Foodstuff: Relax, it’s Miami
Cracking wise on an off-season crab pilgrimage
Everyone, it seems, has a story about Aspen.
I recently took advantage of every local’s rite of passage with a beachy off-season escape to a tropical locale, just as the first October snow hit. I had one Aspen-centric activity on my agenda when I touched down for my first-ever visit to Miami: cracked stone-crab claws.
You see, nearly every year since I moved to town, for New Year’s Eve, I receive a very kind, very peripheral invitation to a very fancy party in a very fancy house, very close to Aspen Mountain. So close, in fact, that if you stand on the patio at midnight, you’re bound to be dusted with a just-terrifying-enough amount of firework shrapnel.
The highlight of this party, for me, is the food. Specifically, the host flies in platters of Florida stone-crab claws, piled high on silver trays with a side of traditional mustard sauce. I knew the origin of these was a short walk from my hotel in Miami Beach, and, since all my travels must also involve food, I put it at the top of the agenda.
Joe’s Stone Crab, founded in 1913, bills itself as the “first eating house on Miami Beach.” A large restaurant with a dining room on the right and a traditional dark-wood bar on the left, the wait times here are as legendary as the seafood. Luckily, as a party of one, it’s pretty easy to snag a seat at the bar (which has limited menu items), especially if you’re friendly and boisterous and have an interesting answer to the question, “Where are you visiting us from?”
The bow-tied maître-d’s eyes flew open wide when I replied with a smile, “Aspen!”
“I LOVE Aspen! I went skiing there in the 1990s. I’m Ed,” he said, then took my name, only seeming slightly embarrassed for me to be dining alone. “We say an hour, but I can definitely get you in sooner — just hang out at the bar. But, you want to wait for a table, so you can get the full menu,” he stage-whispered out of the left side of his mouth, and off I went.
Sitting at the bar in my sensible airplane outfit of patterned blouse and Spanx cargo pants, I situated myself between two very wildly-dressed women in floor-length floral prints and rhinestones on my left, and two men in Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys on my right. Buddying up to the bartender, Jeff, seemed the wisest option.
Jeff gave me a glass of rosé and a book, “Waiting at Joe’s,” about the history of the place. It is full of interviews from the staff, many of who, like Jeff, have worked there for 35 years or more. After chatting about how much he loves Aspen (He LOVES it, too!), he asked me to pose for a photo with the book, and I obliged, which seems weird in hindsight, but I was looking for friends at the time.
As promised, I got seated relatively quickly, narrowly escaping the guys from Pittsburgh, at a table with a view of the patio and the high ceilings in this very old-school spot.
The menu features a decent selection of seafood and steaks, with a steal of a $9 fried half-chicken entrée. I was intrigued but had come for one thing and one thing only. I ordered a combo platter, which comes with a “full” order of claws (about a pound) in either the large or standard size. Both are enormous; just go with the standard. Alongside the crab comes a sampling of three of their classic sides: nutmeg-heavy creamed spinach, and crispy, hash-browned potatoes, and the most thinly sliced coleslaw you’ll ever eat, and a wedge of key lime pie for dessert — very south Florida.
Because I’m nothing if not a decadent diner, I also decided to try the conch fritters as an appetizer. My server, an Eastern European immigrant, also ooooh and ahhhed about my home city and wowed me with an elaborate tale of the one time he tried skiing. Long story short: It didn’t work out. “It wasn’t for me,” he said in his thick accent. As someone who has not yet graduated from blue runs after five years of locals’ clinics, I can relate, Sir.
The meal arrived among the din of well-dressed South Floridians singing the “Happy Birthday” song and gawking tourists in flip flops. The claws were pre-cracked for my convenience, with an elaborate silver bowl on the side. I was invited to wear a bib. The table next to mine found this choice hilarious, but I like my shirt — and I decided I’d rather not have it sitting in my suitcase covered in crab detritus.
I threw the shell pieces in the bowl as they made a loud CLINK CLINK CLINK sound, and I devoured the sweet meat. The mustard sauce provided the perfect tang but was not overpowering. This was just like my favorite recent New Year’s Eve memories — but better tasting. I bid my new Joe’s friends a joyful goodbye, and they all remarked that they’d like to get out West again one of these days.
“You should!” I enthusiastically replied. “I LOVE Aspen!”
Katherine Roberts is a mid-Valley based writer and marketing professional who briefly fell out of love with Aspen during her 21-hour return trip home from Miami but sends hugs to her car rental mates and new friends, Annie, Jeff, Louisa, Teresa, and Tom. She can be reached via her marketing and communications firm, Carington Creative, at email@example.com.