If you want your Florida stone crabs right off the dock as fresh as you can find them, then you need to go to a funky small town where the highway ends and the wilderness begins — Everglades City.
Everglades City is a small fishing town about 35 miles south of Naples and 80 miles east of Miami. Dozens of stone-crab fishermen are based on its Barron River, and so are several informal, unpretentious seafood restaurants.
Last year, Hurricane Irma brought a 6 to 8 foot storm surge through the town destroying homes and businesses, just weeks before stone crab season. The community is still rebuilding and recovering.
This year, the big question will be how the severe red tide in Gulf waters, which has killed thousands of fish and marine life, will affect the stone crab harvest.
Everglades City folks, however, aren’t giving up.
“These are some of the most resilient people I’ve ever seen in my life,” Mayor Howie Grimm told a Naples Daily News reporter on the one-year anniversary of the storm.
Everglades City is where Joe’s Stone Crabs on Miami Beach gets its stone crabs. Joe’s doesn’t take reservations and is famous for its long wait. True, you might spot a visiting celebity at Joe’s. At the Everglades City restaurants, on the other hand, you might spot a visiting manatee in the river your table overlooks.
Stone crab season is Oct. 15 to May 15. (If you’re cutting it close to season opening or closing, don’t expect crabs on Oct. 15 because you can’t harvest them fast enough to serve on opening day. That also means that you CAN get fresh stone crabs on May 16, because they were harvested the day before.)
Dining on stone crabs in Everglades City
In Everglades City, several restaurants specialize in stone crabs in casual water-front restaurants.
When we want a stone crab experience, we stop at the well-regarded Triad Seafood, 401 School Drive West.
Triad serves a great variety of fresh seafood, and we can also recommend the fried-conch sandwich. It comes with fresh herb-seasoned fries and coleslaw. The sweet potato fries were great, too.
Stone crab prices vary during the season and a low harvest meant high prices. You can count on your least expensive stone crab dinner being at least $27 and as much as $50 for jumbo at Triad, where these dinners come with two side dishes. Triad also offers an all-you-can-eat option at market prices, which can vary week to week.
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.
Camellia Street Gril, 202 Camellia Street, is another open-air spot on the Barron River where we’ve had excellent food. Locals recommend it too. The tin-roofed restaurant has live bluegrass music on Saturday nights. You’ll know you’re there when you see the painted VW beetle at the curb. Our vegetarians raved about the veggie burgers, and it offers plenty of fresh fish options, including stone crabs.
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:
- City Seafood and its Yelp reviews
- Triad Seafood and its Yelp reviews
- Camelia Street Grill and its Yelp reviews
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.
- 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:
Naples Stone Crab Festival — Naples
South Beach Seafood Festival, Miami Beach
Stone Crab Jam – Crystal River