Not Too Crabby

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My filet, cooked a perfect medium-rare, was served with a heaping side of lobster creamed corn. My date’s colossal pile of stone crabs came with a rich, world-famous mustard sauce. Our baked potato was as large as a football, decorated with sour cream, bacon, cheese, and scallions. She looked at the presentation, then at me. “What a decadent meal.”

Decadence is exactly what Joe’s Stone Crab, a 450-seat restaurant located on the southern tip of South Beach, brings to mind. Even Ian Fleming’s James Bond, who was treated to a feast at Joe’s (dubbed “Bill’s on the Beach”) in the 1959 novel Goldfinger, called it the best meal he’d eaten in his life. Fiction and fantasy aside, the restaurant has many primitive pleasures, satisfying both tourists and locals who itch for a one-of-a-kind experience and fresh seafood.

The famed Miami restaurant has been in business since 1913, first located in front of a bungalow on Biscayne Street, where it was referred to as the “original Joe’s restaurant,” and now on Washington Avenue, where it can serve up to 2,000 pounds of shellfish on a busy night. It has always been thought of as the signature restaurant of Miami Beach. As one friend and Florida native said of the place, “You can’t go to Miami without going to Joe’s.”

When you walk into the restaurant, you’ll be greeted by a maître d’ who wears a crab pin on his jacket lapel. He will inform you how long you’ll have to wait (Joe’s has never taken reservations). Once you hear your name called over the loudspeaker, you’ll be led through the main dining room and seated a roomy table. For such a massive space, the noise level is actually quite bearable—my only complaint being that you can clearly hear when you’re being rushed out.

As we all know, stone crabs are the raison d’être, and they come in four order sizes: jumbo (usually 2 or 3 claws), large (5 claws), select (6 claws), and medium (7 claws), all accompanied with mustard sauce and drawn butter. The select and jumbo are the best choices since the larger claws can often be a bit tough, a drawback to their photogenic allure. With the select order, the meat is plump, a bit firm, and wonderfully succulent. The flavors, briny and slightly sweet. One additional appeal is that the crabs can only be eaten seasonally, a six-month stretch which lasts from mid-October through Mother’s Day. The fact that they are caught a few miles away heightens the action, too.

If it’s another style of crab you crave, try the jumbo lump crab cakes, although these can sometimes taste more like bread than crab meat. For sides, fried oysters—better than the raw ones here—arrive hot. The grilled tomatoes, served with spinach stuffing and melted cheese, are tasty, the hash browns as good as any as you’ll find. Allow me to also suggest trying “Joe’s Famous Half-Fried Chicken,” crispy on the outside and preternaturally juicy under the skin. Still, the seafood preparations are more successful than those with meat—more logical, as well.

Yet to me, after about a dozen visits, cracked stone crabs and key lime pie do not define the place. The experience does. Service is pleasant and plentiful, especially if you decide to eat after 10 p.m. The waiters, who seem all-knowing, are helpful, informed, and quick. Many have been working there for over a decade, a select few for their entire careers. Even with waits that can last up to a grueling two and a half hours, Joe’s takes good care of you. And it will continue doing so for the next 100 years.