I’m finally getting to it. Yes, finally capturing my thoughts on what it is that makes the simple, beautiful, luscious lobster roll one of my very favorite things to eat on this earth. About a month ago, when summer was waning, I realized after another daunting work week that I had not enjoyed much of what makes summer, summer. I was sad about that while watching this show on the Food Network called 'Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives'. I was suddenly inspired to find the perfect specimen of lobster roll in our area and was actually quite surprised that I had not already figured out the answer to that long ago. Not only that, I didn’t even know what made a lobster roll perfect in my own mind, so determined to have a set opinion on the subject, I set out to try as many local lobster roll joints as I could manage. I was very surprised at how much of an opinion I actually did have on the subject considering I had never really thought about it before! Ha! So here is what I learned about my own preferences as to what makes a lobster roll perfect.
- NO MAYO! Now, don’t get me wrong, I love mayo. Most lobster rolls are made with mayo - which was completely surprising to me because I have always only ever mostly seen the butter-drenched lobster roll in these yonder parts of the world. Found out that the butter version is very strictly a New England style and much of the country prefers their lobster with mayo. Personally, I think adding mayo to a gorgeous pile of lobster is a travesty and there should be a heavy tax paid by anyone who consumes one. ;)
- Tender lobster meat that you don’t have to war with when biting into the sandwich. There are two things that contribute to a tender pile o’ lobster meat: small (aka young) lobsters and not overcooked lobsters. Biting into a lobster roll that is tantalizing looking just to war with biting off a piece just to hardly be able to chew it does NOT make for a good lobster roll no matter how delicious it looks.
- Bread/lobster ratio is critical. Just because a longer bun is used and a little more meat added, this does not = a better, more extravagant lobster roll experience. To the contrary - by the time you get to the end, you can’t finish the last couple bites because it’s mostly bread and now cold and soggy. Eww.
- The butter. Honestly, I cannot say for sure, but it seemed like some places used unsalted drawn butter. As purist as this sounds, without the salt, it just tastes oily and not yummy. Especially at the end of the meal when the bun is soaked - not so good. I prefer a salted butter on the side that you can just pour on each bite as you take it so that the bun does not disintegrate in your hand.
- Lastly, the roll must be GRILLED. I had no idea how important this was until I had had my fourth lobster roll and it had been grilled instead of toasted - OHa MYa GOODNESS - what a beautiful thing! The grilled roll enhanced the flavor of the lobster and added a wonderful texture and just turned the whole experience into the perfect summer taste bud memory.
I polled my friends to see where they like to go so I know, by now you are all screaming - “WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR FAVORITE?!!” :) So here are the places I went in order:
Lenny & Joe’s in Madison
Lobster Shack in Branford
Lobster Landing in Clinton
Clam Castle in Madison
Westbrook Lobster in Clinton
Now, I know this is hardly an exhaustive list of all the lobster rolls out there, but I really wanted to try the places local to me that I could quickly get to when the need for the perfect lobster roll struck, hence my choices. This is what I experienced:
Lenny & Joe’s: They make my favorite clam strips dinner so were my first choice to try. Well, the extra long bun I just mentioned was had here. The lobster roll was toasted, the meat fairly in-between tender and chewy... came away a little disappointed, but it certainly satisfied my craving. I hoped I hadn’t over-glorified the thought of getting a perfect lobster roll... but in their defense, how can anyone live up to being the first taste of over-blown expectations of the perfect lobster roll! Oh, and they have the yummiest cole-slaw side.
Lobster Shack in Branford and Lobster Landing in Clinton: As it turns out, these two places are very similar in their approach - they may be related to each other. :) You can’t get any fresher than their seafood. I loved their simple menu and the out-door ambiance by the water is the ultimate lobster-roll eating room. Branford even had a band playing and it couldn’t have been more fun. The Branford lobster roll, sadly had the most difficult to chew lobster meat of all I tried. Now, something like that could be limited strictly to my experience because maybe it was due to an older lobster. It looked extravagant and the pieces of meat were huge (which might indicate an older lobster.) There were a few bites that I didn’t have to war with, so it could have been a one-off. At Lobster Landing in Clinton, the lobster meat was the most tender of all that I had tried. It literally melted in my mouth. I was rejoicing... I started hearing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus” as I took each bite - this must be IT!!...
...That is until I went to Clam Castle - yes, the little, tiny, unassuming place on route 1.
This is where I experienced the first GRILLED bun... not only that, but the lobster meat was extremely tender - the whole sandwich just blended into this morsel of buttery, lobstery, toasty goodness - the kind where the only words you can utter are MmMmMm! Now, one thing I have to say about Clam Castle is that I really almost didn’t want to go in because it was clearly a very old, greasy spoon joint and kind of gave me the heebie jeebies. It is a very tiny place and filled to the brim with patrons, so I thought, “I’ll just run in, grab the roll and eat it in the car.” Well, we ended up enjoying great conversation with the staff and eating it there and really - you just don’t notice anything else once you start eating the lobster roll! Ha ha!
... I was going to stop my quest after the Clam Castle, but I had driven by Westbrook Lobster the previous week and thought, with a name like that, they must make a pretty good lobster roll... gotta try it. So we did - and boy am I so glad we did. They grill their bun - not quite as perfectly as Clam Castle, but satisfyingly crunchy. The lobster meat was tender and plentiful. They put the butter on the side so you can dunk or pour it on a bite at a time. Saves the roll from becoming too soggy. Completely enjoyable, but without the outdoor ambiance of the Lobster Shack and Lobster Landing.
Which one is my favorite? Well, I seriously would go back to them all. I have described my taste-bud preferences, but each place offered their own uniqueness that the others didn’t have. I could never limit myself to just one. However... it has got my mind going...if I were going to make the perfect lobster roll, how would I do it? Stay tuned until next time because it is my project for today and will be documenting thoroughly. :))
Enjoy a lobster roll before the season is done!