From live Maine lobster to the ultimate indulgence - a lobster roll crawl - coastal Maine is an incredible foodie destination.
Who says you can't eat like a prince and pay like a pauper - even in Maine, where lobster is king? The locals' favourite, the traditional New England lobster roll, is royally delicious - and immensely affordable. Live Maine lobster market prices are fair but lobster rolls are even more economical. For less than $20 (and sometimes as low as $10) you can enjoy a generous sandwich and tasty sides, all for a fraction of the cost of a boiled lobster dinner.
But while everyone in Maine loves lobster rolls, there's little consensus on what makes a great one. Everyone has a strong opinion about the bread, the sauce, and the flavors. I had to learn more for myself and so I set out on the inaugural "Lobster Roll Crawl" organized by the Cliff House Resort, one of my favourite places to stay in Maine.
It's all about the buns: Building a Maine lobster roll
Fortunately, there's one thing that everyone is in agreement about. The crowning glory of a lobster roll is always the fresh Maine lobster meat itself. The golden rule is that the lobster has to be always fresh, always local, and never canned or frozen. But that's where the consensus ends!
Who knew that bread could be so controversial? In Maine, there's only one acceptable way to eat a lobster roll and that's on a hot dog bun, preferably the kind that opens from the top. No multi-grain bread, no hamburger bun, no croissants allowed! And don't even think about using bagels or brioche. After all that? There are still contentious issues about toasting!
It seems that residents of Maine are in favor of the buttered, toasted buns which aren't standard throughout New England. ThoseI encountered in Boston were not toasted. Having tried both, I have to say that toasted buns are the winners! The buttery sides add an extra boost of flavor while the toasting creates more stability for holding the overstuffed sandwich.
The Lobster Shack in Perkin's Cove, Maine, makes an absolutely delicious lobster roll and the bun is perfectly toasted and golden brown. The property dates back to 1900 and there was been a restaurant on the site since 1947 -these guys know their stuff!
There are only two things to put on Maine lobster meat: mayonnaise or melted butter. But get ready for an argument if you ask which is best! Heck, even applying the mayonnaise can be contentious. No 'salad cream' or fancy homemade aioli need apply. The best Maine lobster restaurants know that it must always be ordinary, brand name mayonnaise applied with a very, very light hand.
Having grown up with mayonnaise based lobster sandwiches, I didn't think there could be anything better however the lobster roll made with drawn (melted) butter at Jake's Seafood in Moody, Maine, just about changed that. Subbing out mayonnaise for a light coating of drawn butter is a genius move and goes beautifully with the toasted bun. Jake's makes each lobster roll to order so you can decide on the spot which sauce you prefer best.
The secret of the sauce: butter versus mayonnaise
The three "C"s - crunch, citrus, celery
When making (or eating) a lobster roll, you should never deviate from the time tested tradition of the lobster trinity - fresh shellfish, a proper roll, and lightly dressed meat. You will have a winning meal every time! But if you DO chose to venture into the territory of different flavors, tread lightly.
In my experience, there are just three acceptable options - the three "C's". You can add a light crunch by adding a leaf of lettuce to the bottom of the bun. You can add a tiny kick of flavor by adding in a small amount of finely chopped celery to the lobster meat, Or you can subtly brighten the flavor by adding just a touch of lemon.
If you want a fantastic experience with lobster, York, Maine has a heavenly combo. At the Shore Road Market and Restaurant, just outside York Beach, Maine, the lobster rolls come dressed with the smallest amount of mayonnaise possible and are served with a wedge of lemon on the side. Adding just a gentle squeeze - and I mean it, just the lightest touch will do - gave a fantastic burst of flavor. They also include a side of their special drawn butter, a homemade mix of salted and unsalted butter, and adding a drizzle of butter after the lemon was a heavenly combination. And at $10 for a 4oz roll with a side of homemade potato chips, it's the best deal in town.
Don't forget the final finishing touch.
I have to confess on my last stop, the lobster roll at Fox's Lobster House in Nubble, Maine didn't quite reach the sublime perfection of the other places I explored. That said, Fox's was the perfect finishing point for dessert and their famous Maine blueberry pie was a delicious way to conclude an amazing day. Blueberries are even more common than lobster and I really think that no trip to the area is complete with a hearty sample of both.
With lobster, it's hard to go wrong.
A classic Maine lobster roll is the ideal way to capture all that flavor and take advantage of such fresh, local fare. You won't taste lobster like this anywhere else - and nor will you beat the price. So go ahead and indulge and eat like a king for the day. This is one splurge that's both affordable and irresistible.
Time to weigh in! How do you take your lobster roll?
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My time in Maine was facilitated in part by a press trip. All research, writing, and opinions remain my own.
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