Al’s. Although the entire Island’s population isn’t dropping by for a nosh, on a weekday in season it can seem that way.
By 11:30 in the morning, people are lining up to place or pick up their orders and the prep work behind the counter is going full blast. By noon, the line is out the door and the tables are already filled with early birds who know to place their orders ahead of the rush.
“We come in early and beat the crowd,” says Dave Partridge, who described himself as a regular. “They’ve got great soups, and everything is always fresh.” He opted for an Italian hoagie — sub, grinder or hero, depending on where you’re from — along with his favorite, beef barley soup.
Dave Partridge and his son Dustin take their lunch break at 11. “I like roast beef — today and every day,” says Dustin, “and the clam chowder, but they don’t have it all the time.”
Big Al’s clientele runs the gamut of the Island’s population, with the tourists’ shorts and the uniform shirts of service workers mingling with the suits, skirts and heels of the business crowd.
“This is a great place to network,” says islander Rick Yacono. “We get a lot done here. There’s a whole group that comes here every day. Business associate, customer, vendor — hardly a day goes by without meeting somebody.” Asked about his favorite meal, he replies, “Whatever they give me — it’s all good. This is like eating at home in your own kitchen, but you don’t have to do the work.”
Two co-workers, Carrie Rosenow and Matt Darling of Resort Management, also praise the servers along with the food.
“It’s good service; they know us,” says Rosenow. “He (the cook) always remembers I want an extra pickle. And, they have the best chef’s salad here — it’s consistent. When I get one somewhere else, I always compare it to Big Al’s.”
In addition to the folks filling the tables inside and out, many customers get their orders to go. Deborah Dorbad, a registered nurse at NCH Marco Healthcare Center, stopped by to pick up lunch for six of her co-workers.
“The food here is the best,” she says, “The quality, the portions and the service.” Plus, she feels good about supporting the Island’s local businesses.
Tom and Linda Hanson are the owners who keep the lunches coming. Starting their 10th year at Big Al’s, they took over the business from original owner Al Landers in 2000.
“We bought a house on Marco in ’97 and moved down the next year,” explains Tom. The couple had a restaurant in Chicago, the Jefferson Pump, for more than 20 years. Like so many others, they saw the Island and fell in love.
“We just drove over the bridge and decided to go back and sell everything,” he says. “This is a place where everybody wants to be.” Since arriving, the Island’s growth has been unbelievable. “Then, it just came to a screeching halt,” he remembers.
Linda is the self-taught head chef at Big Al’s, and attributes their success to putting in long hours and giving customers what they want.
“Hard work,” she says, is the secret, “and we’re always here — at least one of us.”
The “big” in Big Al’s, she says, refers to the size of the sandwiches they serve. “We put six ounces of meat in a six-inch sandwich and 10 ounces in a large. That’s a big sandwich. We make everything here and use all Boar’s Head meats and cheeses.”
Their No. 1 seller, she says, is the “sun wrap,” with honey maple turkey, sun-dried tomato, walnut pesto, feta cheese, lettuce and onion, rolled up in a tortilla and pressed in the grill. The words “sun wrap,” by the way, were accidentally left off the menu, so you won’t see it under that name, but it is the first listing under house specials.
Running a close second is the Reuben, the classic, grilled, overstuffed deli favorite, which can make you go off your diet and not care.
“We sell a ton of Reubens,” says Linda, as well as its close relative, the pastrami melt.
Garden plates are very popular with the health-conscious, and are served with chicken, tuna, crab or egg salad, or the trio sampler, with your choice of any three.
Big Al’s serves breakfast until 10 a.m. You can try a breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese and sausage on an English muffin and a cup of coffee for $2.99. Each day, they offer a lunch special, with soup and half a sandwich for $4.99.
Dick and Cori Budden, visiting from Rockford, Ill., employ a different strategy for watching their calories.
“We don’t eat breakfast,” says Cori, “so we can come here for lunch.”
“This is the secret of the Island,” adds Dick.
The Island may not have managed to keep the secret, judging from the size of the lunch crowd, but, say the owners, Islanders can count on Big Al’s sticking around.
“Marco Island has been very good to us,” says Tom. “We’re not going back to Chicago.”
If You Go...
715 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island, in Pelican Plaza
7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Major credit cards accepted
Prices: very reasonable; nothing on the menu costs more than $10.25
Special recommendations: The Reuben — as tasty as you’ll find south of Manhattan
Soup and half-sandwich special for $4.99