Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab: South Beach in Vegas

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Seafood Las Vegas


Like it or not, my life is inextricably linked to Miami. It’s the city where both of my parents grew up, home to countless family members and the destination for more than a dozen trips over the years. Still, considering the relatively sad state of the South Florida dining scene, if family and friends didn’t live there, I probably wouldn’t travel there anymore. There isn’t much say in the matter, but of course it’s still worth eating as well as possible while I’m there, and eating well in Miami inevitably involves semi-regular trips to Joe’s Stone Crab, a South Beach classic that dates to 1913.

On my most recent trip to Las Vegas, which rounded up a group of food bloggers from across the country and was sponsored by Caesars Entertainment Inc., we had two days to explore the hotel group’s various restaurants. Considering the history, my initial mission strayed from the pack and led to Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, which has been situated at The Forum Shops at Caesars since the end of 2004. This is the second stage of a strategic partnership between Joe Weiss’ great grandson Steven Sawitz and owner-operators Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises that initially sprouted in Chicago in 2000.

The exterior of the restaurant features shiny tile floors and an “outside” patio that’s framed by planters that hold plastic vegetation. The patio’s clearly the place to sit, since the seats offer great only-in-Vegas people watching, even at lunch. Past the recessed dark wood facade, a dining room features a full bar and Art Deco column lanterns designed to evoke the Miami Beach motherland.

A bread basket came from local Granello Bakery and included black sesame-Asiago flatbread with fennel, onion ciabatta, pretzel bread, raisin walnut bread and a Parker house roll. This was a deluxe bread spread, but considering all the seafood that was set to flood my table, it was easy to resist.

Seafood Las Vegas
My meal began with a cup of Stone Crab Bisque ($4.50) a rich, rosy soup made using stone crab, cream and a central thatch of classic French mirepoix: celery, carrots and onions.

Seafood Las Vegas
It was strange to take a spiral escalator past towering statues of Caesar to reach stone crabs from Florida, but I got over the incongruity at first crack. The claws are flown in daily from Florida, which clearly isn’t as good as in Florida, where they’re driven to the restaurant from the sea, but they were still good. My Large Stone Crab Appetizer (2 for $21.95) appeared with a ramekin of mustard sauce and a wedge of lemon. “Large” was the biggest option on the day’s market menu, but my waiter said they sometimes get “colossal,” which are two to a pound and “the size of a baby’s hand and forearm.” That would have been impressive, but it was hard to feel disappointed after devouring the pre-cracked claws, which yielded sweet chunks of snow white meat.

A server said the recipe for the mustard sauce was secret, but there it was, in the Eat at Joe’s cookbook. Apparently the tantalizing dip involves Colman’s dry mustard, mayo, Worcestershire, A-1, and two tablespoons each of heavy cream and milk salt. Guess the secret’s out.

Seafood Las Vegas
Like all the seafood in the desert city, it’s flown in from points east, west, north and south. Joe’s sources their “Famous Scallops” ($19.95) from Massachusetts. The mid-sized sea scallops were lightly coated with flour, sauteed in brown butter and dusted with parsley. They had good sweet flesh, but were clearly a little dry.

Some of the best bites of the meal came from the brick of Hash Browns ($3.95 individual). The browns were crusty and golden outside, soft and oily inside. My waiter said they cook the potatoes, form them into a brick and deep fry in vegetable oil. It’s an ingenious preparation.

Pie Las Vegas
Key Lime Pie ($6.95) is also available by the half slice, and at this point in the meal, that made the most sense. Longtime employee Paul Wilson, Sr. even kept his pie recipe from proprietor Jo Ann Weiss, so when he died in 1994, he took the recipe to his grave. The new version was Jo Ann’s attempt to recreate the recipe. The current pie involves 5 egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and plenty of Key lime zest. My cousin Jimmy, a Miami native, swears the previous incarnation was better. I don’t know about that, but what’s clear is that it shouldn’t be “served icebox cold.” My waiter said that it’s frigid in order to inhibit tartness, but that just led to muted flavor and an overly hard wedge that was difficult to eat. Let the Key lime perform its rightful magic.

Joe’s Las Vegas was good, but clearly wasn’t as memorable as the Miami original. Really, though, how could it be? Even if the scallops weren’t cooked quite as long, the pie was warmer and more aromatic, and the stone crab claws were plucked just out of the ocean, it’s near impossible to compete with a historic seafood palace that’s steps from the water and buffeted with a warm sea breeze instead of a shopping mall draught.

Fun Fact: Maitre d’ Thomas Johnson estimated that up to 2/3 of the staff has been with the restaurant since the beginning.

Note: This meal was part of a media trip sponsored by Caesars Entertainment Inc. for food bloggers from across the country. Everything was on the house except for the tip.

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab: South Beach in Vegas

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

I felt the same way for most of my life- but on this past visit I had a totally different view (and you know there are a ton of native Miami people who will strongly disagree with you.)

Think about all the people who were saying that about L.A. just a year or two ago. Miami is definitely on the up and up as a culinary destination. Combine that with the rich history of old school Cuban joints, and the seafood, and I think it’s a great place to eat.

(And I have noticed that people who have been spoiled with great Mexican food tend to be unfairly biased against smaller Latin American countries whose food is not as flavorful or varied.)

Zach,

I’m glad to see the country’s collective culinary waters rise. Miami has certainly been second-tier over the years, but if you say it’s improving, good. I want to be proven wrong, since that will only improve the quality of my consumption.

The quality of seafood has always been indisputable in Miami, much better than what we have in Los Angeles.

Also, I’m an equal opportunity eater. It doesn’t matter whether the food comes from Cuba, Mexico or Mongolia, as long as it tastes good.

Your first paragraph is crazy pants! I just spent two weeks in Miami and thought the food scene was better than ever down there. There’s a burgeoning upscale restaurant scene (had great meals at Michael’s and American Noodle Bar but sadly, we couldn’t get into Sugarcane or Gigi), old school cuban food scene (had great lunches at El Mago de las Fritas, Latin American, and La Camaronera). Plus a burgeoning food truck scene. Sure there’s a lot of crap restaurants, and bad “chains” from famous chefs, but overall it’s a food scene is totally up and coming.

In fact, replace Cuban with Mexican and you could be describing L.A.

I’m super excited to go back…

Zach,

I’ve heard the food scene is improving, and I’ll certainly visit the new crop on my next trip to Miami, but come on, Miami is not a destination food city. I’ve eaten at Michael’s, Latin American Cafeteria and La Camaronera, which are all pretty good, none great. I’ll take your advice on American Noodle Bar and El Mago de las Fritas next time around.

Also, based on what I’ve seen, a lot of Cuban restaurants in Miami have nearly identical menus, which doesn’t thrill me. Still, I’m always open to ideas, and you’ve certainly provided some. Thanks.

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