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Food Porn Friday: Stone Cold

Stone crab claws at Joe's in Miami. Thank you, sir, I'll have another!

Stone crab claws at Joe's in Miami. Thank you, sir, I'll have another!

It should be no surprise to anyone reading this column that I have a deep and abiding love of seafood. After all, I’m from New Orleans, and I think it’s fair to say that we have some of the best fruits of the sea (and swamps and beds, rivers, bayous and bogs) in the country, if not the entire world.

We enjoy fish so fresh it was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico the same day it arrives on your plate in a restaurant, or at your local seafood purveyor. And shrimp? As the New Yorkers say, fuggeduboutit. Our huge, plump, perfectly toothsome local shrimp make crustaceans in the rest of the country take one look at themselves, then hang their antennae in shame and crawl, humbled, underneath a lugubrious rock on their undersized pereopods.

You want to talk oysters? Our monstrously-sized, clean-tasting and affordable bivalves should teach a lesson to the rest of the country that you don’t have to pay $4 for a single raw on the halfshell to get what you’ve paid for. Then there’s crawfish, and we don’t even have to enter a conversation about the quality and availability of those suckers outside of the Pelican State. It’s not even worth it.

But there is one thing that we do not have in South Louisiana, when it comes to seafood, that I both marvel and delight in whenever I’m afforded an encounter with it: stone crab claws.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore all things crab in NOLA, from marinated claws to cakes featuring jumbo (or even “colossal”) lump crabmeat, sushi rolls that employ soft snow crab instead of rice, or just a good old-fashioned spicy crab boil with shell crackers and mallets. It’s always a wonderful thing to behold, and one of the reasons why our seafood here is plainly better than it is everywhere else.

But try as I might, I have yet to find truly great, fresh stone crab claws here. So where do you find them? My Platonic ideal of the stone crab experience is, unsurprisingly, at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami. You don’t use the name of the dish in the name of your restaurant if you’re not going to stand by its quality, and friends, this is a unique dining experience if there ever was one. Joe’s is justifiably famous for what it is and what it does. In fact, author Ian Fleming used Joe’s as the basis for the fictional restaurant “Bill’s on the Beach” in Goldfinger, in which James Bond eats what Fleming refers to as “the best meal of his life.”

How’s that for an endorsement?

A few things you need to know about Joe’s, if you’ve never had the pleasure of dining there. First, one of my friends refers to it as “The Galatoire’s of Miami,” and indeed Joe’s has a lot in common with the famed Bourbon St. eatery. It’s seating system is egalitarian, with lines forming out the door for the first seating at 5pm daily, first come, first served.

Second, while the patrons these days wear everything from bespoke suits to shorts and flip flops, the service staff is always impeccably clothed in black tie attire. The good ole waiter penguin suit never goes out of style.

Thirdly, the service itself is both attentive and friendly. After years of generous patronage, like at Galatoire’s, there’s a good chance the maitre’d will know you, as will a good number of the waitstaff, drastically improving an already remarkable dining experience.

Speaking of this phenomenon, on my last visit I was accompanied by my fiancee, her mother, and the 97 year-old “Grandma Jackie,” who has been frequenting Joe’s for over half a century. The staff greeted her - as she slowly made her way through the crowd to the maitre’d - like a rock star, and our party immediately skipped the already 40-deep line completely. As far as I was concerned, given the attention the staff paid her, Grandma might as well have been Keith Richards.

And, of course, there are those crab claws, the best part of which is that they arrive chilled at your table, with a side of creamy mustard sauce, expertly cracked and ready to be eaten with abandon.

The fact that they save you the time and effort of working through the thick claw shells alone makes their price justifiable. You can order your claws in a variety of sizes, from “medium” to “jumbo,” although many of Joe’s savvy repeat diners insist that, while smaller, the medium ones are sweeter and more flavorful than their enormous counterparts. And it’s not just the claws that make the meal special; the menu sports a wonderful list of side dish options, ranging from pillowy hash browns with a gloriously toasted exterior, tomato slices stuffed and roasted with spinach and cheese, grilled asparagus, and of course Joe’s notable chopped salad.

Add to that the gleefully juvenile fact that you get to wear a paper bib during your meal, and it winds up becoming not just a delightfully tasty and memorable meal, but a fun one as well. Kind of reminds you of dining in New Orleans, doesn’t it?

Another thing I enjoy about stone crabs - outside of their flavor and texture, naturally - is that they are a morally and ecologically sound protein. Stone crab fisherman don’t actually kill the crabs in order to bring their claws to your table. Instead, after sizing them and making sure they’ve reached the appropriate stage of maturity, the fishermen remove one claw, then throw the crab back into the water, where the missing claw regenerates to full size. When that happens, they take the opposite claw. It might suck for the crab to lose an arm every couple of years, but hey, it’s better than dying, right? When compared to the amount of crawfish I’ll kill and consume during a leisurely springtime boil, eating stone crabs is basically like being Seafood Gandhi. Namaste, my crabby friends.

So I urge you all, if you’re ever in South Florida, find your way to Joe’s, “The Galatoire’s of Miami.” You won’t be disappointed. And if you like it and you become a generous repeat patron, maybe, just maybe, you’ll get the stone crab royal treatment one day years from now.

Just like Grandma Jackie.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.