King of the Crab Houses

JOE’S STONE CRAB is a Miami Beach institution – a national icon, even. It’s been around for over 100 years, and is one of the highest grossing restaurants in America, rumored to bring in more than $30 million annually – despite being closed during Miami’s four hot summer months.

About six or seven years ago, Joanne and I went there for the first time. They don’t take reservations, and the maître d’ looks down on you from an elevated podium as though you’re supplicants to the throne. (The advantage isn’t just psychological; the height of the platform prevents you from seeing the waiting list).

So when we approached the podium to submit our name, here’s what really pissed me off. He kept his nose down and refused even to look at us as he said “NAME? TWO HOURS. NEXT?” No “Good evening.” No “We’re glad you’re here. We’re on a two-hour wait, but if something opens sooner, we’ll call you.”

Joanne and I walked out. If they didn’t give a shit…well, I didn’t give a shit.

Even though we have a home in Miami, a mere two blocks from Joe’s, we stayed away for FIVE YEARS.

Finally, last year Joanne said “Let’s give ‘em another chance.” So we did.

There was a new maître d’ at the podium, someone who actually looked us in the eye and smiled. He said something to the effect of, “Thank you for choosing Joe’s.”

We were seated within half an hour in Massimo’s section (Section #13), by the window. Dinner was a delight, and we’ve been back a dozen times since (always in Massimo’s section), and every time I’m there, I take notes.

Even though Joe’s is on Miami Beach, it’s not in the crazy part, but instead is situated in the area called “south of fifth” – a quieter and more genteel neighborhood than the zany vibe of Ocean Drive.

A brief lesson on stone crabs. Seventy-five years ago they were considered a nuisance, much like lobsters and oysters were once viewed. Their black-tipped claws are tough as nails. But then someone decided to taste the claw meat. Joe’s Stone Crab went a step further and served the claws with a mustard-mayo (recipe online), and a full-blown food trend was born.

A note to the PETA folks: The harvesting of stone crab claws is actually quite humane. Not only do the crabs survive, but they grow replacement claws within two years.

There is a downside, however: Stone crab claws are expensive. They come in four sizes: medium, at 6 – 7 per order; large, 4 – 5 per order; jumbo, at 2 – 3 per order; and colossal, with 1 – 2 per order. Expect to pay about $40 for a medium order, and in the neighborhood of $100 for a colossal serving.

Even though the onion rolls in the bread basket are perhaps the best I’ve ever had, resist loading up. Something more delicious is coming.

The last time I was there, we started with the stone crabs (cracked for you in the kitchen), and Joanne chose the Half Chopped Salad, with roasted peanuts, feta cheese, black olives and cucumber ($6.95). I went for the Stuffy’s – big Quahog clams stuffed with chopped clams and buttery breadcrumbs ($14.95).

The menu is lengthy, with plenty of “Just Caught” fresh fish choices. Joanne had the Simply Broiled Grouper – just lemon, salt and pepper ($34). I, on the other hand, basically being a carnivore, chose the lamb chops ($40).

One brilliant thing: Amongst the array of $30 – 40 main courses is nestled a Half Fried Chicken for $6.95. Yes folks, you heard right: $6.95. And I’ve tried it….really good.

Sides are tough – there are too many good choices, including Lobster Mac & Cheese ($18), plus Broiled Tomatoes, Sweet Potato Fries and Hasbrowns – all within the $10 range.

Do not pass up the Key Lime Pie. You’ll see why.

Note, too, that Joe’s has an extensive takeout shop right next door. But nothing compares to dining out with friends. Here we are in February with our Boston friends, Tani and Charles. What fun…..


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