The stone crab "has a shell harder than a landlord's heart," wrote Damon Runyon, back in the days when Joe's Stone Crabs was the only place on the Beach to get them. Many would say Joe's is still the only place for stone crabs, but they're speaking figuratively. Monty's has been serving them here for a few years now, and two weeks ago South Beach Stone Crabs Café opened on Lincoln Road, plugging itself as "Joe's without the wait." "Joe's without the ambiance" (or "Joe's without the history") would be more fitting, unless you consider the outdoor lobby of the Sterling Building atmospheric. When this innocuous little open space was first converted into yet another outdoor café (Pacific Time Next Door) two years ago, I wondered how it came to be. Did the Lincoln Road planners suddenly realize they had missed a spot and demand that it be filled with tables, chairs, and food before somebody else noticed?
Filled it is, with built-in bar and a dozen four-tops crisply set up between Books & Books and Flowers & Flowers; in front of the lobby, across from an aisle set aside for pedestrians and whatnot, are ten more tables under the trees. Recorded music swings from Sinatra to the Doors as people maneuver through the tables to attend movies at the Alliance.
It's a bad crab season in which to premiere, as the recent storms have caused prices to soar: $17.95 for medium (actually eight little claws), $34 for large, $46 for jumbo, and $56 for colossal. Other classic seafood and steak house items: shrimp cocktail, oysters on the half shell (from Seattle), caesar salad, sliced tomato and onion, and sides such as creamed spinach (which was smooth and flavorful) and Lyonnaise potatoes marred by too much paprika (which tasted like diner home fries).
South Beach Stone Crabs Caf
927 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-538-5888 (for shipping stone crabs: 1-888-299-CRAB).
Open daily for dinner, 5:00 to 11:00 p.m.
Raul's seafood pasta was good, the spaghetti properly cooked and tossed in a thin tomato sauce imbued with the juice of the assembled shellfish: clams, mussels, calamari, two plump shrimp, and a small stone crab. The last of these, unfortunately, was uncracked, and came with no utensil to do so; it also lacked one of those dinky oyster forks with which to pick out the meat. Only two of the four listed desserts were available, and after eating the key lime pie, I wished they had been out of that, too: It tasted as flat as any I've had.
This restaurant may be located in a nook, but the prices are not cornershop. Raul's pasta, at $16.95, is one of the least expensive main courses, along with fish of the day (sautéed yellowtail snapper with lemon-butter sauce, $14.95). Doesn't sound like much, but with an appetizer (conch fritters, which they were out of, is the only one under $11.95), potato and vegetable, and dessert ($4.95), the bill per person, excluding wine and tip, would come to more than $40. Of course, that's not including what you may have come for: the crabs.
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It's really not a bad idea to offer a Lincoln Road location for stone crabs. Tourists will no doubt eat 'em up. Damon Runyon, who seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time writing about crabs (even formulating the best place to eat them -- in the bathtub), thought they were too good for out-of-towners, noting that "a certificate of at least four years' residence should be required of every person desiring them." And let's make city planners live in a neighborhood for that long before determining what's best for it.