Stone crabs in Everglades City
Stone crabs at Triad Seafood. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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 west of Miami. Dozens of stone-crab fishermen are based on its Barron River, and so are several informal, unpretentious seafood restaurants.

In 2017, 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. In 2018, the threat to the fisheries was toxic red tide.

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 after the storm.

Everglades City is where places like Joe’s Stone Crabs on Miami Beach get their stone crabs. At Joe’s Stone Crabs, you might spot a visiting celebrity. 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.)

City Seafood in Everglades City
City Seafood in Everglades City

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 $25 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.

Crab traps in Everglades City
Crab traps in Everglades City

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.

The view of the Barron River from Camelia Street Grill
The view of the Barron River from Camelia Street Grill

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:

Everglades City Hotels

Things to do in Everglades City area

We love visiting Everglades City for its proximity to so many outdoors adventures.

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

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