How To Get Into Joe's Stone Crab
It's the iconic restaurant in Miami Beach
Miami might have year-round good weather, but locals will tell you that the city actually has two seasons: hurricane season and stone crab season.
Stone crabs are a species of crab found in the western North Atlantic from Connecticut to Belize but their main habitat is in Southern Florida. Unlike most crabs, the only edible part (for humans) is its claws. Lucky for the crab, its claws can regenerate meaning that once a claw is harvested, the crab is released alive to grow a new claw back — which generally takes about a year for healthy adults.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service, which closely monitors all fishing of this species, the 2021-22 season started on October 15 and runs through May 1, 2022. Florida’s other famous season — hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 through November 30, plays a huge factor in what the yearly harvest will look like. An active hurricane season can churn up the waters, disturbing the seabeds. The crabs then travel farther offshore to seek refuge from the rough waters. This year, however, with little storm activity in their main habitat, fishermen are seeing a bounty of stone crabs.
Commercial fishermen quickly cook the claws and chill them while still on the boat. They’re then transported to restaurants across South Florida and flash frozen for shipping worldwide. Because of their scarcity, the start of stone crab season is considered somewhat of a holiday in Florida, with the claws showing up on the menus of most steakhouses and seafood restaurants.
The claws are sweet and tender and are best eaten chilled with either a squeeze of lemon or dipped into a creamy mustard sauce. Though many restaurants serve frozen claws, fresh claws are sweeter and yield a firmer flesh that’s easier to get out of the shell — hence more meat for your buck. The best way to make sure you get fresh claws is to dine at a reputable restaurant.
The most famous of these is Joe’s Stone Crab.
The restaurant, which is celebrating its 108th anniversary, is considered the largest purveyor of stone crabs. Though there are outposts in Chicago, Washington D.C., and Las Vegas, the flagship location, in Miami Beach, remains an iconic eatery.
The restaurant has remained in the Weiss family since opening in 1913 (making it actually older than the City of Miami Beach) and, in 2019, was named the highest-grossing independent restaurant in the United States with $38 million in sales.
The restaurant has served U.S. presidents, celebrities, and larger-than-life history makers including Amelia Earhart, Will Rogers, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. During the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, it’s the stomping grounds for celebrity chefs like Martha Stewart, Anne Burrell, and Rachael Ray.
So how does a mere mortal get a table at Joe’s Stone Crab?
The first thing you need to know is that for over a century Joe’s did not take reservations. Now, thanks to COVID, the restaurant accepts a limited number of reservations through RESY.
The restaurant also opens for dinner promptly at 5 p.m. daily — but the bar opens at 4 p.m: Savvy diners who don’t mind an early meal show up for a cocktail and are the first to be seated when the dining room opens at 5. The restaurant also opens for lunch from Thursday to Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., so get there after your beach walk for an early feast.
Joe’s famously posts on its website that, while you can tip the Maître d’, don’t expect to go to the front of the line: But, that person isn’t a robot, so if you’re planning to propose to someone, are celebrating Nana’s 90th birthday, or have some other fanciful tale to tell — by all means give it a try.
If you still want to experience stone crabs but don’t need the ambiance of Joe’s, the restaurant offers stone crabs in a more casual, marketplace setting at Joe’s Take Away, located right next door. Take Away offers a full bar and seating (and has a killer stone crab omelet for breakfast), but why not get some stone crabs to-go and walk one block east to the beach for a seaside picnic?
Finally, Joe’s will ship stone crabs to your door if you can’t make the trip to sunny Miami Beach.
In season, the claws are packed in wet ice and shipped overnight via FedEx. Claw prices vary, but a dinner for two, which includes medium claws, costs about $188.95 and includes about seven claws per person, Joe’s mustard sauce for dipping, and two Joe’s Stone Crab bibs to complete your experience. Joe’s crabs can be ordered online at joesstonecrab.com.
Beyond Joe’s, there’s also George Stone Crab, for which owner Roger Duarte prides himself on delivering stone crab claws fresh from the boat. Duarte opened his business in 2009 and, since then, has sourced his crabs from Florida Keys fishermen. He delivers locally in Miami and ships nationwide and throughout Canada via express mail. Duarte sells his stone crabs by the pound, with one pound of large claws selling for $54.99. A pound yields about 4 to 5 claws. Order through Goldbelly or directly through georgestonecrab.com.