Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Jumbo Lump Joe’s 'best crab cakes in the universe' and a sauce throw-down
My husband Meakin and I were driving along Pine Island Road in North Fort Myers, Florida the other day when suddenly I said, “Can we turn around and go back? I just saw a sleek, bright blue cart parked on the side of the road with ‘Jumbo Lump Joe’s’ written on the side. I think we should investigate.”
We found a vendor selling what he called ‘the best crab cakes in the universe.’ The man inside the cart told us, “I’ve won three state fair contests for the best crab cakes in the universe competition. I’m from Maryland and I know crab cakes.”
At the window another customer assured us that these were the best crab cakes in the universe. He had driven all the way from New Jersey he said. “Really?” I asked. “Well,” he replied as gave me a big reassuring smile, “I didn’t drive from New Jersey today, but I live there and so far these are the best crab cakes I’ve ever tasted.” We were sold.
Having won a couple of food contests myself, I know that the competition is fierce, so I was anxious to try Jumbo Lump Joe’s Maryland crab cakes that had been called ‘the best in the universe.’ Instead of the crab sandwich, we ordered individual crab cakes, a sample of Jumbo Lump Joe’s special sauce, and took everything home for a test drive.
When I got home I quickly whipped up my own version of a simple remoulade sauce that I thought wouldn’t overpower the cakes and decided to have a throw-down of sorts with Joe’s sauce vs. my remoulade. Since I represent the opposing team, I must tell you that my remoulade sauce is pretty darn good. I don’t follow an exact recipe, but I taste as I go. I start with some good mayonnaise (preferably Hellmans or homemade), add a dash of Dijon mustard, a smidgen of anchovy paste, a few drained tiny capers, a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice, and a little bit of dried tarragon. I had some fresh dill in the frig, so I chopped a little to add a little more freshness, but not overpower it.
Meakin and I passed Jumbo Lump Joe’s special sauce between the two of us for a taste with the crab cakes. The throw-down was over in a matter of minutes. I lost zero to two and I was one of the judges. We’re still analyzing his sauce, but it was a mildly spicy mayonnaise based sauce. We concluded the pink color came from either paprika or cayenne pepper (or maybe both) and we detected a hint of citrus. As you can see from the picture, we saved only enough to do a taste test for ingredients later and gobbled up the rest.
Now on to the crab cakes. I normally reserve eating crab cakes for white table cloth restaurants, although I have made them at home on occasion and always follow Mark Bittman’s recipe in How to Cook Everything. I have three things that I look for in a really exceptional crab cake:
1 – They must be made of the highest quality jumbo lump crab meat
2 – They don’t contain a lot of fillers
3 – They must be cooked all the way through
If you’ve ever had a crab cake that wasn’t done in the center (and I have), it will turn you off of crab cakes forever. Jumbo Lump Joe’s cakes met all of my criteria and more. You could actually see the large pieces of jumbo crab meat in the photo below, the cakes held together beautifully, they weren’t greasy (even though they were fried), and their taste was outstanding. As the customer told me when I was ordering them, “So far Jumbo Lump Joe’s crab cakes are the best I’ve ever tasted.” We totally agree and his sauce reigns supreme in our throw-down.
This story is as much about buying from a street vendor as it is about crab cakes and sauce. I admit that sometimes I am a food snob. Actually sometimes isn’t accurate; I’m always a food snob. At first I was reluctant to try a vendor on the side of the road until I remembered when we lived in a tiny town in southern Louisiana we bought the best shrimp we’ve ever eaten from a man whose truck was parked in front of a strip mall. They were heads-on large pink shrimp caught only hours earlier in the Gulf of Mexico.
So be bold and venture forth. Don’t be turned off by the fact that they’re selling food on the side of the road. Maybe next week we’ll give the taco stand beside the 7-11 a try. However, I doubt we’ll ever buy a used car from a guy named Honest Ziggy.
Jumbo Lump Joe’s sleek blue cart is located on the south side of Pine Island Road between Del Prado and Santa Barbara in a small parking lot in front of a Dollar General Store in North Fort Myers, Florida. He’s open every day except Sunday. The crab cakes are $10, a real bargain in my book. Don’t miss them if you’re anywhere near the area.