“Stone crab is probably what God eats every night of the year,
but in Florida we mortals only have it from mid-October to mid-May…”
Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement
Whether or not stone crab is really what God likes for dinner might make an interesting literary debate, but there’s no disputing that ordinary and not-so-mere mortals have loved the captivating crustaceans of citrus country for nearly a century. In 1913 Joe Weiss discovered that stone crabs were not only edible, they were delicious–so much so that his small lunch counter in then backwater Miami Beach became an epicurean epicenter. High society–everyone from Will Rogers, Gloria Swanson and Emelia Earhart to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and J. Edgar Hoover–flocked– to his restaurant. So did a nemesis of Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Using the alias Al Brown, public enemy number one Al Capone and his entourage dined at Joe’s every evening. Capone liked and respected Joe’s wife so much (and ostensibly her preparation of stone crabs) that every Mother’s Day, he sent a truck to the restaurant to deliver a horseshoe-shaped bouquet of flowers which read, “Good Luck Mother Joe’s.” Jennie Weiss never realized who he was, but admired his gentlemanly behavior and always made him feel welcome at the restaurant.
Stone crabs are harvested in Florida every year between October 15th and May 15th. Among the world’s most sustainable seafood, only one of the delicious decapod’s large claws may be remove thereby ensuring the continued survival of the species. The crabs are thrown back into the water where another claw will generate in twelve to eighteen months. Crabs are captured in baited traps, not speared or hooked and egg-bearing females are not allowed to be declawed. The minimum legal size per claw is about two ounces with some colossal crabs weighing as much as twenty-five pounds.
Claws make up half the weight of the entire crab. A claw is removed by carefully grabbing it from the rear and twisting it off, a more humane treatment than say, boiling it live as is done with lobsters. The claws are steamed on the boat then chilled and delivered to restaurants such as Joe’s which serve them to soon-to-be sated guests. At Joe’s, they can be ordered in three sizes: medium (seven per order), select (six per order) and large (five per order). Size–other than perhaps the size of your billfold–has no bearing on flavor; the medium crab claws taste every bit as great as the large crab claws.
Joe’s legendary stone crabs are to the Miami chamber of commerce what green chile is to the New Mexico Tourism Department and as with our green chile, their popularity could not be contained by borders. In the millennium year of 2000, Lettuce Entertain You, a Chicago-based concept restaurant dining empire partnered with the Weiss family to bring Joe’s to Chicago, pairing Florida’s incomparable stone crab with prime bone-in chops, a Windy City staple. Four years later, the Joe’s legacy expanded to the Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas. Proving no mirage in the Nevada desert, Joe’s legendary stone crab quickly became a popular draw with reservations strongly recommended.
That’s a contrast to the original Joe’s which has always had a mandated no-reservations policy. Another contrast is the service. The Miami Beach wait staff is crabbier than the decadent decapods they deliver to their patrons’ tables, but in Las Vegas, service is friendly and attentive–particularly if your server is the lovely and ambassadorial Linda, a native of the south of England who will make you feel right at home and can be trusted to provide spot-on recommendations on what to order.
As you contemplate the menu, a basket of bread is delivered to your table along with soft butter you can actually spread. The artisinal assortment of breads is as beauteous to admire as it is delicious to devour. The assortment includes a caramelized onion and cheese roll, a cracker-like lavosh and cranberry-walnut bread, each so good you’ll want the basket replenished. Make sure to save at least one slice or roll to sop up one of the menu’s outstanding bisques, the best of which might be the sumptuous stone crab bisque.
Great restaurants recognize that visual elements–color, texture, portion size, shape–will greatly enhance the appreciation of a great dish. The stone crab bisque arrives at your table in a steel vessel which completely obfuscates the creamy, pureed crustacean. The wait staff will pour the contents of the steely pitcher onto a plate brimming with chopped stone crab and finely minced carrots and celery, instantly releasing a steamy, enticing aroma that precedes the rich, delicious flavor profile of sweet crab meat and sauteed vegetables. This elixir will remedy whatever ails you.
The bountiful bowl of bisque is large enough to share though you might want to keep it all for yourself. It’s among the very best soups, chowders, stews or gumbos I’ve ever had. It’s one of those rare items about which you could say you’d die happy if you fell into a brimming vat of this steamy deliciousness and drowned while attempting to drink your way out. It’s the type of soup which would win any Souper Bowl!
Stone crabs aren’t the sole seafood item on the menu, not by a long shot. The menu offers a boatload of seafood options: fried shrimp, shrimp scampi, scallops (and bacon-wrapped sea scallops), colossal lump crab cakes, lobster tail tempura, jumbo Alaskan king crab legs and a fisherman’s platter which showcases shrimp, scallops, calamari and cod. Fresh fish options include cod, salmon (au poivre), mahi mahi, halibut and ahi tuna.
The lobster tail tempura is a winner–two six-ounce tails sheathed in a light tempura batter which imparts a crunchy accent without detracting from the sweet, succulent deliciousness of the lobster. The lobster tails are served with an Asian inspired, slightly spicy apricot dipping sauce. It’s wholly unnecessary and, if anything, you might find yourself missing drawn butter. A grilled jumbo lobster tail is available for purists who don’t believe the flavor of lobster should be masked, even partially, by any batter.
Those purists will love the stone crabs, particularly during lunch when Joe’s Classic stone crab is available at an unbeatable prix fixe price. One lunch special includes five stone crab claws, hashed brown potatoes, coleslaw and a sliver of key lime pie. Alternatively, you can sate your carnivorous cravings with a lunch special that showcases a six-ounce filet mignon, Jennie’s potatoes, Joe’s grilled tomatoes and banana cream pie with Foster sauce. Never mind a jackpot from the one-armed bandit; you’re a winner with either option.
The stone crab claws arrive at your table cracked and ready to be de-shelled, similar to how you would peel a hard-boiled egg (albeit one with very sharp edges). For someone who bashed his thumb with a wooden mallet cracking dungeness crabs in San Francisco, the pre-cracked claws were much appreciated. Not everyone needs the authenticity of a crab-cracking experience. The stone crab is served cold as if having been resting in a tub of ice before coming to your table. There’s plenty of meat in each claw and it’s a sweet, succulent, delicious meat. The crab claws are served with Joe’s trademarked mustard sauce which is as sweet as it is tangy. No sauce is really necessary.
Two things go best with stone crab claws at Joe’s. Fittingly they’re the two things first served with the claws nearly a century ago. The first would be hashed browns which are unlike the packaged confetti strips most restaurants serve. The exterior of the hashed browns resembles a crusty shell, likely the byproduct of the way the potatoes are prepared. Penetrate that shell and you’ll find soft fried goodness. The other accompaniment is Joe’s famous coleslaw which isn’t made with a mayo-based salad cream, but with a tangy-sweet vinegary sauce. It’s an excellent coleslaw.
For years my very favorite Boston Cream Pie was the one served at the Parker House Hotel in Boston where it was first conceived in 1867. The official dessert of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may henceforth hold a back seat to the Boston cream pie at Joe’s. There are several reasons this pie is so fabulous. First, it’s a generous slab, not a sliver leaving you wanting more. Secondly, the ganache is of adult chocolate sweetness and it’s applied generously. Third, the inside layer of cream is neither overly thick nor too cloying. Everything about this pie is just right.
Joe’s most famous dessert, one as popular in the Florida Keys as Boston Cream Pie is in Boston, is key lime pie. If you’ve ever had a luminescent or neon green “key lime pie” it’s not the real thing. Joe’s rendition is the real deal, made with key lime juice and a heaping helping of key lime zest. It’s got a pale yellowish hue and it’s both creamy and just tangy-tart enough to purse your lips. The Graham cracker crust maintains its integrity and doesn’t fall apart when you press your fork into it. That’s partially because the pie is served cold.
Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab serves stone crab all year round–even off-season when frozen claws are served. That, too, one-ups the Joe’s in Miami which is closed all summer. Our inaugural visit was more a “been there, done that” experience than it was transformative in any way. Some items–the stone crab bisque and Boston cream pie–were in the “to die for” category, but not everything else was. Still, from an experiential perspective, you can’t go wrong with a restaurant offering stellar service and palate-pleasing cuisine.
Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab
Forum Shops @ Caesar’s
3500 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, Nevada
LATEST VISIT:5 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Lobster Tail Tempura, Stone Crab, Hash Browns, Coleslaw, Key Lime Pie, Boston Cream Pie, Stone Crab Bisque