Joe's Stone Crab
South Beach, Florida
April 6, 2010
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.
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).
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