Making new friends is a wonderful thing to be sure. It’s exciting to discover their hidden talents, to understand their unique personality quirks, the things that drew you to them in the first place. But it can be easy to forget about your old buds, the ones you’ve counted on countless times, the ones who’ve been there for your consistently, without fail for years, decades, possibly even a century. Ok, well most friends don’t stick around that long, but every so often, a restaurant does. However, doing so requires a staying power that can prove elusive, even to the hardiest of establishments. We’re talking Mick Jagger level, Paul McCartney even. There aren’t many dining halls that ever achieve such a feat. They fall for one reason or another, to any number of unforeseeable occurrences.
Somehow though, Joe’s Stone Crab has managed the impossible. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the legendary crab house, started by the humble Joe Weiss back in 1913. I’m not sure if Mr. Weiss had any idea what his lowly lunch counter would become a century later, but I have to imagine he’d be proud.
Joe’s, as it sits today is an icon, an institution in every sense of the word. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that every other stone crab joint in South Florida owes a little something to Joe’s. Understandably then, there’s an incredible demand for tables on a nightly basis. As you arrive and wade into the hungry mass, you’d better hope you know someone who knows someone, or you’ll be in for a long and tiring night standing at the bar. Joe’s doesn’t accept reservations, but don’t let that deter you. The crab is easily worth the wait. If you’re really in a hurry, there’s a take-out window next door, but for the full Joe’s experience, get a table.
Let me give you a little background on these choice crustaceans. Stone crabs are, as the name suggests, as hard as a rock. Therefore they arrive at the table pre-cracked, so you have easy access to the sweet flesh within. My favorite tidbit about these little guys is their Wolverine-like healing ability. As the claws are harvested (only one at a time so that the crab still has some defense against predators) they grow back, reaching full size again in 1-2 years.
But enough learning, let’s get to the food! When you finally reach your table, waste no time with the rest of the menu (unless you’re allergic to shellfish, in which case, what the heck are you doing here?) strap on a bib and order yourself a couple dozen claws. They come in four sizes: medium, large, jumbo and colossal. Obviously the price jumps relative to the size, but honestly, you can’t go wrong. There are few events that can bring joy to an entire table like that of a platter of enormous stone crab claws being plunked down, ready to be devoured.
If you’re in the mood, jump for some sides like fried whole belly clams, golden onion rings, or my personal favorite, Joe’s roasted tomatoes. They don’t get cute with fancy ingredients here or goofy gimmicks, just great food, traditionally prepared and executed to perfection. Like their key lime pie. Even I, whose love for key lime pie would barely nudge the needle past lukewarm, can appreciate a cool slice of their signature dessert.
My dad has eaten at Joe’s since I was born and thanks to him the rest of us have enjoyed warm welcomes and rock star treatment on every visit. When I was young, I foolishly refused the restaurants namesake, turning my nose up at crab in general. I’ve since learned from errant ways and have come to appreciate just what Joe’s represents. They’re a stalwart of tradition, loyally continuing in the path Joe Weiss blazed 100 years before. It’s no wonder then, that Al Capone and his goons made Joe’s a daily ritual. If it’s good enough for Scarface, it’s good enough for you, and it doesn’t get any more “Miami” than that!