Romancing the "Stone"
Tourism is intrinsically linked to the tasting of food. Geographical areas explain themselves through their epicurean offerings, and the tourist experience is informed by what the senses say about the food. Our taste buds are filled with messages and memories. The interesting thing about dining and tourism is that, unlike the bus tours and visits to the museum, food is sought out of necessity. Everyone must eat, but it’s the where, why, what and how the tourist chooses that defines the experience. Seeking a delicacy like the stone crab is synonomous with locating authentic Southern Floridian culture, and Joe's Stone Crab provides the space for the taste.
Just as Nicolas Mink cited his family annual pilgrimage to Joe’s in his article “Selling the Storied Stone Crab”, my husband, who was also born in Hialeah and raised in Miami, grew up with the family tradition of Christmas Eve at Joe’s. Each year, they would wait in the perpetual line (my mother-in-law tells me there is a secret club that wears a crab pin on their lapel and gets bumped up to the top of the list), eagerly awaiting the indulgence of “Menippe mercenaria”, creamed spinach, lyonnaise potatoes, and key lime pie—epicurean gluttony! Despite the bib and finger bowls, this place is apparently star-studded and glamorous. Upon dating into the family, I was met with tales of years at Joe’s and the legend of “the stone”. Avid divers, my husband and in-laws grew up lobster diving and fishing, enjoying a variety of sea treasures; but, according to them, none compared to the stone crab. Myself, a vegetarian at the time, still had a peaked interest in finding out what all the buzz was about.
I never made it to Joe’s before my in-laws moved out of the Miami area, but did have the opportunity to taste stone crabs that my mother-in-law bought right off the boat from a fish market owned by a family friend. I will attest that the taste is decadent and delicious, yet I also think it’s just way too much work—and money!!
A plate of this "rite of passage", as Mink refers to the eating of the stone crab claw, could cost you up to $75. Even from the fish market my mother-in-law would pay $40 per pound. But it also pays to be a server of culinary tourism, as the waiters at Joe's are known to make a salary of $100,000+ a year (and that was when the restaurant traditionally closed from May-October). The food commodity and tourism go hand in hand--or in the case of Joe's, claw to mouth.