In Miami, the beginning of stone crab season is an event worth celebrating.
The season officially begins October 15 and ends May 15, giving us six months of blissful, sweet claws. That means most restaurants won't begin offering the delicacy until October 16.
Joe's Stone Crab, however, opens today at 5 p.m. for its 105th season. The restaurant has been operated by the same family since 1913, when Joe Weiss opened a tiny seafood shack on Collins Avenue in South Beach. Since then, the restaurant has served presidents, celebrities, and regular people who wait sometimes hours for a chance to experience a true Miami Beach icon.
Joe's chief operating officer, Stephen Sawitz, a direct descendant of the Weiss family, is looking forward to another season. "Being a year older is always new and exciting for us," he says.
Though the restaurant is more than a century old, Sawitz says the key to its longevity is its consistency in food and service. "Stay consistent! That’s how you do it. It’s hard to be consistent — there are a trillion details every day, but those are the kinds of things we try to be excellent at all the time, year after year."
That sentiment is best proven by the restaurant's employees, many who've worked at Joe's for decades and become an extended family to the patrons who dine regularly.
The food also remains consistent with a familiar menu of tried-and-true favorites such as stone crabs (MP) and the restaurant's not-so-secret deal: a half fried chicken for only $6.95.
This year, Sawitz says, the menu will largely remain the same, with new dishes coming in the form of specials. Also new is that Joe's Take Away, the casual eatery and market next door, opened earlier than the restaurant this year.
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And though every year's crop of stone crabs differs from the others, Sawitz says his team has a strategy to work around Florida's current environmental conditions. "Red tide is really not new to us. From the time I started working at Joe's, we have dealt with it, but, of course, this year it is much more pronounced. That said, it has not hit our fishing grounds. If it does, we will adjust and move traps."
Joe's doesn't accept reservations, and a wait for a table on a Saturday night could be hours. Though the bar is a cozy and convivial way to pass the time, Sawitz has a tip to get a dining-room seat right away. "Everyone who wants an easy in and out should come early — before 6 p.m. — or go to Take Away or even visit at lunchtime."
The stone-crab maven says being a frequent guest also has its perks. "We try to go out of our way for regulars and locals."
Joe's Stone Crab. 11 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-0365; joesstonecrab.com.