Rock lobster. Spiny lobster. Caribbean lobster. They're all monikers for what every Sunshine State home-grown knows only as Florida lobster, a species that inhabit the western Atlantic from North Carolina to Brazil, otherwise known as warm water lobsters.
Tomorrow, August 6th marks the start of a special time of year: the first day of the eight-month spiny lobster season when our coastal waters are flooded by literally hundreds of these clawless crustaceans. This time of year -- late summer through early fall when the season ends on March 31 -- local fishermen have their pick during the crustaceans' annual "walk" as hundreds of lobsters move steadily across the Florida sea floor as part of an annual migration in search of new breeding grounds.
In addition to the lack of claws, the spiny lobster gets its name -- and is best distinguished from the better-known Maine lobster -- by the sharp, short spines along the length of its bright orange-pink tail dotted with green, yellow and blue spots. But what it lacks in tender claw meat, the Florida lobster makes up for with large, meaty tails.
To celebrate the start of the official season, we've pulled together a list of restaurants that make it a point to serve the local lobster as both a special and regular menu item. Just add warm, drawn butter and enjoy.
4602 N Federal Hwy., Lighthouse Point
Seafood World in Lighthouse Point is the perfect name for this South Florida fish house and market, where everything that swims, crawls and lives in the ocean can be cooked, plated and consumed fresh. The establishment was opened in 1976 by Joy and Hugh Ganter who -- after many years in the Bahamas -- decided to open a restaurant that would serve some of the freshest seafood around. Today, they now have a fresh fish market that specializes in island seafood like conch, stone crab and -- of course -- Florida lobster. The dinner menu has it all, however, from chowders, soups, salads and speciality dishes to a raw bar and fresh seafood pasta dishes. And, categorized under crabs and lobster, you'll find broiled fresh-caught Florida lobster tail.
700 E Woolbright Rd., Boynton Beach
Before there was Prime Catch there was Banana Boat, the original location that first opened in Fort Lauderdale in 1971 by John Therien and his family, who later moved the restaurant to its current Boynton Beach location in 1978, on Ocean Avenue and the Intracoastal Waterway. The Theriens' second establishment, Prime Catch, opened in 2004 with a focus on serving the freshest fish in the area, along with a new approach to flavors and ambiance. Today, this establishment is well-known for its high-quality seafood, steaks and produce, similar intracoastal views, and entrees that can be custom-ordered broiled, blackened or sauteed. Here, the "early bird" dinner menu is what you'll be looking for, however. Served from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. -- and that means specially-priced lobster specials. On the regular dinner menu, alongside Florida rock shrimp and Florida stone crab, you'll also find Florida lobster. Here, they don't just serve Caribbean lobster, however. They also serve Tristan lobster tails, what some consider to be the most succulent, sweet lobster in the world. Served with nothing but drawn butter, they're the dish to have during season.
607 Ridge Rd., Lantana
Riggins Crabhouse, otherwise known as South Florida's most authentic Maryland-style crab house, is best known for its blue crabs. Here, they only serve the males, something a true crab lover can appreciate, and steam -- rather than boil -- in the traditional beer, vinegar and Old Bay seasoning bath that makes Maryland the official home of the crab. But, of course, where there are Florida crabs, there are also Florida lobsters. The menu offers Maine, Caribbean and South African tails, but only the Florida lobster are served year-round at a flat $25 rate.
Juno Beach Fish House
13980 U.S. 1, Juno Beach
Located one block from the Atlantic Ocean, the Juno Beach Fish House recently underwent an extensive renovation, including a complete remodel of the bar, dining room and outdoor patio. In addition to a new children's menu, "early bird" specials are offered. The menu is termed "Floribbean" fare, a mix of Florida favorites with a Caribbean twist -- and that means Caribbean lobster -- twin tails served at market price during season.
98 Lake Dr., Palm Beach Shores
Known as a fishing destination for many years, Sailfish Marina -- named for the game fish often caught off the Bahamas -- is just a good a destination for the non-fisher thanks to its tropical island feel and dockside restaurant on Singer Island. Here you can get everything from breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. And that means lots of fish, as well. Local seafood specialities like a Floridian paella, jumbo Florida stone crab claws and Florida rock shrimp are served seasonally along with -- you guessed it -- spiny lobster.
1920 Tigertail Blvd., Dania Beach
Owned by Oren Bass and Zach Schwartz -- both graduates of Johnson & Wales University -- the Slow Food Truck works with local farms and fishermen to make some of the freshest food around. Both members of Slow Food USA, it's part of the reason they named their truck in honor of a way of living and a way of eating that is environmentally and ethically responsible. Based out of Dania Beach, the food truck offers up a well-known special throughout the spiny lobster season. Known simply as the "Florida Lobster Roll" it's a combination of fresh lobster meat drenched in butter, scented with scallion, and served on a doughy Martin's potato roll.
1900 SE 15th Street, Fort Lauderdale
This 30-plus-year-old dockside restaurant is a prime seat for people-watching and enjoying a boat parade. It's also a perfect place to get Florida lobster: it's one of the few places around that offers it on the menu year-round. Nestled adjacent to the Fort Lauderdale Marina, the menu offers a fresh catch of the day -- which means spiny lobster is often up there come season. You can also get a variety of Florida-specific fare, including black mussels given a local pairing with fresh produce, citrus and star fruit.
200 E 13th St.
Bikers and boaters alike hang out under the thatched roofs of Tiki's upper-and lower-story bars right at the docks of the Riviera Beach marina, shaking booty to live music on sunny Sunday afternoons. With a menu rife with seafood including baskets of peel 'n' eat shrimp, hot blue crab dip, Bahamian conch fritters, a crunchy grouper sandwich and oyster poboys, it's the perfect place to snag some awesome seafood and chill on the weekends. And although it's not on the standard daily menu, the establishment serves Caribbean lobster on special throughout Florida lobster season.
456 S Ocean Blvd.
The older crowd from Palm Beach that love this oceanfront eatery, just off ritzy Worth Avenue on A1A, goes for traditional dishes like oysters Rockefeller, New England clam chowder, or baked crab-stuffed mushrooms and grilled fish that you can order "Oscar" style, topped with crab or with a lobster tail or scampi. They also go for the amazing Atlantic Ocean views. And while they may not serve Caribbean lobster, Charley's Crab deserves a shout for a special menu item that can be found year-round: clawed, cold water lobsters known as South African -- or European -- lobster. Darker coloring and typically smaller, they are known to be sweeter than the Maine variety.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.