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Stone crab legs, the signature dish at this classic Miami restaurant

Miami’s Vice

by David Hagedorn | Photography by Greg Powers | DC magazine | April 29, 2014

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab, which opened at the corner of 15th and H streets downtown in January, is big, bold and masculine. It’s part Palm, part Capital Grille and part Bobby Van’s, but with an egalitarian feel rather than an exclusive or clubby one—an Old Ebbitt Grill for high-rollers. You can’t miss the Damon Runyon vibe, with lobbyists, lawyers and politicos filling in as Washington’s version of wise guys.

Joe’s is an offshoot of Joe’s Stone Crab, the Miami Beach juggernaut that Joseph and Jennie Weiss opened in 1913. The specialty: the thick claws of stone crabs, from which one claw is harvested so that it can regenerate when returned to its Gulf of Mexico habitat. The season for stone crabs is mid-October to mid-May.

Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (Mon Ami Gabi, Wildfire) partnered with the Weiss family in 2000 and operates Joe’s, which also has outposts in Chicago and Las Vegas. The Washington property is housed in the Union Trust Bank Building, a majestic, white marble, neoclassical stunner built in 1907 and designed by architect Waddy Butler Wood (National Museum of Women in the Arts).

When you enter Joe’s, a mannerly maître d’—easily identified by the emerald green bow tie accessorizing his tuxedo—greets guests effusively and sends them to the main dining room, where another green-tied maître d’ seats you. The room, which seats 200, is massive, with high, coffered ceilings, palmetto blinds, dark-wood paneling, mirrored columns and a sea of clothed tables set close to each other. Banquettes line the outer walls. Some are rounded and therefore perfect for side-by-side seating that offers a spectacular view of the scene playing out before you.

An enormous bar, which seats 150, takes up the other half of the main floor. It’s more darkly lit than the dining room and sexier, with tufted black leather booths, marble floors, ionic columns and pilasters, ornate chandeliers and sweeping Palladian windows. Private dining rooms and a balcony bar overlook the action below.

In the dining room, large tables of DC power players can be seen indulging in piles of spindly Alaskan king crab legs and stone crab claws as a way to start the meal. The latter are de rigueur, if for no other reason than they are meaty conveyances for the irresistible mustardy mayonnaise sauce that accompanies them. (They are $65 for five large ones.)

Stodgy crab bisque is a bit of a miss, tasting more of Old Bay-type seasoning and flour than crab, but the Joe’s BLT wedge is everything you want that salad to be: a hefty chunk of lettuce, copious dice-size cubes of smoky bacon and a profusion of blue cheese crumbles.

Oysters Rockefeller, four of them, come piping hot, piled high with creamed spinach and topped with broiled, gooey, chewy Asiago and grana padano cheese. Let’s face it: The oysters don’t stand a chance under all that business, but who really cares? It’s all wonderfully satisfying.

Joe’s steaks are winners. The 24-ounce, dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye has the vague earthy tang of high-quality beef, and it is perfectly cooked, a testament to how local chef Billy Klein (Pulpo, Café Saint-Ex) is running this big-league kitchen. Klein coaxes flavor out of a lovely piece of filet served Oscar-style with tarragon-touched bearnaise sauce, al dente asparagus tips and a slender length of king crabmeat.

Splurge for Dover sole served tableside, where the server gracefully debones the lightly browned delicacy and puts it back together on the dinner plate, drizzling brown butter all over it. A sprinkle of the Joe’s salt blend (coarse salt, coriander, garlic and shallots) elevates the fish’s sweetness to the level of sublimity. I long to return to Joe’s for this dish.

Side dishes run the steakhouse gamut (creamed spinach, fried sweet potatoes, crispy onion strings, grilled asparagus) and come in half orders, which are sufficient for two to share.

I appreciate that Joe’s has a good collection of half bottles of wine. Clos du Mont-Olivet Chateauneuf-du-Pape was a perfect complement to both fish and beef. Desserts are available, cleverly, in half-slices. Thick banana cream pie is topped with a slab of meringue and coconut-cream pie with a swath of whipped cream. They are eye-catching in their height and heft but, truth be told, unexceptional in flavor.

Not to be discounted is the palpable energy you feel at Joe’s—it has every bit the sass and style of the Miami original, but with a distinct Washington flair. The restaurant fits so seamlessly into DC’s clubby scene that its competitors should worry this summer. Joe’s may very well claw its way to the top.

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab
1750 15th St. NW, 202.489.0140

Appetizers, $11-$17 (stone crabs, $40-$50 per order); entrees, $19-$58; desserts, $8
Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-11pm; Sat., 4pm-12am; Sun., 4-10pm

Second Look
Early devotees to Joe’s will no doubt rave about the crabs and prime beef, but don’t overlook some of the sleepers on the menu. The dry-aged rib-eye sandwich—adorned with mushroom, onions and beef jus—satisfies the deepest French dip craving. Also, this was completely unexpected to this Southern diner: The lightly coated, cracker meal-crusted fried chicken stacks up against the best in town.

Cocktail Hour
For happy hour (4-6:30pm), slip into one of the comfy booths. The lime daiquiri is an old-style winner, and the whiskey press of Jim Beam, lime, ginger beer and mint is a perfect warm-weather refresher. Five-spiced ribs and a dozen oysters round out the happiness.