Jews and Florida go together like lox and bagels, but the pairing usually calls to mind retirement homes or perhaps the gangsters of the Starz original series “Magic City.” But a new exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU highlights the vital role Jews have played over 200 years in the state’s important agriculture and food industry, as farmers, distributors–and yes, deli owners.
“We’ve always known that we wanted to have an exhibit on food, but there’s so much material, we could have filled three museums just on this subject!” said museum Executive Director Jo Ann Arnowitz, discussing the exhibit entitled “Growers, Grovers & Gefilte Fish: A Gastronomic Look at Florida Jews & Food.”
Subjects include Dr. Philip Phillips, a citrus producer of the early 1900s who was known as the King of Citrus, and developed flash-pasteurization; a sixth-generation dairy that produces 15,000 gallons of milk a day; and a Jewish owned citrus grove three times the size of Manhattan.
The Jews of Florida seem to have adapted to their decidedly unkosher surroundings. In the 1950’s, Jacksonville businessman Ben Stein helped create the Insta-Burger King franchise that would eventually shorten its name to “Burger King.” And Meyer Fish & Produce in the same gulf city created the process of quick freezing shrimp.
But the most famous Jewish Floridian to make his mark on treif is Joe Weiss. The Hungarian-born New Yorker moved to Miami Beach in 1913 to treat his asthma, and opened a lunch counter in what was barely a city at the time. But Joe’s Stone Crab would become a destination, hosting celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali.
Legend has it that Joe’s did not serve stone crab until the 1920s, when a visiting marine researcher insisted that Joe try cooking the crustaceans.
The museum is also offering a walking tour exploring many of the sites and flavors mentioned in the exhibit, including key lime pie at Joe’s Stone Crab.