Our 5 Favorite Places to Eat Lobster in Florida
Because we don’t all have a friend who can hook us up with fresh claws
It’s spiny lobster season right now in Florida, and if you’ve lived in this state long enough, chances are you’ll have a friend, or maybe an entire crew, with a prized lobster tickle stick.
Bait stores sell them, but likely that friend of yours created one, maybe cut from a bamboo strand that came down in the last hurricane, or crafted out of an old piece of PVC, or just won’t tell you where or how they came across it for fear that you’ll figure out the secret. They use that treasured tickle stick to poke lobsters out of holes on the seafloor, basically annoying them right into waiting nets.
They’ll head out at the beginning of lobster season, no matter the marine forecast, sometimes out there on the water at the strike of midnight. It starts in July with a two-day season that for the truly devoted can become a no-sleep affair and then continues from August to March. That friend will probably post selfies with spiny lobsters, rubbing in their coveted catch that’s destined for mac and cheese.
Is there a better single ingredient to define a special night out?
A friend of mine, Whitney Dutton, invited me over one night to share his catch, as the best of friends do. When I got there, he was already cracking them open and cutting the meat into chunks. He sauteed them in butter and salt before adding them to tortillas. A bit of slaw and avocado slices, and there’s really no better taco.
It would be unfair to assume the Whitney Duttons of the world will invite us over every weekend to share in the product of all their hard work. So in the meantime, we need to do some hunting ourselves. We might find them hiding at a roadside fish shack, one of the best reasons to live in our fair state, or at the fish markets that still, thankfully, sell fresh-caught Florida lobsters. But then there are birthdays and anniversaries and maybe a kindergarten graduation that gives us an excuse to let other people do the lobster legwork. For that, we’ve found five of our favorite spots in Florida, from the Panhandle to the Keys, to score this seasonal treat. Whether it’s the spiny kind or shipped from cold northern waters, is there a better single ingredient to define a special night out?
There’s simply no other seafood market quite like Joe Patti’s, not just in Florida, but anywhere. From a cafeteria-style counter that seems to stretch on for a half mile, you can order everything from fresh catch to pre-cooked seafood, including a mound of stop-sign-red lobsters ready to be shucked. Come on Christmas Eve and there will undoubtedly be a festive crowd of locals lined up down the street.
For those of us who regularly make that never-ending drive down U.S. 1 to some spot further south, this is a respite, a halfway spot with the chill ambiance you’d expect for the Keys, nothing more than picnic tables lined up along the edge of the marina. They’re famous for the lobster reuben, a messy but delicious affair on toasted rye with kraut, swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing. It’s great, and you should have one in your life. But the next time you come, get the simply grilled Florida lobster tail, the roll of lobster salad, lobster mac and cheese or the paella, full of big chunks of lobster meat.
With its spot just a block from the Southernmost Point and a lobster cutout in the front that you can stick your head through for photos, you might think the Lobster Shack is a tourist trap. But you’ll also find legit lobster rolls here, including a Maine-ish version with mayo, a diablo with jalapenos and sriracha mayo, a lobster BLT roll and a Conch republic-spin on a Connecticut version, with butter and lime.
Certainly there are more glamorous places to eat in Miami, a city where ritzy restaurants sprout up like weeds in a highway median, but nowhere in town (or maybe the whole state?) will you find better lobster. Here, they dress it up simply with butter in a just-perfect lobster roll, add claw meat atop deviled eggs, dot mac and cheese with big lobster chunks and then put the sweet meat in just about everything, from a cream sauce with garganelli to whatever else Chef Daniel Serfer feels like adding to the night’s specials.
An upscale white-tablecloth kind of place, Chops is where serious lobster fans need to go for that next birthday dinner. It’s sort of a theme here, the lobster, which is served in a bisque, deep-fried into chunks with a honey mustard aioli, split and grilled with drawn butter, in a seafood tower with some old friends from the ocean and in a lobster mac that will forever define lobster macs. No, they don’t have a lobster dessert, but you can always order an extra eight-ounce tail to any dish, so maybe on the side of the Key lime pie?