“Pleasant” is the very first word that comes to mind when you have an enjoyable visit and delicious meal with the Millers at Pine Tree Lodge in LaBelle. First fun thing that happened on our recent visit was that the lady’s voice in our GPS kept repeating “label” for the word “LaBelle,” but we arrived just the same after checking the various directions given for the scenic restaurant along the banks of Taylor Bayou in Southeast Texas. Ken and Norma Miller have been the owners of Pine Tree Lodge since 1984 and have built a faithful following of customers from far and near.
Regulars do not even have to ask for the menu to place orders for scrumptious fried catfish, either whole or done in tender fillets, or for a really good steak. Many travel to Pine Tree just for the gumbo and potato salad or any one of the other dozens of home cooked recipes offered by the family and their staff. The seafood platter, offering tastes of several specialties, is a favorite of many. It comes loaded with the famous catfish, fried oysters, gator bites, a delicious crab cake filled with loads of fresh crabmeat, shrimp, and your choice of two side dishes. My husband, Ted, bragged on the hushpuppies, and he is getting to be a connoisseur of those delicacies here in Texas.
We did have to teach him the story of how hushpuppies came into existence. It has been written by many that in the older days of plantations and ranches, the hunting dogs would gather around the back doorstep or porch and whine for food. As the cooks would be preparing big evening meals, they would make cornbread or corn fritters to be served with heaping bowls of fresh vegetables or game shot on the land. As the dogs got louder, the cooks would fry up small bits of the batter or have small portions left over in the pan from the frying fritters, and would spoon them up and throw them out to the door with the cry, “Hush, puppy, this food ain’t for you.” Thus, hushpuppies were born and soon became a fine tradition.
While visiting with the Millers, we found that sadly Ken passed away in 1995 but that Miss Norma has been joined by son Mike and his personable wife, Sandy, who have been on board since Hurricane Ike. It is really a family affair, and we discovered that Mike and Sandy’s son Ryan now works in the kitchen. The quality, quantity and taste of the food has not changed one iota, and if anything, is better than I remembered from earlier visits.
Mike said that Pine Tree Lodge is a fun, family oriented business where people of all ages can come and enjoy some of the best seafood, steaks and burgers in Southeast Texas. “We have our followers,” he said with a smile. “Some of our customers drive for miles to get here to eat, and many others are more local. We enjoy them all.”
The location for the restaurant couldn’t be more perfect. You are likely to see big turtles sunning on the jutting rocks or along the edges of the bayou, and it is not uncommon to spot a big gator or two while fish jump and splash. The Millers are proud of the new and improved patio that offers customers a waterfront view and a great place for the live music offered there. Sundays are big entertainment days, and the patio is usually full all afternoon and into the evening. The Millers choose to feature local bands including Curtis Breaux and the Cadillacs, Billy Poullard and the Zydeco Combo, and Eazy with Steve Champagne, among others. You can check the Pine Tree Lodge FaceBook page to determine what group is playing next on the patio.
When asked what was the most ordered food on the big menu, all of the Millers said in unison, “Fried whole catfish.” “Some people drive here just for that,” said Mike. “We pride ourselves on having good food consistently.” When asked what made the catfish so special, he smiled and said, “I think the secret lies with the cook. They know what they are doing in the back, and it shows. It also has to do with the quality of food we buy, the special blend of spices and seasoning, and the way it is fried. Best thing to do is just to taste it for yourself.” Miller said they buy local seafood that is guaranteed fresh and delivered directly to the restaurant.
The restaurant is closed on Monday but is available for private parties with notice. “We’ve had wedding receptions, an actual wedding, birthdays, corporate gatherings, showers, engagement, and graduation parties here,” said Mike. “And Thursdays are our prime rib specials. You’ll have to come and try one of those.” The restaurant offers a full menu of wine and beer and a lunch special from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. each day, Tuesday through Friday.
“We believe our customers have made Pine Tree Lodge such a well-known destination for great family dining and relaxation, and for that, we are grateful,” said the Millers. “We thank you for your patronage and friendship and look forward to serving you for many years to come.”
The restaurant is at 3296 Pinetree Road in LaBelle. You can reach the Millers or a member of the staff at (409) 796-1600.
Pine Tree is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It is open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday, from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.