Joe’s Stone Crab

Joe’s StoneCrab Restaurant, a Miami Beach tradition since 1913, reopens for its’ 97th season October 15. Seafood fans and the usual glittering see-and-be-seen crowds cracked and munched crab claws at the historic eatery. 2,000 people per-night don bibs and dine on white tablecloths at Joe’s during the Stone Crab season – as many as 500 at a time – most having waited up to two hours for a table. This is an American tradition to be cherished, especially in light of the recent news that another legendary restaurant, Tavern on the Green, in New York City, had gone bankrupt.

Joe’s open-air courtyard fountain, dark wood interior, high ceilings, and tiled floor are elegant, but, despite the maître d and the 70 tuxedoed waiters, Joe’s is lively and bustling – not stuffy or subdued. Dining there is a happening from the minute you arrive because, during your wait for a table, you can keep your eyes peeled, cocktail in hand, to spot celebrities mixing in the crowd. Will Rogers, Amelia Earhart, Al Capone, Jackie Gleason, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Joe Kennedy, Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, were golden age stars that frequented Joe’s. Now it’s the Miami Dolphins, Regis Philbin, Larry King, Julio Iglesias, Gloria Estefan, George Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Billy Murray, Sharon Stone, and countless others. Even James Bond, in Ian Fleming’s book “Goldfinger,” describes his meal at Joe’s as the best meal of his life.

Michigan’s Elmore “Dutch” Leonard, the prolific crime novelist, included Joe’s in his 1983 title “La Brava.”

Enduring the wait heightens anticipation of the meal that awaits you.

When, at last, your name is called, and you are led through the double doorway into the sprawling dining rooms, you’ll feel as if you have been knighted or appointed to an ambassadorship! Come and be recognized! Follow the Yellow Brick Road!

You know just what you’re getting when you eat at Joe’s. After reading an item on the menu, you won’t be left wondering what the entrée really is! There is no fanciful “gourmet confusion” – everything is simple, straight forward, and perfect: soups, stone crabs and lobster, seafood, steaks, chops and fowl, salads and dressings, potatoes, vegetables and deserts. A platter of sweet stone crabs, with Joe’s signature Yomustard sauce, is sold at market price, when in season.

But here is my preferred order:

Lobster Cocktail with Sweet Crab Salad $13.95
Joe’s Lobster Bisque $7.95
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes $19.95
Side of Hash Browns $6.95
Joe’s Famous Key Lime Pie $6.95

A word of warning about the Key Lime Pie, though: leave room for it or you haven’t properly visited Joe’s. It is the gold standard, and will render any other version tasteless. The pie – yellow, not green – comes to the table cold, and the whipped cream dollop on top has the consistency of frosting. The graham cracker crust is no sidecar – it is as thick as a cookie. Perhaps the steamy Miami setting makes the tart taste of the pie so initially refreshing, but, then, as soon as the fork leaves your lips, your taste buds will dance with a delightful sugar buzz.

Joe’s Direct allows you to have stone crabs, key lime pie, and other menu items, sealed in containers chilled with dry ice, shipped to you anywhere in the United States. Orders come with Joe’s bibs and a hammer to crack the claws. Thankfully, this special delivery has become an annual birthday treat for me!

For those in a hurry, or sheepish about going into the restaurant proper in flip flops and shorts having walked over from South Beach, Joe’s operates a terrific adjacent gourmet take away shop featuring all of the menu items and more. There are a few small tables and a lunch counter so you can snack in the shop with complimentary copies of the Miami Herald racked up for you.

When I frequented Miami Beach a little more often, the now late Dennis Sutton was Joe’s maitre d, a position, some say, is more powerful, and certainly more lucrative, than that of Miami Beach’s Mayor! I confess that, thanks to Dennis, I was among the lucky swells granted immediate seating anytime I arrived at Joe’s. It was a guilty pleasure, to be sure, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed the touch of the star treatment. The respectful, time-honored tradition is to offer the “green handshake” to the new maitre d Ed Witte, who served under Dennis for a long time, on the way out…not the way in. You cannot buy yourself into a table at Joe’s, but you can thank the maitre d with an appropriate tip after your memorable dining experience at the South end of South Beach! It is amazing, but, in the same Joe’s tradition, he will remember you next time!

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