Come January 24, the old Union Trust Bank building at the intersection of 15th and H streets, Northwest, will be a can’t-miss destination for fans of the fabled Florida stone crab claw. The nation’s best-known purveyor of the seasonal delicacy, 100-year-old Joe’s Stone Crab of Miami Beach, plans to open its first East Coast outpost at the location, a block from the White House. To match the building, the restaurant plans to be large: 225 seats in the dining room and another 125 in the bar. It will also be open year-round with a menu featuring—of course—stone crabs, as well as Maryland crabs, other seafood, and steaks.
The restaurant will be operated by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, which opened a first Joe’s franchise in its home city of Chicago in 2000, followed by a second in Las Vegas in 2004. LEYE’s managing partner for Joe’s Stone Crab, Mike Rotolo, says the idea for the DC restaurant came from the building’s owner, John Buck. “We had this relationship with Buck, and he recently acquired the building and reached out to us,” says Rotolo. The timing was good, he says, because “we were hopeful to make our way to the East Coast. Washington is quite a way north of Miami.”
For most of its lifetime, Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami was open only during the stone crab season, which runs basically from October 15 through May 15. This matched well with the travel patterns of the snowbirds who flock to South Florida for the winter. LEYE made the Joe’s in Chicago and Vegas year-round, which influenced the Miami mothership; it’s now open until August 1. The longer season became possible, Rotolo says, “when we developed this concept with Joe’s that added steak and expanded the seafood offerings.”
Apart from the stone crabs, other Joe’s signature items—which will all be available in Washington—include sweet potato fries, coleslaw, grilled tomatoes, hashbrowns, creamed spinach, and Key lime pie. There’s also the irresistible mustard sauce used for dipping the meat from the large stone crab claws, which are sustainable. When fished, only the claws are taken from the crabs; the crustaceans are then returned to the sea and can regenerate their claws up to three or four times. The Monterey Bay Aquarium designated the stone crab a “best choice” for its sustainability.
Rotolo says the Washington decor is not designed to match the more Floridian style of the Miami original. The Union Trust Bank Building, he says, “has great bones—very Washington. We’d be foolish not to pay homage to that in the design. It will have a whole lot of DC feel. We’re like Joe’s 2.0.”
Joe’s is not Lettuce Entertain You’s first Washington enterprise. The company opened Mon Ami Gabi in Bethesda and Reston, Community Canteen in Reston, and Wildfire in Tysons Corner, and recently began a partnership with reality TV stars Giuliana and Bill Rancic to open a Washington branch of their Chicago-based eatery RPM Italian. Rotolo says Joe’s will open first.