Stone crab season, South Florida's favorite time of the year, begins October 15, which generally means you won't see claws in restaurants for a day or so after.
Joe's Stone Crab, however, opens today at 5 p.m. for its 104th season.
Though fresh crabs likely won't turn up on the plate until Monday, Joe's staff expects to get flooded by regulars who consider the restaurant's seasonal opening a holiday of sorts. Frozen claws will be offered until the first catch arrives — and there's always the restaurant's insanely good (and surprisingly affordable) fried chicken.
The restaurant has been operated by the same family since 1913, when Joe Weiss opened a seafood shack on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Since then, Joe's has served presidents, celebrities, and regular people who wait sometimes hours for a chance to dive into a plate of claws.
Joe's chief operating officer, Stephen Sawitz, a direct descendant of the Weiss family, likens the first day of Joe's to the first day of football season. "There is something special — excitement. It's like that opening kickoff."
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Of course, the big question is whether Hurricane Irma affected the stone crabs' habitats. Sawitz is betting on a positive outcome. "There's not a lot of science regarding how the strong winds will affect the season," he says. "I think it's going to be a good year. We didn't have the best catch in the past two years, and you always worry about a shortage. It's a balancing act in keeping the fishermen sustained and making the people we serve year after year happy."
The Joe's COO is more concerned about the fishermen than the crabs. He says that during Hurricane Irma, cell-phone service was out in Everglades City. "We started sending people to help." Though the water rose with the winds, Joe's Stone Crab's dock was fine, and the people who work there were unharmed.
Though the iconic restaurant offers no major menu changes this year, expect to see a new menu design with a new font and four rotating designs on the front. Says Sawitz: "It was a fun step and a new way to project ourselves."
Joe's Stone Crab. 11 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-0365; joesstonecrab.com.