The Clam Shack, Kennebunkport, Maine: Lobster Roll Rumble 2012 Fan Favorite Winner

IMG_1502We lined up on a cold, damp Maine day, last week, cash in hand, with few prospects for seating, excited, nonetheless, to soon be tasting the award winning The Clam Shack lobster roll.

The Clam Shack is a stand-alone street-side shack, in the heart of downtown Kennebunkport, approximately 2 hours north of Boston. The Shack offers only a take-out window, no wait service, no seating: you order, you stand around with your receipt in hand, you hope there is an open bench nearby when your order is up, your mouth waters as you wait for your number to be called….this is old-school, New England eating, at its best, even on a rainy day. The fare is typical of any other clam shack: chowder, steamers, fried clams, rolls of either lobster, shrimp or crab. Add a side of fries or onion rings and close with a slice of blueberry pie and you have a perfect summer meal served by a super friendly staff.

I had heard the hype, I had read the reviews and I celebrated that a New England eatery had scored the “fan favorite” prize at last year’s Rumble and I finally made the trip; with my mother and my children in tow, we hit the road. When I placed my order I was offered two options, butter or mayo, I went with the mayo. For my $16.75 I was served an open-faced round toasted roll with mayonnaise spread on both sides of the bun. The sandwich itself contained lots of lobster meat, nothing but lobster meat and big, generous fresh hunks of mostly tail and some claw meat….the sandwich is hearty and absolutely delicious. This is a traditional lobster roll, no fillers, no seasonings (I do not understand the call for seasoning a perfectly cooked lobster), no odd flavor pairings (I recently read about a lobster roll with barbecue sauce and caramelized onions…really?). The Clam Shack lobster roll is just lobster, just as it should be and I loved it!

We had also ordered the chowder, some fries and my mom had a shrimp roll. We sat, huddled, in the front entry of the next-door but not yet open-for-the-season Clam Shack fish market. The fish market had put out some high-top tables, there were many more customers than available seats; we were lucky to be sitting, lots of others either ate in their car or just stood about with cardboard box in one hand and lobster roll in the other. Everyone seemed happy.

I look forward to this year’s Tasting Table Lobster Roll Rumble. I wish The Clam Shack the very best and certainly hope to return to Kennebunk, real soon. There is nothing, it seems, like a Maine lobster and there are very few lobster rolls, it seems, like that which is served at Kennebunkport’s The Clam Shack.

“The Tasting Table Lobster Roll Rumble is an amazing opportunity to show New Yorkers and trendsetting foodies what we in Maine already know — there is only one Maine lobster and the flavor is impossible to beat,” said Marianne LaCroix, acting director of the Maine Lobster Council, an organization that promotes the state’s signature seafood.
This year four Maine-based operations — Portland’s Eventide Oyster Co., Bite Into Maine in Cape Elizabeth and The Galley Restaurant & Pub in Naples — join reigning champ The Clam Shack in the Big Apple. They are among a field of contestants hand-picked by Tasting Table editors.

Many others, including Luke’s Lobster, the California-based Cousins Maine Lobster and Red Hook Lobster Pound of New York, are run by Maine natives or folks with close family ties to the state.
Even chefs without any direct connection to Maine consider the state’s beloved crustacean their best shot at being crowned the country’s lobster roll king, said Tasting Table spokeswoman Samantha Bernstein.

“A lot of our contestants boast that they fly in fresh Maine lobster, so I think everybody tries to have some kind of tie to the region,” she said.

(The Bangor Daily News, Seth Koenig, May 27, 2013)

The Clam Shack
2 Western Avenue
Kennebunkport, Maine
04043

http://theclamshack.net/

The White Elephant Hotel’s Brant Point Grill: A Nantucket Lobster Roll

I love Nantucket, I love the White Elephant Hotel. In fact, my husband and I love it so much that not only do we return, every year, but we book the same room, on the same weekend, every year. One of New England’s most highly acclaimed restaurants, Oran Mor, is on the island as is my favorite harbor-side, “lunch under an umbrella while reclining on a white wicker lounge” spot, The Brant Point Grill, conveniently and perfectly situated at the White Elephant Hotel.

Every year we are there, and, at least once a visit, every year, I order the lobster roll (most vacations I am good for more than just one). The White Elephant lobster roll is probably one of the reasons I have been most inspired to write about lobster rolls. Along with Neptune Oyster in Boston and Ed’s Lobster Bar in Manhattan, The Brant Point Grill offers the standard by which all other lobster rolls should be considered.

At $25.00, Brant Point serves their elegant lobster roll with a side of pasta salad and just enough fries. The lobster roll is served on a crusty baguette (I’d love to know where Brant Point gets their baguettes from; I do know that other establishments on the island fly bread in from the famed Parisian bread shop, Poilane). As is to be expected from a fine kitchen, this lobster roll is made of only large pieces of the most fresh Nantucket lobster (I find Nantucket lobsters to be as sweet and delicious as Maine lobsters) with just enough mayo to qualify this as a lobster salad on bread. No celery, no tomato, nothing added but a leaf of lettuce. You can order your lobster roll at the main restaurant, you can sit at the always fun and entertaining bar or you can have your cloth napkin lobster roll brought out to you as you sit and watch the sail boats, the ferries and the fisherman pull in to dock. Order a Prosecco (with perhaps a splash of local cranberry juice) and my friends, you’ll have not only a lunch to remember, but a lunch worth coming back for, year after year.

Brant Point Grill at the White Elephant Hotel

http://www.whiteelephanthotel.com/restaurant/

50 Easton Street, Nantucket, MA 02554
800.445.6574 or 508.228.2500

Brant Point Grill on Urbanspoon

Lunch on the Harbor: A Lobster Roll at Brax Landing on Cape Cod

Some lobster rolls you just never forget. Such is the case with the lobster roll at Brax Landing in Harwich, Cape Cod. I first had a Brax lobster roll in 2005 and although I’ve visited many other spots on the Cape for seafood, few dishes were as memorable as that Brax Landing lobster roll. Yesterday, I took a ride down to the Cape and made time for a return visit to Brax …just as good as I had remembered.

Brax Landing sits on a lovely little harbor in the town of Harwich, in that part of the Cape known as that “mid-Cape”. It’s a quiet little harbor, used mostly by pleasure boats; primarily sailboats from what I could tell. While the restaurant offers “dock-side” dining, I opted to sit at the bar surrounded by a wall of windows looking out onto the water. I ordered the $19.99 lobster roll which inspired lots of remarks from my fellow bar patrons, “Have you had the lobster roll before?” “Best on the Cape.” “Nothing like it.” “You’re gonna love it.” And that I did.

Brax Landing serves their lobster roll not on a roll but on a crusty baguette, it is warmed (not toasted) and absolutely a terrific alternative to the traditional split-top roll. Yes, they do add a bed of lettuce, some minced celery, a touch of mayo and sprinkling of parsley but all of these additives are complimentary to the generous portion of lobster and certainly not intended as filler. There is so much lobster meat in the Brax Landing lobster roll that I first approached it with my fork and then after several mouthfuls I went at the roll, with two hands…it measures about eight inches long, a hefty lobster roll, for sure. The dish comes with a nice order of shoestring fries, a cup of coleslaw and a pickle. I’m not sure I finished either the fries or the coleslaw; I didn’t even consider the pickle. Brax Landing lobster roll is a meal in itself and at the price they charge and given the charming environment, I ended my lunch very much agreeing with my newly made bar friends. Go to Brax Landing for the lobster roll, you’re gonna love it.

Brax Landing
705 Massachusetts 28
Harwich, MA 02645
(508) 432-5515
http://www.braxlanding.com

Brax Landing on Urbanspoon

Lotta Lobster at Lobsta Love Food Truck in Boston

My kids and I have been trying to track down the Lobsta Love food truck all summer. Man, these folks get around! We finally found them at Boston’s SoWa open-market (one of the most hip scenes in all of Beantown – if you’re into artisanal just-about anything, vintage everything and small-producer food products, check out the SoWa market, we love it, you will too, it’s just very cool). The wait, the search, the hunt for the Lobsta Love truck was well worth it, we were impressed!

Lobsta Love offers lots of lobster options including several choices of lobster rolls. I was intrigued with the concept of the $6.50 lobster roll slider and decided to order both the traditional and the Asian inspired. Yep, I stepped out of my comfort zone and went with something new. What we got for our $12.00 ($6.50 for one slider, two for $12.00, three for $17.00) were two well-stocked, sweet and yummy brioche rolls, toasted, buttered and loaded with big, whole chunks of delicious, fresh lobster meat. The traditional mini-roll was heavy on the lobster, light on the mayo, making for a hearty snack, individually and when paired, a nice lunch. The Asian fusion roll was tasty and different but seemed to be more inspired that impressive. I’ll give them points for creative flavor, I just don’t see the departure from the traditional as being necessary…more of my personal preference. Each slider came with a handful plus of chips, I’m guessing Cape Cod but maybe not.

Lobsta Love offers sliders, a standard size “classic split-top” (priced at $16.00), a Parmesan encrusted roll (one for $9.00, two for $17.00…not going there, I remain firm that seafood mixed with cheese is a no-no) and a super-sized “jumbo torpedo” for $23.00. All their breads come from Iggy’s, a local and favorite Boston bread maker. You can order a traditional roll (made with LL’s homemade mayo) or an Asian-fusion roll (which I thought was interesting but I probably would skip next time).

All-in-all, a fun food truck experience, absolutely satisfying, a good value and a pleasure to have connected with this super cool team of lobster lovers. Check them out!

Lobsta Love Food Truck
http://www.lobstalove.net

 

Lobsta Love (Food Cruck) on Urbanspoon

The D.C. Lobster Roll Experience: Red Hook Lobster Pound Truck

I have to admit, the appeal of the food truck is fading fast. I jumped on the craze late (just last summer) and am departing rather early. I got hooked by the taco trucks on Abbot Kinney in Venice, California thinking that trucks would allow for tastings from chefs I might not have otherwise had the pleasure of experiencing, but the novelty is wearing off, especially for lobster roll trucks. Having said that, Red Hook Lobster Pound in D.C. offers a decent (albeit pricey) lobster roll, my first (and only) in our nation’s capitol.

No minced or chipped meat on the Red Hook roll; claw, knuckle and tail meat is served in both the Maine roll (cold with mayo) and the Connecticut roll (warm with butter), in large chunks. The disappointingly small bun is toasted and buttered (even on the Maine roll); the roll is served with a wedge of lemon and a pickle slice. For $18.00 (high, for a truck) you get a bag of (the omnipresent) Cape Cod chips and a Maine Root soda (nice small label offering great flavors). The lobster roll is nice, even delicious, but frankly, expensive, especially given the size. I’ve mentioned, in my last blog, the depressed prices of wholesale lobsters and yes, I remember my econ 101, first day of class lesson: never price according to cost, price according to demand. Okay, I get it, it’s July, lobster rolls are the food of summer time and lobster rolls are, in this July of 2012, all the rage. Yes, demand is high, but…

I wish I could suggest a D.C. alternative that offered a better deal; I don’t spend nearly enough time in the area (I’d love to know the town better) and, therefore, have nothing to compare it to. Red Hook Lobster Pound offers a fine lobster roll, really, they do. For the money, though and given the parking lot experience, I want something more….just my personal preference. You won’t be disappointed at Red Hook Lobster Pound but you just may end up a little bit hungry.

Red Hook Lobster Pound Truck

http://www.redhooklobsterdc.com/

Washington, DC | Phone: (202) 341-6263

Red Hook Lobster Pound (food truck) on Urbanspoon

A Lobster Roll at East Hampton’s Main Beach: As It was Intended

Main Beach, East Hampton…I’m happy to be at Main Beach winter, spring, summer or fall, rain or shine, with or without a beach permit (without a permit, a summer admission is $25.00 for the day, off-season it’s free). I love Main Beach in East Hampton, one of my favorites of all beaches. The sand is white and silky, the waves crash relentlessly, the smell of the salt air is just so intoxicating. The very idea of ordering a lobster roll at the Main Beach food concession was a no-brainer for my son and me, we had to check it out.

With cash in hand, we queued up anxious to see what Main Beach would produce for the $17.95 they ask for their lobster roll. What we received was a good deal of somewhat minced lobster on a golden-grilled buttered roll (a good looking and even better tasting bun). Yes, they do put in some lettuce filler, yep, there was a little more mayo than I prefer and while I am not sure if the three or four whole cherry tomatoes (dotted on top) were intended more for taste or aesthetic, we were, nevertheless, satisfied. (Did I mention that this is one of the best buns I’ve tasted, anywhere?) No sides come with the roll, just a wedge of lemon.

Here’s the scoop, lobster rolls, for decades and decades were sold exclusively at the seashore. For those of us with that preference, sitting on the deck of Main Beach, in my bathing suit (and nothing else but a pair of sandals, not even a cover-up required) with squealing kids all around, lathered and smelling of sunblock, enjoying a lobster roll made from that morning’s catch, really just doesn’t get any better. I’d take the Main Beach lobster roll over just about any other simply because of the experience. Eating a lobster roll as it was meant to be eaten, at the surf, at the beach, nothing quite compares, you have to give it a try. Meet you on the deck?

Best in NYC: Ed’s Lobster Bar

If you’re looking for a quick read, I’ll get right to the point: Ed’s Lobster Bar serves the best lobster roll in NYC, best in preparation, best in taste, best for your money. Care to read more?

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the plummeting prices of lobsters, this is, so they say, the reason for the proliferation of lobster rolls – yes, everyone is serving them, lobster rolls are everywhere! It seems to me that if the prices of lobsters are down but the prices of lobster rolls have remained constant (my guess is that a lobster roll costs, today, just about what it did five, maybe even ten years ago), then the quality of the roll should be on the upswing…not the case everywhere (not even in my beloved East Hampton where I had my very first, some 30 plus years ago).  Despite the “lobster roll on every menu” trend, Ed’s in NYC’s lower Manhattan (two locations plus a pop-up in Battery Park) is setting the standard for  not only the “best” but also the “best value”.

At $25.00, Ed’s  achieves an outstanding lobster roll by offering more than a generous portion of  flawlessly prepared rich, SA-WEET, tender, tail and claw morsels (Ed knows where to buy his lobsters and his kitchen knows just how to cook them) served in large chunks, with just the right mention of mayo, no filler. We’re talking a lot of lobster meat, folks, but for the top-split toasted, lightly buttered bun, you’d lose a good deal of the meat (or, at least, much would end up on your plate).  Served with a heaping side of golden fries (perfectly salted) and their trademark pickles (take home an order, they are that good!)… for your money, you get a perfect dish starring a perfectly simple but absolutely satisfying lobster roll.  You get what you came for, more so, in fact!

The NY Times reviewed Ed’s, as follows: “At Ed’s Lobster Bar Kiosk on the (Battery Park) waterfront, , Ed McFarland’s six-ounce celery-and-chive-dotted blob of musky mayonnaise-y lobster meat bobs atop its butter-drenched roll like one of the sprawling yachts in the adjacent marina ($25). It’s an object of conspicuous consumption as befits the captains of finance (emphasis added).We ordinary seamen would do well to get with a mate, order one large and one small three-ounce roll ($13), and split the difference.”

While “blob of musky mayonnaise-y lobster meat” and “butter-drenched roll” was not my experience at the Lafayette Street location (a lovely little spot that sits, unbeknownst to me when visiting, at the exact address my great-grandfather operated a candy store in the 1930s), I do agree with the spirit of the NY Times review, Ed’s Lobster Bar offers both abundance and quality in what I believe to be an absolute stand-out of  all Manhattan lobster rolls.

 

http://www.lobsterbarnyc.com

Ed’s Lobster Bar

222 Lafayette Street

212-343-3236

Ed’s Lobster Bar Annex (offering patio seating)

25 Clinton Street

212-777-7370

Ed’s Lobster Bar Kiosk

225 Vesey Street

917-364-3787

Ed's Lobster Bar on Urbanspoon

Barnacle Billy’s in Ogunquit, Maine: Charming but a Disappointing Lobster Roll

Day-tripping? Sure! I’ll drive just about anywhere for a good time, even if the time spent at our destination is a fraction of the hours spent traveling round-trip. A two-hour car ride, north, into Maine, for a lobster lunch and some sight seeing? I’m sorry Amy from Austin wasn’t around to join but…I’m in!

With the recommendation of Barnacle Billy’s in Perkins Cove, my family and I set off for Ogunquit and nearby Kennebunk Port (I’m a sucker for things presidential, even if not within the party I support…I’ll admit it, I wanted to check-out the Bush compound, no shame in being a looky-loo, is there?). I packed the kids in the car, and with the prospect of a Babs sighting followed by an authentic Maine lobster roll, we gleefully hit the road.

First thing to know about Barnacle Billy’s is just how incredibly charming Perkin’s Cove is. Think small pleasure boats, fishing boats, lobster boats surrounding a pier that jets out from a lovely little harbor on one side and rocky surf on the other. With seagulls circling above and the sounds and smell of the Atlantic all-around, I was as charmed as I had hoped, so far, so good.

Parking at Barnacle Billy’s, like at most tourist destinations (make no mistake about it, the merchants on the cove are banking, literally, on your interest in t-shirts, dime-store candy and ice-cream cones) can be a bit of a drag, but we managed, as you eventually will. We opted for the casual, order-at-the-counter, self-service Billy’s rather than the more formal option next door. It was a beautiful day, we wanted to sit out on the pier and enjoy our lobsters as the boats pulled in and the lobstermen unloaded the afternoon’s catch. With just a short wait, we had no trouble finding a table right on the water, the kids were thrilled, mom was excited!

Barnacle Billy’s for all its charm and allure was, I am sorry to say, a bit of a disappointment when it came to its lobster roll. My daughter ordered a whole lobster, steamed…can’t beat a Maine lobster caught just hours before it was served, she placed the smart order, go simple, you can’t go wrong. My son and I went for the lobster roll, at 18.95 per, served with a side of chips and pickles; we were underwhelmed. The roll measured on the small side of a standard roll, was a bit too heavy on the mayo for my taste, although served on a deliciously grilled bun. It ranked as just “okay” for us. Barnacle Billy’s serves their lobster rolls with a dusting of paprika, which I think is absolutely unnecessary, but that’s just a personal preference. While there is no filler in the roll and the portion of fresh, sweet lobster meat was reasonable, the lobster-roll, as a whole, just did not impress. Considering that this was counter-service and we were eating on paper plates with plastic forks, I also felt as if it was priced a bit high.

Head to Perkin’s Cove for the quintessential Maine setting, order a steamed- lobster at Barnacle Billy’s, enjoy the view and soak-in the New England coastal vibe. When you are ready for your lobster roll, do consider driving further north as the Maine coast, even for Bostonian day-trippers, offers plenty of other options.

Oh, and as for Babs and George, we struck out there, as well…guess they were out of town.

Barnacle Billy’s
50 Perkins Cove
Ogunquit, ME 03907
(207) 646-5575

http://www.barnbilly.com/

Barnacle Billy's on Urbanspoon

Boston’s Best: Neptune Oyster

I suppose I should offer a few disclaimers up front: Amy from Austin has not been to Neptune Oyster (yet) AND Neptune not only serves one of my all-time, best-anywhere lobster rolls, but it is also one of my absolute favorite restaurants in Boston, in fact, it is absolutely one of my favorites, anywhere…and food critics agree, everyone loves Neptune Oyster. This is a somewhat biased review.

Neptune sits on a narrow and crowded side-street in Boston’s North End, our “Little Italy”, that, much like NYC’s Italian neighborhood, now caters mostly to tourists by offering sub-standard fare in cheesy (couldn’t resist, sorry) “red-sauce” establishments. Frankly, my family and I hardly ever eat in the North End, unless we are headed to Neptune or if I am doing my holiday shopping at the local salumerias, I’ll sneak in a quickie at the bar, one round of oysters and I am good-to-go. Neptune is tiny (small parties only), loud (I love, love, love the white subway-tiled walls, the tin ceiling and white marble tabletops…although not for the acoustic effect), slightly cramped (one long red leather banquette) and there is always a considerable wait (no reservations taken)…all well-worth enduring as Neptune never disappoints.

Okay, on to the lobster roll: two options, hot or cold. The hot is dripping (and I mean dripping) with butter, the cold (absolutely my preference) is just perfection. No hotdog buns at Neptune, your lobster is served on a gorgeous (but soft) baguette which is grilled and oh, so fabulous (Neptune, with its décor and vivacious vibe definitely has the feel of a French bistro). Whether hot or cold, the lobster is plentiful (nothing minced in this lobster roll) with no filler (the cold roll has just enough mayo…just enough) and served with a side of perfectly prepared fries. This is a generous dish; I usually go light on my oysters (maybe just four?) if I am ordering a lobster roll (Neptune’s entire menu is fabulous…so fabulous that a few times my family and I have celebrated the Neapolitan Feast of the Seven Fishes, here). A couple of beers (or a few glasses of prosecco, as I prefer) and really, my friends, it just does not get any better.

At $25.00 this is one of the priciest lobster rolls I’ve enjoyed but is it worth it!! If you are in, near or are planning to come to Boston, hit up Neptune, you’ll fall in love.

Neptune Oyster
63 Salem Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02210
617-742-3474
http://www.neptuneoyster.com

Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

The Urban Lobster Roll: The Lobster Place in NYC’s Chelsea Market

Picture this: Amy from Austin is in New York City charged with feeding 18 of her colleagues as they work on a local photo shoot. Now imagine Amy carrying 18 “lunch boxes” from The Lobster Place in Manhattan’s Chelsea Market, bringing to the set, boxes of lobster rolls…job well done, Amy!

The Lobster Place has been a NYC institution since 1974 beginning in a small store on the Upper West Side. For decades they’ve brought “a taste of the rugged Maine coast” to the city’s best restaurants and to local retail customers, says Ian MacGregor, their Chief Fishmonger. In the 1990s they moved to Chelsea Market and expanded their selection to include “just about everything that swims in the ocean”….and in 2011, Amy from Austin became a fan.

Fast forward to a steaming hot NYC July day, I’m in the city on business but am stealing away from work to meet up with mom for an afternoon at the beach. I promised I’d bring lunch and with Amy’s recommendation, I head to Chelsea Market. Yep, the parking was as awful as I’d expected. Yep, I was feeling a bit uncertain about the concept of the “urban lobster roll”, but I trust Amy as a foodie and I was intrigued.

At Amy’s suggestion, I purchase two “lunch boxes” and for my $19.95 per, we each got a lobster roll, a bag of Cape Cod potato chips, coleslaw, a cookie and an Root Soda all packed up in a little white cardboard box, charming and, if the lobster is as good as I expect, not a bad deal, I was excited. I head out of the city, pick up mom in Brooklyn and we make our way to the Rockaways to cool down. And then we sit for lunch. WOW! The Lobster Place menu describes their (very hearty) lobster roll as “fresh claw and tail meat, celery, scallions, lemon, pepper and mayo”, these folks take lobster seriously and they do lobster rolls right! My mother and I thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and for two ladies used to buying our seafood “fresh off the boat”, we got a kick out of the whole experience. It was delightful.

I know, I know, lobster rolls are plenty now in NYC, soon to come will be Blog Lobster’s reviews of Luke’s, Pearl’s and, of course, Ed’s (spoiler alert, Ed’s gets a five-star review…LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Ed’s). If you are in the city, though, and want a lobster roll to go, make your way to Chelsea Market and order a lunch box, you won’t be disappointed, neither of The Amys were, in fact, we can’t wait to go back!

The Lobster Place

Chelsea Market

75 Ninth Avenue

New York, NY 10011

http://www.lobsterplace.com/

Lobster Place on Urbanspoon