Down to New England 2: The Lobster Roll Project

Posted June 24th, 2014

Yankees like me favor lobstuh; Chesapeake Bay locals–My Dear One for instance–prefer blue crab. We both love a seafood sandwich and on this trip north we dedicated lunchtime to finding a truly superior lobster roll.

A search for “best lobster rolls in Maine” produces countless results, among them a list of seventeen places, arranged in order of quality from least great to “lobster roll perfection.” My Dear One omitted the parameter “Maine” and put together a similar list. We cross-referenced the findings and calculated drive times from targeted destinations: museums, hotels, and so on.

Bob's Clam Hut

Bob’s Clam Hut

Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery was first up. Kittery is on the other side of the Piscataqua River from New Hampshire and has been a shopping outlet for as long as I can remember—and that is longer than I care to say. Maybe a stop in such a tourist-centric locale wasn’t the best idea, but ya gotta start somewhere and we had departed New Haven, Connecticut, nine-ish or a little before and were tired and hungry. I admit the decision was mine: I programmed the address into Fiona while My Dear One took advantage of the facilities at a rest area.

Lunch at Bob's

Lunch at Bob’s

For exactly $50 we got two regular lobster rolls each with a side of French fries, a large pickle whose flavor was similar to a bread-and-butter pickle, a small cole slaw and a drink (with limitless refills). Our first thought was that everything needed salt. The cabbage was fresh, sweet and crunchy, but the dressing was bland. I would have hit it with vinegar; My Dear One wanted more mayo. The fries were excellent, hot and well cooked. The lobster rolls, however, were a disappointment especially considering that Bob’s Clam Hut placed fifth on my list. My Dear One described the lobster as “tough;” I thought it was a bit “mushy.” What it didn’t have was the taste of fresh lobster. In fact, it didn’t particularly taste fresh-cooked at all. It wasn’t stale or off-flavored—it just didn’t have that sense of ocean-to-pot that one feels entitled to on the New England seacoast. Would we go back? No, at least not for lobster rolls. (The fried clams looked and smelled pretty terrific and there was a brisk business in them.) On a scale of five lobster claws, we give this one a two.

standing in line at Red's Eats

standing in line at Red’s Eats

Red’s Eats in Wiscasset sits about half way between our hotel in Bath and my realtives’ home in Damariscotta. It looked quiet at around three-thirty in the afternoon; it was mobbed the next day at a little past noon. Eighty minutes after getting in line I finally set our meal on a table. Red’s reputation as the purveyor of Maine’s best lobster roll is probably justified although that much waiting suppresses my approval rating. The bill was $43 and change for two rolls, no pickles, two drinks and one small fries; I totally forgot to order cole slaw. Anyway, the fries were good, maybe not quite as good as those at Bob’s Clam Hut. My toasted hotdog bun was really good but My Dear One said his was soggy; the lobster itself was excellent and the amount stuffed into said bun and held in place by foil paper was overwhelming. Tails were split down the center and the sandwich was hard to bite through; of course they expect you to dip some of that tail in clarified butter and eat it separately. A sprinkle of salt and pepper improved the lobster. My Dear One added  mayo; I stuck with butter. This roll earns a four lobster claws with an asterisk: *A perfect lobster roll is one you don’t have to wait eighty minutes for.

Barnacle Billy’s in Ogunquit was more or less on the way back to Massachusetts. The closer we got, the more congested the streets with pedestrians and traffic. I had a thought that it would be nice to be down by the ocean—“downy oshun” as a Baltimoron might say—but when we got there the only available parking was by valet and appeared to cost $15. Out of the question we said. To get time to reorganize our thoughts we wandered around the corner to the parking lot of the Ogunquit Museum—lovely place by the way, we’ve been there before, but no time this time—and reconsidered. The best alternative seemed to be The Beach Plum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a place My Dear One had scared up in the course of lobster roll research. Voted best lobster roll in New Hampshire and all that.

The Beach Plum

The Beach Plum

The Beach Plum, located in a small shopping area not particularly near anything, let alone the ocean, was not only the winner, it was the winner. We paid a bit over $53 for two eight-ounce rolls, one small fries, one small cole slaw and two fountain drinks. We should have gone with the six-ouncers. The rolls were fresh and perfectly buttered and toasted; the lobster was fresh and flavorful. The kitchen, moreover, was willing to make My Dear One a mostly claw meat roll as he finds the tails tough. (I agree, but as a New Englander, I also find that to be part of a lobster tail’s appeal. Tails are all muscle; claws are always tender. However, The Beach Plum rough chops the tails solving the chew problem.) The French fries were the best of the three locations and had the skins on, which I always like. Their cole slaw was also the best, with a pleasantly tangy dressing. The cabbage at Bob’s might have been crisper and sweeter, but this was simply better slaw. And nothing required extra salt. Can’t explain that, but there y’go. Moreover, unlike either Bob’s Clam Hut or Red’s, we’d actually go out of our way to eat there. If we find ourselves in that general vicinity again—and it’s possible we might—a trip to The Beach Plum would have great appeal. Five great big red lobster claws for The Beach Plum!

the coveted lobster claw

the coveted lobster claw

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