Monday, July 26, 2010

A Miami Institution

Joe's Stone Crab
South Beach, Florida
April 6, 2010
5:30ish pm

Le Sigh.  I've been avoiding writing this review; because I hate writing negative reviews and I'm so disappointed about how this restaurant experience turned out.  I really wanted to love this place.  I really wanted this to be my favorite meal in Miami, as it is a classic after all. 

Joe's Stone Crab is even celebrating their 97th season, for goodness sake.  People wait for hours and tip the maitre d' over $40 just to get seated.  How could I not love it?  However, I have to admit my experience was just ho hum.  Maybe it was the day, maybe it was what we ordered; but I just wasn't that impressed with the food.  The place was beautiful and full of history, the service was superb; but the food was just okay. 

According to Joe's website, Joe's Stone Crab is one of the oldest restaurant in South Beach and opened in 1913 as a lunch counter serving fresh fish.  They didn't start serving stone crabs until 1921 when they discovered they were edible, and quite tasty!  This is now the dish they are famous for.  Al Capone, Amelia Earhart, Will Rogers, etc. etc all frequented Joe's.  It's the kind of story Americans love, and with this kind of history how could expectations not be high and be fulfilled?

Joe's is only opened during stone crab season, mid-October through the end of July, so after reading so much about this restaurant we were pleased our visit would fall during the open window.  We had also heard the wait was always horrendous, at least 1-2 hours.  Because of this it was best to go early or be prepared to slip the maitre'd $40 ($20 tips were rumored to be rebuked and it is also rumored the maitre'd makes over 6 figures due to all these high tips).  With this in mind we arrived just after opening at 5:30ish and to our astonishment were able to be seated right away.  This was definitely a great start to our evening.  However, we wouldn't have minded to wait a little while and enjoy a drink in their beautiful courtyard. 

As we were seated I looked around at the enormity of the restaurant which can server over 400.  It was bustling, but not overly crowded and everyone seemed to have that ease of dining out while on vacation.  The dining room does not have your typical South Beach feel, but I didn't mind because it seemed to exude Old World elegance and have stories to tell.  The ceilings were high and airy, the floors were black and white tiled, white table cloths were everwhere, and I loved the dark wood accents and furniture.  I loved the feeling of the place and the people watching! People from all socio-economic backgrounds seem to want to dine at Joe's. 

But before I could ponder my surrounds too long bread service came which was a mix of all kinds of different breads.  My favorite was the white roll in the foreground of the picture, topped with cooked chopped onions!  But they were all good.  The bread was served with a luscious and airy butter.  This was one of the better bread services I have had.  Another promising start to our meal.  Unfortunately the greatness stopped here. 
Next, we decided to try the fried green tomatoes as an appetizer.  In Ohio we don't often run into this dish on a menu and we both love it.  Also, knowing that are own garden tomatoes were many months away from being able to be fried we really wanted a bite of Ohio's season to come.  The serving was very generous and overall the fried tomatoes were good, but not great.  They were too greasy and heavy for my preference and I hate to say it, but I liked the ones from the old chain restaurant Cooker with their amazing spicy "tiger" sauce much better.  Ugh, why did that chain have to close, if there is such a thing as good chains, this was one of them! 

But back to Joe's.  There was no dipping sauce for these (definitely a dining foul in my condiment loving world).  I would have thought some type of sauce would have cut through the greasiness of the dish a bit better and made it more palatable. 

For our entrees we probably made a mistake by not going with the classic stone crabs, but we had read where a stone crab is a stone crab and Joe's were exceedingly expensive.  Additionally, while I like crab in general, I do have a slight aversion to cracking the claws to get the meat out.  Because of this I decided to go with the crab cakes.  Now crab cakes are one of my favorite meals and I was excited to see what Joe would do with the famous dish.  However, perhaps my expectations were set a bit too high.  I like my crab cakes meaty and lightly breaded on the outside to allow the delicate flavors of the crab and fillings to come through.  However, these would have been more aptly named fried crab balls.  While again the portions were generous and there was a good bit of crab meat in the balls, the coating was very greasy and heavy.  Similar to the tomato dish, the greasy and fried outside became the focus of the dish and overshadowed the crab flavor rather than accentuating it with a crisp crunch.  Since these fried balls followed the fried tomatoes I could only stomach half of a cake before my stomach was revolting from too much grease (possibly an ordering mistake on my part, but I didn't think either dish would be as heavy as it was). 
Erik opted for the sea scallops which were well cooked, but served in a very heavy buttery cream sauce.  Again, while the scallops were cooked well the heavy sauce's flavor seemed to take precedence and a few bites were quite filling.  The toasts dipped in the sauce gave a nice flavor and contrast in textures.  However, for our preference, the sauce was just too heavy for the light flavor of scallops. 

Alas, due to the heaviness of dinner we were too full to sample some of the Key Lime pie we have heard Joe's is famous for.  However, maybe that's not so bad after all since so far our expectations had been too high. 

Overall, the food was not bad, but just too heavy for my preferences.  There was a time in my life that I would have thought all the fried food and butter sauces were great.  However, over time I have come to appreciate lighter seasonings that allow the flavors of the main event to shine through rather than being covered up with the flavor of fats (Not that flavor from fat is all bad, mind you.  I would definitely never say that!). 

But on a positive note, the service throughout the evening was outstanding and we truly felt taken care of.  Additionally, I ended up leaving my camera at the restaurant that evening and didn't end up noticing until the next day.  When we returned to the restaurant the maitre'd personally took me in the back to recover it and it was good as new and even with the $20 bill we keep inside for emergencies still in place.  However, I guess from what we've heard $20 is chump change when you work at Joe's.  ;)

Total Price: 1 beer, 1 ice tea, 1 order of fried green tomatoes, 1 order of scallops, 1 order of crab cakes and tip= $75

Overall Rating:  3 buckeyes

Joe's Stone Crab (Seasonal) on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

You did Joe's wrong.

1. After May 15 they are in summer mode and the wait is much less.

2. How do you not get stone crabs which come cracked already and the medium claws are reasonably priced

3. There are several dipping sauces they could have provided

4. Not ordering the keylime pie is as bad as not getting the claws. You didn't get one thing they are famous for. There is a reason why they have been in business for 100 years

Annabelle said...

Yeah, I knew I was going to get some flack for this review and believe me I wanted to love Joe's and I'm sure there is a reason they've been around for so long, but I write what I experience.

I know that we didn't order what Joe's is famous for and I admit that was likely a mistake. But a place that has been in business for decades should be able to master the vast majority of their menu. Not every patron that comes by is going to want stone crab and key lime pie. They are famous for crab and they should be able to put out a great crab cake.

Lowell Kuvin, Esq. said...

I order to fully enjoy any restaurant, you must interact with the server who is taking care of you. What was your server's name at Joe's?

If you had pointed out that you wanted "sauces" to go with your Fried Green Tomatoes, you should have asked your server, they would have brought you several. FGT are not normally served as appetizers, they are a side dish.

Crab Cakes are not made from Stone Crabs. They are made with Maryland blue crab meat. I have been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years and whenever I hear someone say "They are not as good as some other restaurant's" I ask them "Which of your children do you love the most?" Every restaurant is different and to knock one because you "think" or "feel" another is better, well your "critique" should be posted on the wall of "your" home, not online.

I am sorry you did not find Joe's to be everything I find it to be. But what do you have to lose? All of your favorite food is at another restaurant and now I do not have to wait in line behind you for a table.

Annabelle said...


I agree service is huge part of the restaurant experience and while I can't tell you the name of our server since we went months ago, I can tell you I could still pick him out of a lineup. Not interacting with my server is not a problem of mine and I actually felt the service at Joe's was pretty good.

I never said the crab cakes were made from Stone Crabs, I only mentioned I thought Joe's should be able to make a good crab cake.

I love restaurants and I am well aware you can love the same type of dish at many restaurants for different reasons, just as you love your children in different ways.

However, a dish can also be poorly executed and therefore not as good as another's dish. If that weren't true restaurants wouldn't go out of business for serving poor quality food and restaurant ratings and awards wouldn't exist. Thinking that every dish is good in it's own way is unrealistic.

I also find it odd you feel that because my opinion of this restaurant does not agree with yours, or that I don't have 20 years restaurant experience, somehow my critique is not valid.

Since you are in the restaurant business I would think that you would know that all patron's "critiques" should matter and provide something to learn from.

But on the other hand, just as you tend to suggest I should only post my opinion in my house, I will suggest that you are not required to read everything online.

A blog is one's thoughts and an extension of one's personality and "home". Just as you are not required to visit my home, don't feel you have to visit my blog.

RockManFree said...

Hi Annabelle,
I know it is almost a year since your sparing review with Lowell, but I just wanted to say you won! You came off as smart, articulate, and making all valid points! It doesn't matter that you are a Blonde (in fact it is somewhat suprising that a beautiful blonde has a brain too, since they are not usually required to develop it), but you should consider a side carreer as a food reviewer - your fairness and unbiased comments are what the rest of us depend on! Anyway, thanks!