If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Joe’s Stone Crab in Chicago should have that saying posted on the front door. They know what they’re doing and they’re doing well. More than well, they’re doing better than any other place in Chicago. Simply prepared and amazingly fresh seafood with prime steak to boot.
My Dad and I started dining at Joe’s when my Mom was would skip town and I would meet him in the city. I would take the train down from suburbs and he would be waiting for me outside the station to zip me over to Joe’s. With a line out the door, the bustling restaurant had a buzz like no other restaurant I had been to before. I watched the servers, clad in their tuxedos bring huge platters of giant stone crab claws to crowded tables and my eyes lit up. I heard the pings of shells being tossed into the silver bowls and I gazed as the fat claw was dunked into the creamy mustard sauce. My mouth watered. I had to have one.
After my first claw I was hooked. So whenever I’m back in Chicago I always have to go to Joe’s (as long as it’s stone crab season).
This past visit my family and I went to Joe’s and we were lucky enough. The scallops are little, sweet, golden nuggets from the ocean that are sautéed in butter with fresh lemon juice.. They taste like the sea with a hint of sweetness and a soft yet slightly firm texture. I popped them in my mouth like candy.
Next we dove into the super tart ceviche packed with shrimp, scallops, and buttery avocado. The seafood was properly cooked. Many times when I order ceviche I find it has been marinating for too long and the fish gets overcooked and rubbery, and if it has been left in the marinade for an extensive amount of time, the fish gets mushy and corroded from the acid in the citrus. Luckily, this ceviche was fresh, bright, and crisp.
Another classic from Joe’s is their coleslaw. I am a lover of all things cabbage but from some reason they have the most irresistible and addictive coleslaw out there. It’s tossed in a vinegar-based dressing that makes it crispy, tangy and much lighter than your pedestrian mayo-laden coleslaw. The cabbage is crunchy and I can’t get enough of the sweet and sour dressing.
The Main Event. Stone Crab Claws plucked from waters off the Florida Coast. They are plump, sweet, and succulent. Squeeze a little lemon juice and dipped into the cool mustard sauce, they are 100% addictive.
Chicago is a steak lover’s paradise and the bone-in New York strip is vision of meat pornography. Served medium rare it is meaty, juicy, and drool worthy. No steak sauce necessary.
Almost as good as the claws is the grilled tomatoes. Tomato halves covered in creamed spinach and topped with (I hate to admit) American cheese. Under most circumstances (99.9% of the time), I loathe American cheese. There’s something so unnatural about that rubbery, bright yellow perfect square of synthetic cheese. But for some reason this cheese makes the tomato. It’s one of those classic dishes where you know it’s wrong but yet so right.
I admire avant-garde cuisine and trying new things, but sometimes I just want the real deal with no frills or gimmicks. This place does the trick every time.