Everglades City is a small and isolated fishing village, where stone crabs are a critical part of the economy.
But this year, that’s more true than ever.
As stone crab season opens Oct. 15, Everglades City is still digging out from a 10-foot storm surge that flooded the town during Hurricane Irma Sept. 10.
The town has a population of 411 – and more than 100 houses were completely destroyed.
Everglades City is 35 miles south of Naples and 80 miles west of Miami.
Dozens of stone-crab fishermen are based on its Barron River, and so are several informal, unpretentious seafood restaurants that traditionally draw visitors who love the sweet lobster-like crabs. Stone crab season is Oct. 15 to May 15.
Visitors to Everglades City this fall are likely to find hurricane debris and FEMA trailers in this historic town. But they’ll also find tough and determined local residents who will appreciate their business.
Resident Rick Magers, who lives on nearby Chokoloskee Island, described the post-storm scene like this: “This place looked like pictures of a South Pacific islands after it got hit by tsunami.” Magers is helping out at the historic Smallwoods Store trading post/museum, which was built on stilts and was not damaged.
Across the region, progress is slowly being made, and that includes at my go-to stone crab restaurant: Triad, 401 School Drive West. There, workers are repairing damages with a goal of opening for business for the first time in a month for stone crab season on Monday, Oct. 16.
Another favorite stone-crab spot, City Seafood, 702 Begonia St., has re-opened too.
Island Café, 305 Collier Ave., is open and Havana Café of the Everglades, 191 Smallwood Dr, Chokoloskee, is opening for stone crab season.
If you want to buy stone crabs to take home or to ship overnight, you can stop at Grimm’s Stone Crab, 919 Dupont St., which is re-opening for stone crab season. (Most restaurants also offer stone crabs for take out.)
Some popular restaurants remain closed, including Camelia Street Grill and Oyster House.
Dining on stone crabs in Everglades City
Stone crab prices vary by supply and demand; some expect the prices to be higher this year because of the storm. Prices also vary by size.
A seafood dinner in Everglades City in 2016-17 started at about $27 to $30 for mediums and $45 to $50 for large.
At Triad Seafood, 401 School Drive West, we also recommend the other fresh seafood, including the fried-conch sandwich. It comes with fresh herb-seasoned fries and coleslaw. The sweet potato fries were great, too.
At City Seafood, 702 Begonia St., diners buy their stone crabs by the pound and separately order any side dishes they wish.
The picnic-table decor at these places fits the outdoorsy style of Everglades City. Dining areas at Triad and City Seafood are inside screened porches overlooking the river. From the street, you might not even guess Triad was a restaurant. Down the block, City Seafood puts on a bit more curb appeal, though the style is decidedly rustic.
Both Everglades City restaurants sell cooked stone crabs for take-out also.
The stone crab story in Florida
Stone crab season runs Oct. 15 to May 15 so that the crabs can grow back their missing claws — well, that’s semi- true and makes a good story.
The crabs aren’t killed when they’re harvested. Claws that meet state requirements are wrenched off the crabs and the animals are tossed back, fully able to survive and thrive. It actually takes about 18 months for the claws to grow back, but the off-season helps protect the crabs from over-fishing.
Crabs are caught in baited traps (frozen pig feet or mullet is often used. ) In Everglades City, piles of crabs traps along the river are proof this really is a stone crab city.
The crabs are cooked in boiling water immediately after harvest, on the boat or at dockside, to prevent the meat from sticking to the inside of the shell, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Stone crabs are served in the shell, usually cold with a mustard dipping sauce. They’re sweet and firm, and many compare them to lobster. Plenty of Floridians say they’re better than lobster.
If you love seafood, you also might want to head to Everglades City on the first weekend of February for its very popular annual Everglades Seafood festival.
Links for Everglades City restaurants:
Things to do in Everglades City area
We love visiting Everglades City for its proximity to so many outdoors adventures.
- Our favorite Everglades kayak trail is the Turner River, eight miles from Everglades City.
- A great saltwater kayak trail nearby is Sandfly Loop, which gives you a taste of the Ten Thousand Island. For this, you launch from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center for Everglades National Park.
- Halfway Creek is another kayak trail close to Everglades City.
- We’ve stayed at Ivey House Bed and Breakfast in Everglades City, which also operates a kayaking outfitter. It’s less than a block to the two restaurants referenced here.
- There are two good boat tours offered at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. (currently closed because of Hurricane Irma.)
- If you’re interested in the building of the Tamiami Trail, visit nearby Collier-Seminole State Park, which has the historic Bay City walking dredge, the last of its kind in existence.
- Visit one of our favorite, off-the-beaten-track stops, historic Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee, just four miles away. (Its docks are a lovely place to watch the sunset.)
- Our guide to the scenic drive across Florida via Tamiami Trail is full of good places to hike, picnic and explore nearby.
- Nearby Ochopee Post Office on the Tamiami Trail is the smallest in the US. And so cute.
- Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park: Excellent trail for bicycling and wildlife viewing in Everglades National Park.
- Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery: It’s always a thrill to view his large-format black-and-white photos of Florida’s wilds.
- Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk: This is a beautiful spot worth a short walk. One of the prettiest boardwalks in the Everglades region, and it’s free!.
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
Stone crabs at seafood festivals:
Between the start of stone crab season and the arrival of the Thanksgiving holidays, there are a series of seafood festivals where stone crabs are the star. These include:
- Coconut Grove Seafood Festival, Miami
- Naples Stone Crab Festival — Naples
- South Beach Seafood Festival, Miami Beach
- Stone Crab Jam – Crystal River