The stone crab (Menippe mercenaria) is found in the United States along Florida’s Gulf Coast and up the Atlantic coast to North Carolina and is in season only from Oct. 15 to May 1. Crab fans love these treats for firm meat from the claws – a taste similar to lobster.
The real magic of stone crabs is their ability to grow new claws when carefully removed by responsible fishermen. That’s the trick: Only one claw per adult crab is removed from the crab before it’s returned to the sea, leaving the creature its second claw for defense.
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Once retrieved, the claws are boiled and then chilled. They’re most often served cold with mustard sauce rather than traditional cocktail sauces or butter. Simply put, the result is delicious and worth the cost, which varies depending on the size of the claws.
If you’re ready to stuff your stomachs with stone crab claws, here are the restaurants we recommend.
Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach
This is the name you likely know because Joe’s has been doing it better than the rest since 1913 when Joe Weiss opened a small lunch counter on Miami Beach. The discovery of stone crabs as an entree didn’t come until the 1920s when the cafe began serving them chilled and cracked with hash brown potatoes, cole slaw, and mayonnaise. The cost of the meal: 75 cents. The cost has changed but the delicacy remains – just remember to save room for a slice of Joe’s legendary key lime pie.
11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, Orlando
Big Fin is in the Dr. Phillips neighborhood of Orlando just around the corner from Universal Orlando theme parks. Like many restaurants in this tourist Mecca, the atmosphere is “casually elegant,” which would be an oxymoron in any other city. Savor the variety of raw oysters from anywhere in the 11,000-square-foot eatery, but grab reservations during stone crab claw season and be ready to dig in. Off-season, you can’t go wrong with the lobster Mac-and-cheese and swordfish.
8046 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando, FL 32819
Frenchy’s Cafe, Clearwater
More than a half dozen Frenchy’s dot the Gulf beaches of Tampa Bay, giving seafood fans plenty of options when it comes to quaffing down grilled grouper sandwiches, raw oysters and – during the season – stone crab claws. The atmosphere here is definitely beach casual and no reservations are accepted. Frenchy’s contracts a fleet of fishing boats to take care of its seafood needs so freshness is a given. Customers can also buy stone crab claws from Frenchy’s seafood market in Dunedin.
Multiple locations; see options at frenchysonline.com.
Billy’s Stone Crab, Tierra Verde
If you’re from outside Tampa Bay, your first question is likely: Where is Tierra Verde? It’s a small beach town on the southern tip of Pinellas County next to St. Petersburg. It’s likely best known as the gateway to Fort De Soto Park, often named one of the best beaches in the United States. Billy’s carries medium, large, jump and colossal claws during the season and serves either chilled (with mustard sauce) or hot (with drawn butter). When it’s not stone crab season, we recommend Billy’s raw oysters and the onion-crusted grouper.
1 Collany Rd, Tierra Verde, FL 33715
Charlie’s Fish House & Seafood Market, Crystal River
Fried seafood is the usual specialty of the house here – we love the buffalo fried shrimp, conch fritters and – for a change of pace – the tuna poke nachos. A “swamp basket” also offers frog legs, gator bites and catfish nuggets. But during the season, stick to the stone crab, which is served both as an appetizer or 1 1/4-pound entree.
224 US-19, Crystal River, FL 34428
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