Miami Beach, Florida: Every day of the season, Joe's Stone Crab goes through, quite literally, a ton of claws: more than 8,000 of those black-tipped pinchers. With trans-Atlantic tourists flush with Euros joining the usual mix of high rollers and lowlifes, you can wait two hours before someone in a tux finds you a spot among the 500 seats.
As scenes go, this is the top end of crabdom. Joe Weiss began slinging seafood by the beach in 1913 when asthma forced him from downtown Miami. The place is still in the family, but Joe would likely plotz of a heart attack if he could see it today. Or he'd be felled by the clouds of Ferrari and Maserati exhaust in the valet parking line.
Joe's declares itself to be the third highest grossing restaurant in a country with plenty of gross restaurants, and it is closed for half the year.
Fittingly enough, a crab whose left foot costs about $2 an inch is named Menippe mercenaria. For those more interested in the culinary than the cool, the question begs: Is it worth it? In two words: you bet.
The flesh is firm, unlike sweeter more tender varieties that fall apart to the touch. It is supposed to taste like lobster, but it doesn't. Its nutty flavor is more like, uh, stone crab. That's the best I can do. But since 3 million pounds of claws are landed each year between Florida and Texas, it is a pretty popular taste.
The National Marine Fisheries Service says even that huge harvest does not endanger the species. Crabbers lop off only one tough-shelled claw, leaving the other. Nature apparently figured stone crabs would lose a limb to one thing or another, and the missing claw grows back.
At Joe's, claws are boiled and served with such signature side dishes as hash-browned potatoes and coleslaw with a secret recipe that seems to involve sweet pickle juice. Luscious key lime pie is the obligatory closer.
The place itself is a fine example of Caribbean class, with dark wood louvers and spacious verandas dating back to the 1940s. Part of the draw is lore that goes back to Al Capone and just about every Miami character of note for nearly a century. Some of it is that mustard sauce.
But the star of the place is Menippe mercenaria, that oyster-cracking denizen of the Gulf of Mexico so dear to the hearts of crab lovers. Who cares what it costs?
Mort Rosenblum is a former Associated Press reporter now based in Paris and Provence. He is the author of several books including A Goose in Toulouse, Chocolate, and the recent Escaping Plato's Cave, as well as a frequent contributor to Bon Appétit. Here, he shares memorable meals from his recent travels around the globe.
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