|Exhibit A: A perfectly executed Maine lobster roll.|
|Exhibit B: A not-so-great take on a lobster roll (in my opinion).|
Last week, Food and Wine published an article on America's Best Lobster Rolls so I thought I would add my two cents worth here. I liked that the article included a span of restaurants across the US serving delicious lobster rolls vs. just focusing on lobster shacks in Maine. I did however question some of the lobster rolls they selected, both inside and outside Vacationland.
For me, a good lobster roll comes down to the four essential ingredients - butter, bread roll, mayo and lobster. The lobster should be served cold, lightly dressed in mayonnaise (a drizzle of melted butter is also a nice touch). The 'roll', ideally served warm, should be a New England split-top bun, griddled in butter until golden brown. Spongy, brioche bread is sometimes an acceptable substitute. The ratio of lobster to bun is also critical. The roll should be stuffed to overflowing with chunky meat. That meat should be comprised primarily of claw and knuckle meat (more tender in texture than tail meat) and, when possible,the meat should be from new shell (shedder) lobsters, which are much sweeter than hard shells. Additional garnishings like lettuce, celery and spices are not out of the question but they should never overwhelm the roll.
While I obviously have not tried all the lobster rolls on Food and Wine's list of the best lobster rolls in America, I am going to make some observational comments based on the pictures provided and my personal experience.
Within the state of Maine, Food and Wine listed the following restaurants as serving the best lobster rolls:
1. The Clam Shack, Kennebunkport, Maine : This is an excellent, if obvious choice. The Clam Shack consistently features in lists of the best lobster rolls in Maine and America. For the last two years, they have also been awarded the title of "America's Best Lobster Roll" at the Tasting Table's Lobster Roll Rumble in New York City. What makes them worthy of such accolades is largely based on how they handle their lobster. The Clam Shack store their lobsters in fresh salt water tanks at the restaurant right up until they're ready to be cooked, which keeps them plump and hydrated. They also only use new shell lobsters and hand-shred the meat, believing that knives cause oxidation which taints the flavor. The Clam Shack do break code by serving their lobster meat warm and for using homemade dinner rolls vs. split-top buns. Diners also get the option of butter or mayo as a dressing.
2. Bob's Clam Hut, Kittery, Maine: Bob's is another solid choice. They serve a classic lobster roll, with hearty chunks of mayo-dressed meat in a griddled, split top bun.
3. Bite Into Maine, Cape Elizabeth, Maine: While Bite Into Maine offer a variety of lobster rolls, from curry to wasabi, in a split-top bun, I am not sure I'd rank them as one of the best lobster rolls in America. The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, also in Cape Elizabeth, seems to me a much more obvious choice.
4. MC Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, Maine: I have not yet written about MC Perkins Cove on this blog but it appears to be a wonderful establishment (a restaurant vs. a lobster shack) with an incredible lobster roll. From the picture provided by Food and Wine, it looks like they stuff their rolls with a healthy amount of claw and knuckle meat and add just enough mayo.
5. Thurston's Lobster Pound, Bernard, Maine (Acadia): Thurston's is great if you're looking for an authentic lobster shack with ocean views. I have read that their lobster rolls are a bit on the skimpy side though the picture of their roll provided by Food and Wine looked nice. Rather than Thurston's, I would recommend Red's Eats in Wiscasset, which serves a lobster roll containing an entire one-pound lobster’s worth of nearly intact meat in a grilled, split-top bun with mayo or butter on the side. As with The Clam Shack, Red's lobster meat is hand torn.
Outside the state of Maine, I think the following places on the Food and Wine list serve an excellent roll:
6. Luke's Lobster, NYC, DC and PA: If you live in New York City, DC or Phili, run, don't walk to Luke's Lobster. They serve an intoxicating lobster roll, which I have had the pleasure of sampling first hand at one of my book signings. Luke's make their lobster roll with soft, glistening chunks of claw and knuckle meat, a light dusting of both mayo and melted butter and a pinch of celery salt, pepper and oregano, all in a griddled, split-top bun. Luke Holden is a Maine native and sources his lobster directly from Maine fishermen. If you can't visit Luke's Lobster in person, you can order a lobster roll kit from their website.
7. Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC and DC: Red Hook serve another excellent Maine lobster roll outside the state, with big chunks of claw meat tossed in a light dressing on a grilled, split-top bun.
8. The Bayside Restaurant, Westport, MA: From the photo on Food and Wine, Bayside's lobster roll looks like a true work of art. The roll comes with a generous serving of claw meat, which they serve 'naked' on a toasted hot dog bun, with a choice of mayo or butter served on the side. I am less sure of another eatery the Food and Wine list - The Raw Bar in Mashpee. While the Raw Bar roll is generous (with reportedly almost a pound of lobster meat) it looks like they overdo it with the mayo, making for a mushy roll.
9. Neptune Oyster, Boston, MA: Neptune Oyster is a lovely little raw bar in the North End of Boston with fabulous ambiance and yummy oysters. They also serve a lobster roll which makes it onto the Food and Wine best lobster roll list. The roll looks okay from the picture but there does seem to be quite a bit of tail meat which could impact the flavor. The meat is also served on a brioche bun vs a split-top bun. Still, I would choose a Neptune lobster roll over a roll from B and G Oysters, also in Boston and on the Food and Wine list. While the B and G roll looks generous, the lobster meat is mixed with celery and chives along with mayo and the roll looks a bit questionable (likely not split-top and appears a bit dry).
10. Oyster House, PA: The Oyster House in Philadelphia serve what looks to be a lovely lobster roll. The meat portion is generous, with ample amounts of claw and knuckle. The dressing does not overwhelm the meat and the split-top bun appears to be soft and nicely griddled. According to Food and Wine, the owner, Sam Mink, serves meat only from Maine lobsters that have come out of the water fewer than 24 hours before.
11. Acadia, Chicago: I have had my eye on Acadia since it opened in 2012. The chef, Ryan McCaskey, spent his childhood summers in Maine and understands the importance of an authentic, well executed lobster roll. He imports his split-top buns directly from Hannaford's supermarket and his lobsters from the Maine fishing village of Stonington. He seasons his lobster with fresh chive mayo, a dusting paprika and a squeeze of lemon. This roll is certainly worthy of its place on the list of the best lobster rolls in America.
12. Woodhouse Fish Co, San Francisco: The lobster roll at Woodhouse Fish Co looks lovely and worthy of its 'best lobster roll' title. From the picture, the roll appears to contain a generous portion of claw and knuckle meat. According to Food and Wine, this meat, sourced from Maine, is dressed with a creamy house-made mayo and a sprinkling of chives, then loaded into a soft, custom-baked buttered hot dog bun. Sam's Chowder House, also in S.F., appears to produce a nice roll as well, with generous chunks of Maine claw meat served 'naked,' with drawn butter on the side. Their 'custom-baked, toasted torpedo bun' is a departure from the traditional roll but hopefully worthy of the lobster it holds.
There were 9 other restaurants on Food and Wine's list of America's Best Lobster Rolls but I have not included them here as, in my opinion, the rolls at those restaurants don't quite make the grade. Either the lobster meat portions look too meager or the mixture appears overly doctored - with too much mayo and other ingredients and not enough chunky pieces of lobster meat.
I would love to hear your thoughts on lobster rolls you've enjoyed around America. If you want to read more on my top five places to get a lobster roll in Maine, click here. Or for my list of the the best lobster shacks in Maine, click here.