The 2014 stone crab season officially began this morning, October 15, at midnight, and all over Miami, people are chomping at the bit for their first taste of the sweet claws.
But most restaurants won't have this particular fruit of the sea until tomorrow, when the traps are all raised and the first catch has been sold. The Coconut Grove Seafood Festival organizer devised a better way to get his paws on the first claws: Fly them in via helicopter, landing in the middle of Peacock Park!
"Many of the traps are being pulled up as we speak, and people are on the docks with cash and trucks just fighting to get the first supply. I know some fishermen in the Keys and thought to myself, How can I get the first claws here the fastest?"
Albelo's first idea was to use a motorcycle, but that was too slow. Then he decided on a helicopter, so he enlisted the help of Alba Seaside Italian's Ralph Pagano to make the "crab flight." The deal: Ralph flies, and Tony buys the first cooler of claws.
Pagano says the crabs were taken from one of the first traps raised at 5 a.m. off Elliott Key by Capt. Jim Fish. "At 6:30, Captain Jim cooked the claws, and at 7:30 we picked them up and brought them here."
Pagano made a dramatic entrance at Peacock Park at 9 a.m. on the dot, when he was greeted by Albelo and a group of reporters. So, was this a publicity stunt for the Coconut Grove Seafood Festival or merely an obsession with stone crabs? Yes and yes.
While it was the most classic of stunts, Albelo told us that he's serious about bringing life -- and seafood to town. "I've spent most of my life in Coconut Grove. I had my first boat here. People talk about Wynwood and Brickell, and those parts of Miami are great -- don't get me wrong. But Coconut Grove has that wonderful waterfront. It's a classic part of Miami. Sure, you can go to Joe's Stone Crab for claws, but you can also get them here at Monty's, which is iconic in its own right."
So, what is it about stone crabs that get us so crazy this time of year?
Albelo says that because we can't have them year-round, it's that forbidden-fruit aspect. Plus, they're simply delicious.
Pagano calls them sexy. "Look at them. They come in jewel colors. They're just beautiful." How does the chef suggest eating the succulent claws? "They already come to me cooked, so I just crack them open and add lemon."
And what's happening with that cooler of stone crabs, by the way? Albelo confessed, "I'm driving them to Alba Seaside Italian to have an early lunch."
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Here is the dramatic arrival of the first stone crabs of 2014: