In Lobster Shacks: A Road-Trip Guide to New England’s Best Lobster Joints (Countryman Press, 2012) Mike Urban, food and travel writer, had the enviable task of picking the 10 best lobster rolls in New England. (What wasn’t on the list, rest assured, was the McDonald’s lobster roll.)
Chatham Pier Fish Market | Chatham, MA
Located at Cape Cod’s “elbow” in the town of Chatham, the Chatham Pier Fish Market serves up an excellent cold lobster roll made with fresh-picked lobster meat from the market’s super-fresh supply. A small fleet of lobster boats anchored just off the pier keeps the market well-stocked throughout the season. The roll features a buttered, toasted, split-top bun, a crisp leaf of lettuce, copious amounts of chilled lobster, and a generous sprinkling of paprika on top. While noshing on your roll, be sure to check out the fishing boats offloading their catches throughout the day on the adjacent pier.
Bite Into Maine | Cape Elizabeth, ME
This chrome food trailer in Fort Williams Park has developed a huge following in the past few years, and with good reason. Not only is the view of Portland Head Light fantastic, but the lobster rolls (six different kinds) are also equally breathtaking. The Maine-style roll is chilled and dressed in mayo and fresh chives. “The Connecticut” features warm lobster with butter. “The Picnic” roll starts with a bed of coleslaw, topped with chilled lobster and melted butter. The other three feature chilled lobster bathed in mayo seasoned with (take your pick) wasabi, curry, or chipotle. Whichever roll you pick, you really can’t go wrong.
Red’s Eats | Wiscasset, ME
Dick and I have stood in what often looks like a indeterminable long line on our Harley road trips to Camden, Maine. Surprisingly, however, the line moves quickly, and the anticipation makes ordering the roll all the sweeter. (FYI: We never waited longer than an hour.)
If you can handle the hour-plus wait in line on the sidewalk along busy U.S. Route 1, your sweet reward will be a magnificent lobster roll that’s known far and wide as one of the best lobster rolls in Maine. With tail, claw, and knuckle meat from a 1+/-pound lobster, this roll is bigger than most and may be had with mayo, warm butter, neither, or both.
Five Islands Lobster Company | Georgetown, ME
This shack is perfectly positioned on the town dock to receive a steady flow of super-fresh lobster from the cold, deep waters of nearby Sheepscot Bay. The lobster is fresh-picked throughout the day, tossed with a bit of mayo, and served in a toasted, buttered, split-top bun lined with a leafy piece of lettuce. Cold rolls only are served here; no butter.
The Clam Shack | Kennebunk, ME
Arguably not only the best of the best lobster rolls in New England, but also the roll by which all others should be measured, writes Mike Urban.
Owner Steve Kingston’s meticulous use of fresh-daily, soft shell lobsters and chilling each handpicked order on ice creates a freshness of flavor unmatched anywhere. Served on toasted, buttered hamburger-style buns from a local bakery, the Clam Shack’s cold-meat rolls may be had with mayonnaise or warm butter. This is one of the best lobster rolls, by which all others should be measured.
The Lobster Pool | Rockport, MA
Nestled in a quiet corner of Cape Ann, this pretty little spot serves up the best lobster roll between Boston and the New Hampshire border. Each roll at the Pool is made to order with generous chunks of lobster mixed in a small bowl with mayo, then placed atop a crunchy leaf of lettuce and wedged into a toasted, buttered split-top bun. Butter may be substituted for mayo, on request. The Pool’s lobsters are procured fresh daily from a supplier in neighboring Gloucester, then cooked up and hand-picked at the Pool throughout the day.
Lobster Landing | Clinton, CT
Owners Enea and Cathie Bacci have put a unique Italian spin on their hot, buttered lobster roll at this quaint, dilapidated shack next to the Clinton town harbor. Instead of making their lobster rolls with split-top hot dog buns, they load their warm, buttered lobster meat into hefty Italian grinder rolls that have been toasted on a standard-issue, propane-fired backyard barbecue grill. The result is a warm, buttery, crispy-crunchy lobster roll that pleases in both quantity and quality.
Rye Harbor Lobster Pound | Rye Harbor, NH
Down by the town dock in Rye Harbor is a tiny, sunny shack that serves some of the most innovative lobster dishes anywhere in New England. From Lobster Gazpacho to Lobster Pizza, there’s plenty to try here. Don’t miss the hot lobster roll with the meat bathed in a warm butter-and-sherry sauce and served on a buttered split-top bun that’s toasted on a plug-in griddle. There’s also a cold roll with mayo, a touch of celery, and a hint of lemon.
Anthony’s Seafood | Middletown, RI
Dick and I feel lucky if we can snag a parking slot, especially on weekends, at this warehouse-like seafood market on a commercial strip on Aquidneck Island (Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth). The six-ounce lobster roll is accompanied with fries, coleslaw, and a pickle.
The picked-fresh-daily lobster meat is tossed with a bit of mayo and lightly sprinkled with white pepper. The price tag is higher than most, but the extra cost is well worth it.
McLoons Lobster Shack | South Thomaston, ME
In 2017, Yankee Senior Food Editor Amy Traverso embarked on The Lobster Roll Adventure up the Maine coast, from Kittery to Eastport, to sample nearly two dozen rolls and crown a champion. Here’s what she had to say about her top-pick McLoons.
Imagine the lobster shack of your dreams: a tiny red hut perched over the water with a tented patio and picnic tables. Across a small cove, another red building serves as the drop-off point for day boats like the Four Winds, whose crew is unloading lobster crates while the Edith C. idles behind, waiting for the berth. And one family does it all, the catching and the cooking. There’s homemade peach pie and coleslaw and the freshest lobster. And here’s the genius part: Not only can you get a half-and-half roll (one side butter, one side mayonnaise, sliced crosswise), but also they put the mayo in the bottom of the bun. Like a condiment! Which is what it is! The lobster tastes like lobster, the bun tastes like butter, and the sauces enrich the lean meat. One thing is certain: This will be hard to beat.
A Bonus Home Recipe
We’ve subscribed to Garden & Gun magazine for years. Great photos accompany the interesting, well-written articles. The editors at BRIGHT shared executive Chef Ann Kim’s recipe for making lobster rolls at the Garden & Gun Club in Atlanta, Georgia.
From Chef Ann Kimx;
In most restaurants, they’re usually served dressed or ‘naked’ with butter,” she says. “But I love both.” Kim, who is the executive chef of the Garden & Gun Club in Atlanta, brought the techniques together when developing her own lobster roll for the restaurant. The result: a decadent sandwich that’s truly the best of both worlds. “The roll is dressed in a nice creamy sauce on a buttered, toasted bun, along with a side of butter,” she says. “It’s tough to beat that.”
For the dressing, Kim riffed on a classic comeback sauce, adapted from a recipe in G&G’s The Southerner’s Cookbook, that also gets slathered on the popular Club Burger. Augmented with a splash of lemon and an extra dollop of Duke’s mayo, the sauce thickens and brightens, complementing the sweetness of the lobster meat. According to Kim, consistency is key: “Lobster is high in water content, which will thin out the sauce, so make it slightly thicker than you might normally like.” From there, the recipe leaves plenty of room for adaptation. “The roll is best with fresh lobster, but cooking a live lobster can be a little intimidating, so pre-cooked Maine lobster meat is another great option.” In a pinch, however, the chef encourages home cooks to substitute as needed: shrimp, lump crab, or any pan-seared white fish will work just as well.
When you’re ready to serve, pile the dressed lobster into a high-quality, New England–style hot dog bun—when in doubt, “Martin’s potato rolls make a great substitute,” says Kim— sprinkle with your garnish of choice, and don’t forget a ramekin of melted butter. An equally tempting side doesn’t hurt, either: “If you’re going to be indulgent with the sandwich, why not be indulgent with some fries too?” the chef adds. “Finish them off with parmesan or truffle oil and really go all-in.”
See the Garden & Gun Club lobster roll recipe here.
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