One of the early signals that we’re about to start another high season in South Florida is the annual reopening of Joe’s Stone Crab, the cavernous house of crustaceans that has been pounding the mallet since 1913.
Joe’s Take Away, which is open now, has been serving frozen stone crabs the past few days. But the fresh stone crab season starts at midnight Oct. 15, and fresh crabs will be back on the menu next week. Dinner service (with frozen claws until Tuesday) resumes in the main dining room at 5 p.m. Friday, and if the catch is bountiful, lunch at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday will bring the initial rollout of fresh claws trapped the night before.
There are two ways to experience Joe’s. One is to throw yourself at the mercy of the maitre’d but still wait two hours on a weeknight for dining-room seating. Then you pay a check that easily will top $75 a person if you include wine.
The other is to be smart and make the Joe’s experience easier and less expensive but still a bonafide gorge on the sweet-fleshed crabs.
To help, here are our Joe’s Stone Crab hacks, just in time for the new season.
Park for free
Annoyed at Miami Beach’s $4-an-hour street parking and overpriced valet charges? Not to worry: Joe’s has its own parking lot, directly across Washington Avenue from the restaurant. It’s on the honor system; you’re not supposed to park there unless you actually go to Joe’s. So don’t screw up this great benefit and park there to go swimming. You know who you are. Anyway, the parking lot guard will be suspicious when you’re walking toward Joe’s with a folding chair and a styrofoam noodle.
Don’t overlook Joe’s Take Away
Even on a busy weekend, you are likely to be able to get a seat at the horseshoe-shaped bar or one of a handful of tables in the takeout section of the restaurant, on the south side of the complex. Sure, you’ll be using plastic silverware and enjoying your crabs in a plastic box or on a styrofoam plate. Your side dishes in aluminum foil containers will be placed in a tote bag. But guess what: It’s the same food. The menu is limited, but all the crab options are exactly the same as in the dining room. One of the Joe’s hallmarks, superlative service, extends to the bar.
Buy your wine off the retail shelf
In the back corner of Joe’s takeout section, there’s a little market with a cooler stocked with wines priced at about what you would pay at the supermarket. These are good wines, too. Retail prices, no catch, no markup, no corkage fee, no tip on your bottle of wine, so you’ll save at least $25 per bottle, more if you go high-end.
There are no “small” crab claws, so the mediums are the smallest you can order, and they’re plenty big. You get seven claws to the order, and they feature plenty of meat for almost anyone, particularly if you order a couple of the filling side dishes. Depending on the vagaries of the season, your crabs will cost maybe $27 or $30 a box, far cheaper than the “Selects” or the “Large.”
Gorge on signature side dishes
Every Joe’s fan has his or her favorite side dish. Some, mostly those with Southern palates, swear by fried green tomatoes. Potatoes are a must, either hashed brown or Lyonnaise. Spinach can be creamed, creamed with garlic (the best), steamed (yawn) or sauteed Italian style in garlic, the choice with the best combination of flavor and healthfulness. The Caesar salad may be unsurpassed in South Florida, and the cole slaw is spot on.
Consider something besides crabs
Hate stone crabs? Allergic? What the hell are you doing here? No, actually, we have the right answer for your palate and your pocketbook: Joe’s fried chicken. If you think Publix subs and Wawa are internet sensations, do a search on Joe’s Stone Crab and fried chicken, and you’ll find a long list of fans claiming it’s the “crunchiest” and the “tastiest” and the “juiciest” in Miami. All three are true, and for $6.99 for a half-chicken, you’re paying about what it would cost to tote some home in a bag from Publix (which, by the way, has some outstanding fried chicken, too). This is a good way to deal with kids at the table at Joe’s, because as we all know, they likely aren’t going to want stone crabs.