Joe’s Stone Crab: Seafood and Sebastian the Ibis for 90th B-Day

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Restaurant Sign Miami

Joe's Stone Crab has been Miami's most famous restaurant for decades.

In Miami, there’s no better place to celebrate a special occasion than Joe’s Stone Crab. The original South Beach restaurant combines impeccable seafood and sides, a classic dark wood interior, and excellent service from tuxedoed waiters. Since my family was celebrating our biggest occasion in years, my Great Aunt Anne’s 90th birthday party, Joe’s was the natural choice.

Joe Weiss opened his eponymous restaurant on South Beach in 1913. It began as a fish shack, serving snapper, pompano, mackerel and fish sandwiches. Joe didn’t serve stone crabs until 1921, when local aquarium owner James Allison brought him a sack of stone crabs from the bay. Joe boiled the claws, paired them with hashed browns and cole slaw and sold them for 75 cents. They were an instant hit. Not surprisingly, the claws are a tad more expensive in the 21st Century. Also not surprising is the fact that Joe’s popularity has caused the restaurant to expand over the years. Joe’s now occupies an entire block at the southern tip of the island.

As for our birthday meal, Jesse’s Private Dining room came with a pre-set menu. Big silver platters of delicious food just kept landing on my table. I tried everything (more than once), and it quickly became clear Joe’s is about more than just stone crabs.

Bread baskets were already on the tables when we arrived, framed by University of Miami swag. They each held onion rolls, slices of rye and pumpernickel, big oyster crackers and more. The semi-sweet yellow onion rolls were the highlight.

Seafood Miami

Jumbo shrimp cocktails came with cocktail and horseradish sauces. Halved, chilled Florida lobsters were piled with lump crabmeat salad. The lobster meat was easy to pull from the shell, and although there were no claws, the tail meat was still crisp and naturally sweet.

A salad course featured very good Greek salad with a lot of olive oil, pitted Kalamata olives, finely diced tomatoes and carrots.

Side Dish Miami

Tender hashed browns came housed in a salty, crispy, browned dome.

Side Dishes Miami

Creamed spinach was excellent. Fried onion rings were nearly definitive, featuring sweet, thick-cut onion and crunchy breadcrumb crusts.

Cottage fried sweets “chips,” basically thick cut sweet potato fries, could have been crispier, but were still flavorful.

Grilled tomatoes topped with thick layers of spinach and melted yellow cheddar were rich but amazing.

There were three entrée options: steak, salmon, and chilled stone crab claws. Outside of food allergy concerns, the idea of ordering anything other than stone crab claws is practically sacrilegious.

Crab Miami

Beautiful black-tipped stone crab claws came stacked on metal platters, pre-cracked and chilled. As I learned from my dad and step-mom later, we were given “medium” claws. They normally get “jumbo” claws, which my dad remembers being more succulent.

Cousin Eddie was also floating a rumor that in the first week of stone crab season, claws are frozen. Given that Sunday was the second day of stone crab season [which lasts from October 15 to May 15], Eddie believed we were eating frozen stone crab claws. There was yet another rumor that the claws had been sitting on platters in the kitchen for a long time before they were served to our party. Despite all the hullabaloo, I still had no problem downing five pre-clacked stone crab claws. They were meaty, sweet and delicious. Maybe I don’t know any better, but I really enjoyed them.

There are a lot of fun facts associated with stone crabs. Among them, the claw is the only part of the stone crab that’s eaten. Only one claw is harvested at a time; the crab needs the other one to fend for itself while the missing claw regenerates to legal size, a process that takes up to two years. Egg bearing females are not allowed to be declawed. When Joe Weiss started out, stone crabs were plentiful in the bay off Miami Beach, but waters were dredged in the 20’s and the crabs migrated to Southwest Florida, the Keys, and the Gulf of Mexico, where they battle their nemesis: the octopus.

Fish Miami

Bronzed salmon fillets were destined for four freaks who decided to skip stone crab claws.

The décor wasn’t exactly standard issue, but then again, neither is my family. Yes, the walls in Jesse’s Private Dining room were lined with wood-framed black-and-white photos. And the tables were still lined with white and green checkered tablecloths. In honor of my Great Aunt being such a huge University of Miami football fan, the walls were strung with plush versions of the Hurricanes mascot, Sebastian the Ibis. The tables were lined with green and orange footballs, pins, scrunchies, Jelly Bellies and more. There was a huge mass of green and orange balloons. About an hour into the party, it made even more sense.

Birthday Party Miami

The Hurricanes official team mascot, Sebastian, ran out of the kitchen and surprised Aunt Anne. He posed for pictures. He fired up the crowd, just like at the Orange Bowl, leading everybody in Hurricanes cheers.

At one point, Sebastian tied on my crab bib and faked taking a sip of my wine. He even got heckled. A graduate of rival University of Florida, my dad told the ibis, “I hope you get bird flu,” at which point Sebastian mimed strangling him. Aunt Anne loved him, had a huge smile on her face. I know, it’s not exactly food-related, but this is my blog; I can write what I want. Back to the food.

Pie Miami

There’s so much history at Joe’s, even their key lime pie has a story.

Damon Runyon was a famous journalist in the first half of the 20th Century. One of his favorite topics to write about was restaurants. In the 30’s, Runyon wrote about eating at Joe’s Stone Crab. He said he had the most incredible key lime pie. Which was notable because Joe’s didn’t serve key lime pie. As soon as Runyon’s readers read his article, they flocked to Joe’s to try the key lime pie. In response to the demand, Joe’s commissioned a key lime pie. It came semi-frozen and my cousin Jimmy remembers eating it in high school, swears it’s the best version he’s ever had. Unfortunately for Joe’s (and for Jimmy) the man who came up with Joe’s original key lime pie took the recipe to the grave with him. Joe’s had to come up with another version, and Jimmy swears it’s not as good as the original. I still thought the slice I ate was mighty fine, cool and custardy, with a graham cracker crust. [FYI: If you ever order key lime pie and it’s green, it’s a fake. Key limes are yellow.]

Birthday Cake Miami

There was one off-the-menu item: Aunt Anne’s birthday cake.

When we filed out of the restaurant at 9, the hostess was still calling out names. As if we needed any more confirmation we were in the right place. Of course it’s always fun to experience great food, but for at least one night of my life, the food wasn’t the most important part. I’ll most remember Aunt Anne blowing out the candles on her chocolate birthday cake with a huge smile on her face. For that, it was worth flying to Miami.

Joe’s Stone Crab: Seafood and Sebastian the Ibis for 90th B-Day


Joshua Lurie

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

Blog Comments

stone crab season

[…] in stone crab season (late October to May), and then offers a reduced service until August. …Food GPS Joe’s Stone Crab – Miami Beach, FL – Sunday …Cousin Eddie was also floating a rumor that in the first week of stone crab season, claws are […]

There is really nothing that compares to Joe’s. and interesting fact is that they remove the claws an throw the crab back for the claws to regenerate… great restaurant!

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