Here’s Where This “Top Chef” Alum Is Celebrating the Start of Stone Crab Season
Florida native Jeff McInnis also recommends pairing them with Champagne
As of this Saturday — October 15 — stone crab season is officially open in Florida, and Top Chef’s Jeff McInnis, who helms Stiltsville Fish Bar with his wife, fellow Top Chef alum Janine Booth, simply cannot wait.
A born-and-bred Floridian from Niceville (no, seriously), McInnis claims he was “born to either fish or cook.” It’s no surprise, then, that at Stiltsville, he and Booth, who hails from Australia, serve a wide array of seafood specialties that show off their varied backgrounds. Peel-and-eat shrimp recall McInnis’ own work peeling shrimp and cooking on the line at the Marina Café at the tender age of 16; shrimp and grits are evocative of Booth’s New Orleans stint on Top Chef. The menu is studded with flavors from Thailand and Japan, the American northeast and the deep South. Fresh catch can literally be hand-selected from the restaurant’s bathtub, where it’s kept on ice and is either cooked ’til crisp and served with salsa verde and lime aioli or roasted with Meyer lemon butter and horseradish remoulade.
These days, though, McInnis is particularly excited by the arrival of stone crabs.
“The flavor is so unique,” he says. “It is sweet and truly the best from our local waters.”
This time of year, he’s happy to eat them “for breakfast, lunch or dinner,” but his fave is to enjoy them “cold and fresh,” with a glass of dry Champagne. He opts for Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, a Chardonnay-based bubble with a lovely crispness and full flavor.
“It’s one of my favorite Champagnes,” he says. “Pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the crab.”
At his restaurant, he even uses Champagne in the accompaniment: a Champagne mustard sauce, which sees a mayo base infused with roasted garlic, both whole grain and smooth Dijon mustard, Champagne vinegar, lemon zest and a touch of honey for sweetness. The sauce, he says, “showcases the crab at its best.”
But Stiltsville isn’t the only place he’s digging into this specialty this season.
“I love an old Florida fish house anytime,” says McInnis. “Something about these places brings me back to my childhood. When the fish is fresh and good, you don’t always need fine dining.”
“My first love is and always will be Stiltsville Fish Bar,” he says, but when he’s venturing further afield, here are some of his top runners-up.
The Rusty Pelican, Key Biscayne
“Amazing views in an amazing little marina. Love everything about the atmosphere. Sitting inside next to the large oversized windows makes you feel like you’re eating on a yacht or eating dockside. There aren’t enough local fish houses.”
Captain Jim’s, North Miami
“So old-school, so neighborhood friendly and inexpensive. It serves stone crab claws, and one of my most important perks is that it’s right next to our home.”
The Rustic Inn Crabhouse, Ft. Lauderdale
“Any time you can eat while using a hammer and making a mess is simply heaven for me and my family. I love watching my kids hammer the crab claws and dip ’em in butter. It’s loud and fun!”
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