It’s nearing the end of October, which means stone crabs are finally here! (So are the snowbirds, but we’re trying to ignore that part of the season for as long as possible.)
They’re a longstanding tradition in Southwest Florida, in part because Everglades City, a speck-on-the-map fishing town about 35 miles south of Naples, is a prime spot for harvesting them. Officially, the season runs Oct. 15 to May 15, and many local restaurants capitalize on their limited availability with dining specials and even a festival (coming this weekend—more on that later). In their time out of season, the stone crabs keep busy regrowing their missing claws since they aren’t actually killed when they’re harvested. Instead, the claws are pulled off, and the crabs are tossed back in the water, unharmed and able to go about their lives.
For the absolute freshest stone crabs, head straight to the source in Everglades City—Triad Seafood or City Seafood are two local favorites—for no-frills, authentic Old Florida waterfront dining (think weathered picnic tables and food served in red plastic baskets). Closer to town, Pinchers offers medium, large and jumbo claws from $5 per claw to $15 per claw for the largest size. The Claw Bar at The Bay House in North Naples is another personal favorite, both for the claws, of course, and the Southern charm.
If you’ve not tried them before, they’re similar to lobster, with a slightly sweet flavor, and are served in the shell, usually cold, with a mustard dipping sauce. They’re easier to eat than lobster, too—just twist, peel and dip. (The experts at Joe’s Stone Crab demonstrate here.)
This weekend marks the annual Stone Crab Festival, which runs from Friday through Sunday at various locations around the downtown Naples waterfront. There will be plenty of opportunities to dig into the delish claws you’ve missed all summer, of course, as well as ongoing live music, a treasure hunt with prizes, kids’ activities and discounts on other Southwest Florida-centric activities, like jet ski and boat rentals, Everglades excursions and more. A complete schedule of events and times is available online. Admission is free, and parking is just $5.