Joe’s Stone Crab is a South Florida culinary institution and one of the most iconic restaurants in the city. It’s a twenty-mile trip from the suburbs of West Miami, over the brightly lit MacArthur causeway into Miami Beach on the way to Joe’s for someone’s 65th wedding anniversary where your rich uncle is footing the bill.
Until a few years ago, I only had the pleasure of imagining what a restaurant with such notoriety would be like. I imagined dusty chandeliers and penguin-like servers anxiously dusting off your table with those bread crumb sweeper things. I imagined rich, fat people wearing lobster bibs like in the cartoons. A hidden basement where they store crates of stone crabs and fancy ground espresso. The mafia. Sylvester Stallone sharing a cigar with my grandpa. I don’t know, I had weird, misguided expectations about this place.
Earlier in my career, I got to tag along on a big client dinner to Joe’s (when someone invites you to Joe’s for free, you don’t question it.) But as I’m sitting at the table, I start to develop some serious anxiety watching everyone around me expertly picking apart and eating stone crab claws. What do I do with this tiny, stupid fork? Why didn’t my parents prepare me for this moment? As a dining novice with a lack of motor skills that I fashionably mask as “being awkward,” I couldn’t possibly juggle both clever table conversation and the dismantling of giant hard-shelled crustaceans.
The last time I ate with a group of somewhat important people, I forcefully (and quite painfully) swallowed a whole artichoke after learning that the leaves were not edible. After several minutes of confused chewing, a big gulp of diet coke, and with pain-induced tears in my eyes, I vowed to only eat foods suitable for children under five whenever dining for business.
So, I skipped Joe’s complicated stone crabs and reached for the plate of roasted tomatoes instead. I could handle tomatoes. Just fork, knife, mouth. Chew, smile, nod.
After dinner, I remember driving home thinking about those juicy beefsteak tomatoes, topped with toasty creamed spinach, breadcrumbs, and melted cheese. I felt like an unsophisticated plebeian for fancying a $10 dish out of what must’ve been a hefty four-figure bill at a place where being a thirty-year career server was a thing.
Since no one has invited me back since that meal, I’ve been frequenting Joe’s Take Away instead. This is Joe’s Stone Crab’s takeout store that exists as a weird combination of deli, flower shop, and inadvertent tourist destination where you can order stone crabs and other classic dishes from the original menu. It’s a great way for me to practice my stone crab-eating skills and eat the same roasted tomato dish from the comfort of my own home.
After having a chance to more closely inspect the tomatoes, I decided to start making them myself. To my surprise, this dish has a very high easy-to-make to delicious ratio. In fact, I successfully made my husband fall in love with me all over again with only five bucks and a slice of American cheese. You can replicate this extremely cheap date too (but with someone else’s husband, please) with the following recipe:
Joe’s Stone Crab Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from Todd Wilbur’s Top Secret Recipes
- Four 1-inch slices of beefsteak tomato (feel free to make them even chunkier)
- ½ cup of creamed spinach that’s made with:
- 3 tbsp of salted butter
- 1 tbsp of minced garlic
- 1 tbsp of all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup half-and-half
- 2 10 oz boxes of frozen chopped spinach (thaw first)
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg (the secret sauce)
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp of melted butter
- 2 tbsp of seasoned breadcrumbs
- Sliced American cheese (try to find the real, non-processed stuff) – Aged Gouda or Gruyere work as substitutes
Let’s make the creamed spinach first. Thaw the frozen spinach and squeeze the water out of it. Try to find a more pleasant way of doing it, because spinach hands were my least favorite part of this recipe. Set aside.
Melt 3 tbsp of salted butter in a saucepan. Sauté the minced garlic on medium heat for a minute. Add the flour and heat for another minute. Whisk the half-in-half over the mixture.
Add the spinach to your saucepan, adding the ground nutmeg, black pepper, and salt. Simmer on medium/low heat for about 20 minutes. Stop picking at it, I know it’s delicious.
While the spinach is simmering, slice your beefsteak tomatoes into slices. 1 inch, 2 inches. Who cares. Beefsteak tomatoes are delicious.
Arrange them on a baking sheet and add a little salt.
Now that your spinach is done, combine it with some melted butter and breadcrumbs in a bowl.
Spread the creamed spinach on top of each tomato (about 2 tablespoons each)
Slice your American cheese and pile an equal amount on top of the spinach for each tomato. My cheese already came sliced – I just used one per tomato.
Set your oven to broil, and stick the tomatoes in there for about 2 to 3 minutes. Keep an eye on it and take them out as soon as the cheese melts and browns.
This dish benefits greatly from being served and eaten right away.