Mar 14, 2010

Joe's Crab the RIGHT Way

Some restaurants, due to years of happy crowds, iconic menu items, A-list patrons, or a combination of these things, surpass mere restaurant status and become institutions. South Beach is home to one such institution: Joe's Stone Crab.

Joe's opened in 1913 and specializes in serving its namesake - stone crabs. If you like seafood (crab, in particular), you owe it to yourself to have stone crab sometime in your life. Stone crabs are large crabs that have particularly massive claws - the ones with the black pinchers - that are harvested for their incredibly delicious meat each year, and regenerate over a year's time. Only one claw can be taken from a a stone crab during harvesting so the crab isn't left clawless, hence, defenseless. (There are many other rules and regs regarding stone crab harvesting you can read on Joe's website or wikipedia.)

So, yes, these famous crabs are the main draw at Joe's, but over the years other restaurant quirks have evolved, becoming intrinsic to its supposed charm - like the boisterous maitre d who reportedly makes six figures due to all the $50's he's slipped ($20's, too small, are loudly rejected) by hungry customers, none of whom are allowed to make reservations ahead of their arrival. These quirks, however, geared toward the experience of the tourist, have become a hindrance to Miami residents.

Going to Joe's is to step into history, and I recommend everyone do it once. But SoBe residents who would grow tired of the stuffy old fashioned atmosphere and extra costs of dining at the restaurant have graciously been given their own pleasant little shortcut:  Joe's Takeaway. It's exactly what it sounds like - call in your order or just show up and hop in line. The bustling staff at Joe's Takeaway will quickly set you up with a nicely packaged, portable three napkin dining experience you won't soon forget.

Elizabeth and I executed our Joe's Takeaway plan on our second night in Miami. We took the back route out of our hotel, onto the sidewalk that runs along the beach, enjoyed a leisurely stroll (a little over a mile or so) down to South Point - briefly pausing for some Cafe Cubano - and were delighted to stroll right in to Joe's and with hardly any wait and order our stone crab. Having done so, we hailed one of the cabs dropping off diners and went straight back to our hotel; pulled a table up to the foot of our bed and enjoyed watching the waning moments of the winter olympics while sucking sweet, sweet crab meat doused in Joe's special mustard sauce.

Takeaway purchasers are given a first-class setup, enriching the home-dining experience. Our huge takeaway bag included a styrofoam box with our crab and generously portioned containers of dipping sauces, complimentary dinner rolls, pads of butter, plenty of napkins and plasticware including a tiny crab fork, and separate plastic containers for our slice of key lime pie and caesar salad... everything we needed to enjoy the full Joe's experience from the comfort and privacy of our own room (minus the wallet-robbing maitre d).

The dinner rolls are a Joe's original - delicious bread pockets covered in, and filled with, small bits of minced onion. The amount of onion in these little bread caves is a little disconcerting when originally discovered, but slathered in some butter, they're both savory and sweet. A great tool for calming the insatiable hunger Joe's restaurant diner's inevitably feel by the time they are seated and waited upon. Probably not needed as badly with the takeaway orders but I like that they include them in an effort to provide the full Joe's experience. We ate our the next day as a much needed post-beach energy reviver.

Our caesar salad was tasty and served remarkably cold, which I love. The dressing is a creamy caesar dressing, and given all the vinaigrettes Elizabeth and I make at home, I secretly crave creamy dressings every once in a while.

The claws come pre-pounded, so they're expertly cracked and shell fragments can be easily discarded, exposing the beautiful, succulent claw meat. There's a procedure for eating the stone crab claws that must be mastered to enjoy them to their fullest, yet that learning experience adds to the overall fun.

Each claw comes with the pinchers, powered by a thick arm, and a delightful meat-filled joint. First, take a claw and begin pulling off shell fragments. The thick shell peels away easily and is remarkably sturdy. These are particularly well-armored crabs. Once the shell fragments are all pulled off and discarded, dunk the meat in your sauce of choice - Joe's famous creamy mustard sauce or clarified butter - and then simply suck and tear the meat off the thin, translucent cartilage running through the middle. Enjoy the feeling of euphoria as you unintentionally sigh and your eyes roll back in your head.

Our key lime pie was terrific, as well. With the Florida keys so close, this is a better place than most to order it and we weren't disappointed. Tart, fresh, cold and achingly sweet, it was the perfect citrusy finish to our seafood dinner.

Thanks to Joe's corner on the stone crab market in Miami, dating back so many years, it's become nothing short of famous - a must-visit for hungry beach goers who clamor over each other for the experience. Thanks to Joe's Takeaway, Elizabeth and I were able to enjoy that experience in shortcut fashion that left us feeling like savvy residents again. Just what we'd hoped. If you visit Miami and you've got a place where you could take a packed meal, I highly suggest you take stone crab away from Joe's.

Rating: three napkins

Joe's Stone Crab (Seasonal) on Urbanspoon

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