Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Eating My Way Through Miami

January 2011 339

It sure was nice while it lasted – a week in warm Miami at the invitation of my brother-in-law Joe and sister-in-law Jan, whose hospitality was as welcoming as the Florida sunshine.  Arriving home to New Jersey on the last flight before everything was cancelled for a few days, I was confronted with another 20 inches of snow lining the sides of the driveway and icicles menacing enough to sever an ox.

February 2011 018 But I shall focus on the positives – never mind the slippery sidewalks, the frigid temperatures, and the mounds of snow that make putting money in a parking meter downtown a truly uphill climb. Never mind that the furnace broke three hours before I left for the airport. Yes, I’m serious.

Never mind, because a repairman came to my rescue moments before I had to dash out to the airport. Never mind, because the arctic weather allows me to bake bread, to simmer soup, to putter around the house doing things I wouldn’t dream of doing if the weather were warm enough to play outdoors.

Never mind because I am still basking in the glow of my visit to our Southernmost state and the glorious pampering I received from my relatives.  Not to mention the bounteous meals I ate in Miami, like the two-for-one lobsters at “Captain’s Tavern” (yes I ate them both):

January 2011 252 Since this was Miami, home to a large number of Cubans, I couldn’t leave without eating a meal at a Cuban restaurant. In this case, we went to a well-known Cuban restaurant with the unlikely name of Versailles. Once inside, with its large rooms lined in etched mirrors, anyone who knows anything about the French palace could see how it got its name.

January 2011 374 Spanish was the language of choice here that night (I heard it spoken everywhere I went in Miami) and the waiting line outside attested to the restaurant’s popularity. After a 15 minute wait, we started our meal with a pitcher of sangria and a platter of crispy plaintain chips served with a garlic sauce.

January 2011 369 I ordered a Cuban sampler called “Criollo” – a platter laden with “ropa vieja” (shredded beef in a tomato sauce,) fried pork, fried plaintains, a croqueta, some yucca, yellow rice, black beans and something else (that small beigy thing to the right of the rice )I didn’t recognize. 

January 2011 370

I managed to eat only about half of the platter, but the leftovers provided by brother-in-law with lunch for another day. Sadly I was too stuffed after this filling meal to enjoy any of the various flans on the menu or even a cup of Cuban coffee.

My brother-in-law order the oxtail stew. He loved it. Cubans sure do have a lot of starchy and beigy-brown colored food, it seems. But hey, they were packin’ ‘em in, so you can’t argue with success.

January 2011 371

For me though, the week’s food highlight was a feast of stone crabs, a Florida delicacy. I’m not sure if you can find them in your area, but I’ve seen stone crabs at my local fish store here in Princeton on occasion. Unlike most crabs, the bodies of stone crabs are rarely eaten. It’s the claws that seafood lovers prize. The meaty claws are plucked off the bodies, which are tossed back into the ocean. Now don’t get all verklempt on me – the bodies grow new limbs, and studies have shown that removing their claws forces Florida stone crabs to eat sea grass. That’s important because it’s been proven to be healthier for them, allowing them to regenerate their claws faster and for the female Florida stone crab to produce more baby stone crabs.

January 2011 302 Typically, they’re already cooked when you buy them, and cracked at the store too, which is a good thing, because the shells are as thick and brittle as ceramic tile. Occasionally, you will need to help things along with a metal claw cracker, but in general, you can pick the shells off easily and expose the flesh. They’re eaten cold, and dipped into a sauce that complements the crabs, made of mostly mayonnaise, mustard and some seasonings. The sauce comes already prepared from Norman Brothers, the store where my sister-in-law buys the stone crabs, but my brother-in-law likes to spice it up a little further with more Worcestershire sauce and A-1 sauce. It’s an addictive accompaniment that would be great with any kind of seafood – from lobster to crabs to steamed halibut.

January 2011 296  You may not have the luxury of finding stone crabs where you live, but you can surely have the sauce. The recipe below comes from a landmark restaurant in Miami called “Joe’s Stone Crabs.”  Actually you can have the crabs too, since Joe’s Stone Crabs will ship its crabs (and key lime pie too) anywhere in the continental U.S.  Click here to see the prices for a meal of stone crabs, cole slaw and key lime pie.

January 2011 304

We followed up our stone crabs with the traditional dessert of key lime pie.  Who am I to buck tradition? I had to do my part – a few times in fact - to help out the key lime pie industry. This one was also bought at Norman Brothers and it was excellent. While I don’t have their recipe, I can send you to this link if this picture has you yearning to bake your own.

January 2011 291 Before leaving for the airport, we had to stop at a little hole in the wall called “Carlito’s Cafe.” It’s a stand-up place where you order through the window - a Cuban sandwich or a chicken sandwich (that arrives with potato sticks sprinkled on top) – all for a few bucks each.


But the best part about Carlito’s is the coffee – good, rich, dark Cuban coffee with a thick crema on top – all for just 65 cents.




 Stone Crab Claw Sauce

serves four

printable recipe here

(courtesy of “Joe’s Stone Crabs” restaurant)

  • 3 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon A-1 sauce
  • 1/8 cup light cream or half and half
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

Beat the dry mustard and mayonnaise together for one minute. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until everything has a creamy consistency. Chill. Dip the crab claws into the sauce with your fingers.



  1. OMG, all those dishes look soooo scrummy! I am drooling over my keyboard... LOL.



  2. Linda, I want to dive into that platter of crab claws!

  3. I want to go back to Miami!! You can find some amazing Cuban food there. Love the photos you took.

  4. I would lov to much on these plantain chips! and the seafood looks unbelievable.

  5. What a wonderful diversion from snowy, icy, New Jersey. I love the architecture and colors of Miami, and yes, the food too! Thank you for this really made me smile. (It also made me hungry!)
    ♥, Susan

  6. This excites me to no end!

    Partly because I'm from the island of Cuba, and lived in Miami for a while. But also because I've been to Versailles, and the food looks as good as I remember.

    I'd give anything to dive into the stone crabs, and the plate of Ropa Vieja.

    Btw, the yellowish thingy beside the rice, appears to be half of a Tamal. Tamales are to Cubans what potatoes are to North Americans.

    In any event, I'm happy you were able to brake away from your igloo, and travel to the warm, sunny state of FLA. But I'm also a little sad I couldn't fit in your suitcase, and tag along, somehow.

  7. You deserve some pampering, Linda. What a feast for the eyes. (And did you really eat both those lobsters!) Can you believe all this snow here in the Northeast? I love the photo of that big palm tree - what a tease.

  8. We have family in Florida Linda and we've eaten stone crab many times, so meaty and so good! Funny, I was just talking to my SIL yesterday and we were discussing stone crabs and she told me the season for it this year is going to be a little longer than normal because of when Easter falls. Looks like you enjoyed your trip immensely, good for you!

  9. Girl all of that food looks wonderful! I want it all!

  10. There is nothing like a Stone Crab. We can get them here, but they are always frozen and unless I can't manage to pass them up, not worth it or the money. I wait until I head to South Florida to visit my folks for a weekend. Last year I made it on the last day of the season ... that was cutting it very close.

    All of your meals look so great. Looks like you had a really good time.

  11. I promise not to get all verklumpt on you and am very amused that the Cuban restaurant was called Versailles. Of course my brain is easily amused with this snowmaggedon winter. I love the stuff from Carlitos! Adore places like that. Don't think I've ever had stone crabs but you can bet I shall check the link. And the crab sauce is mayo-based. Surprised me but sounds tasty. I usually use no sauce when I eat snow crab. And yes, I would have eaten two lobsters also. A playwright I know has a fellowship at Princeton and has been posting photos of all your snow. Have to admit - it looks beautiful. But that's also because it's not happening here... right now. Didn't mean to write a thesis.

  12. Looks like you had a great trip and the food looks amazing, especially the stone crabs!

  13. These photos (and the fact that it's 12 degrees outside) make me want to go back to Miami, ASAP!

    Glad you had a nice trip!

  14. What a feast! All my favorite food in one place! You take fabulous photos and excellent taste! Thanks for sharing this unbelievable eating experience!

  15. Linda il tuo post come sempre è bellissimo e interessante: in più adoro la ricetta della salsa che hai descritto! Buona giornata

  16. What. A. Feast!
    I love crab but sadly it's too expensive to indulge in here.

  17. Un bellissimo reportage, e quante cose buone: favolose le aragoste e il piatto di granchio. Un abbraccio Daniela.

  18. I'm happy to hear you had a few days of nice Florida sunshine and pampering from relatives, Linda. It's so fortunate a repairman was able to fix your furnace in short notice!

    I love stone crab claws and that platter full looked so enticing. I've never had that dipping sauce --it sounds like a perfect accompaniment.
    I could also easily eat two lobsters! They looked delicious!

    The meal in Versailles looked fantastic, and like good Cuban comfort food. Did you try a mojito?

  19. Yum! It looks like you had some delicious looking food! I think the seafood would be my favorite.

  20. I think that's the most gorgeous photo of stone crabs I've ever seen. They just pop off of the screen.

  21. It seems you really had a great time, I'm happy for you about that.

  22. Just started following your blog this week, and I'm glad to see you visited us in Miami!

    Having always lived in Miami (with the exception of college), I've never experienced a real winter or much snow at all. I can't imagine living in what looks like (to me) a frozen tundra!

    That being said, I think it's hilarious to look at the short-sleeve wearing customers in your photos of Versailles -- most of them are like me and have no idea what a real winter is. We're blissfully unaware of true cold down here.

    I could eat pork and black beans and rice and Cuban sandwiches every day of my life if it weren't for the enormous calorie and carb cost. :/ sigh!