Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lobster Rolls

Planning for our trip to New England I was reviewing Jane & Michael Stern's book 500 Things To Eat Before It's Too Late. I noticed that in southern Maine he clumped a group of restaurants together that serve lobster rolls and then rated the lobster rolls. I put three of the restaurants on our itinerary, the ones that served the number 2, 3 and 4 rated lobster rolls (out of 9 rated). I had never eaten a lobster roll and so I wasn't sure what to expect. Wikipedia states that the traditional Maine lobster roll has cold lobster meat with mayonnaise served on a grilled hot dog bun. The bun is usually lightly buttered and then lightly grilled. It may also have diced celery and/or scallion and lettuce. An alternative, called the Connecticut lobster roll, is warm lobster with drawn butter on a hot dog bun. I guess the idea behind the roll is that eating a lobster is messy and requires a lot of work. The lobster roll is easy to eat and mess free, as long as you are careful. One source said that a variety of meat is essential: the knuckle provides tenderness, the tail gives juiciness and the body provides the most flavor. During our stay I had five lobster rolls, one from the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Maine, rated the number 2 roll; one from the Maine Diner in Wells, Maine, rated the number 3 roll; one from Mabel's Lobster Claw in Kennebunkport, Maine, rated the number 3 roll, one from Daniel's Restaurant & Pub in Henniker, New Hampshire, not on any list; and one from the Manchester (New Hampshire) Airport, which definitely is not and should not be on any list. The Clam Shack uses a non-traditional hamburger type bun
and 500 Things To Eat claims that the lobster pieces in the roll are big, six to ten big chunks of meat. 
The bun was buttered and grilled and had a little mayonnaise on it. I either got a bad example, or perhaps Clam Shack knows when they are being reviewed for a book and piles it on, because I got less meat on that roll than any of my others, except for perhaps the airport roll. 
There were bites where we could hardly taste any lobster. At about $16.25 for a roll, it is not cheap and I was sorely disappointed. What is more, I picked up the order from a window and sat down at an outdoor table (which I wouldn't mind if it was really good). Although rated as no. 2 by 500 Things To Eat, it rated fourth on my list, just above the airport lobster roll. The Maine Diner lobster roll was warm lobster on a hot dog bun that had no butter on it. 
I don't recall if the bun was grilled or not, I suspect it wasn't. It had a side container of warm butter to go with it. It rated no. 3 on the 500 Things To Eat list, but no. 1 on my list. 
It was $16.75, $.50 more than the Clam Shack, but it also came with a choice of sides: I chose a scoop of potato salad which was very good. The lobster was warm and juicy, there was a lot of it, much more than was provided by the Clam Shack, and the melted butter mixed with it and provided a similar experience to what you would get if you were eating the lobster from the shell with drawn butter. This was as good as eating it out of the shell without the work and without the mess. This made sense and it was good, no. 1 by a landslide. It was also served inside at a table with a waiter, which made it nicer to eat, but also more expensive because it required a tip. Mabel's Lobster Claw had a $20.00 lobster roll, but it came with two sides: I got coleslaw and fries. 
They also provided a wonderful piece of corned bread and another type of bread. So, although most expensive, it had other things to go with it. The hot dog bun was not buttered or grilled, I don't believe it was even warm, it had some lettuce on it and chilled lobster meat with quite a bit of mayonnaise. 
The quantity of lobster was as much or more than Maine Diner's, but I found that the chilled lobster meat did not have the same texture or taste. So it was better than the Clam Shack's, but it rated third out of the five I tried. My second favorite lobster roll came from Daniel's Restaurant & Pub in Henniker, New Hampshire. We went to Henniker so that Judy could visit a fabric store featured in a magazine. I knew she was going to be engrossed there for quite a while, so I visited the Pub down the street and decided to try the lobster roll to see how it would compare with the more famous Maine rolls. I was very pleasantly surprised. It was about $16.50 and came with a slice of watermelon and honeydew. It was not on a hot dog bun, but something bigger. The bun was not buttered or grilled. It came with more lettuce than Mabel's and it was more like a lobster salad, with more mayonnaise and pieces of diced celery and onion. 
I believe it was the most substantial of the rolls I tried and I really liked the juiciness, wetness and flavor of the added mayonnaise, celery and onion. 
Finally, as we were leaving to come back home, I decided to see if the airport had a lobster roll and it did! It was $12.95 and as I went to the cash register the clerk asked if I knew how much it cost and I said, I did. I guess others have complained after she rung it up to find how much it was and she has had to undo the transactions. It was on a cold hot dog bun with no butter and perhaps just a tad bit of mayonnaise. Lots of lettuce and mostly claw meat. 
I was surprised the meat was as fresh and tender as it was, although it lagged way behind the others in freshness and quality. We ended up leaving most of the lettuce and bun and just eating the lobster off the top. 
It ranked no. 5 and last in my poll by quite a margin. In summary, given a choice between a lobster out of the shell and a lobster roll, I would take lobster out of the shell. Warm lobster with drawn butter on a roll is very close to lobster out of the shell and would be my second choice. If you are going to have the lobster cold and with mayonnaise, get it lubed up and make it into a lobster salad. Frankly, I think it would still be nice to have the bun moistened with butter and lightly grilled, even with the cold lobster salad. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your assessments and ratings. However, I'm pretty sure I've had enough lobster rolls to last for a year or so.