The feeding frenzy is about to begin at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami. Each October, diners line up to relish the succulent meat that hides beneath the armor plating of Florida’s
native crustacean. Owing to a limited fishing season, their prized claws are only available fresh from October 15 through April 30.
You can have them frozen the rest of the year, but crab cravers in the know have been anticipating their October return. And Stephen Sawitz, the fourth-generation owner of Joe’s, a Miami Beach fixture since 1913, gets ready by buying early and often. “The beginning of the season, you buy everything you can,” he says. “You don’t know. It’s not like cattle you can count. It’s not like chickens you can see. It’s almost like mining for gold—you just don’t know.”
Joe’s has its own fisheries and buys up to a half a million pounds of succulent stone crab in a season, according to Sawitz. That’s about 25 percent of the state of Florida’s stone crab catch.
Unlike other varieties, stone crabs are all about the claw. Fishermen can harvest both, if they are large enough, but when they take one claw (typically the larger one, known as the crusher) and chuck the crab back into the water, the arm will regrow. “The claws must be cooked that day, then chilled immediately, so they don’t keep cooking. It’s a highly perishable product,” Sawitz says.
The crabs are so named because under the water they look like stones, but they bear another resemblance: their thick shells are hard as rocks, making them nearly impossible to break. Leave the cracking to the professionals. Go to Joe’s (it’s a busy restaurant, so the wait can be considerable) and order the chilled claws, which get pricier as they get bigger. One taste of that sweet, white, flaky meat, dipped in a touch of mustard sauce, and you’ll be looking for more. After your meal, choose a cigar from the restaurant humidor (they carry Padróns, Gurkhas and Davidoffs) and take a seat in the cigar-friendly outdoor patio, and puff away while you enjoy an after-dinner drink.