Monday, July 11, 2011

My First (and Second, and Third, and Fourth) Lobster Roll(s)

Lobster Roll - Thurston's Lobster PoundDespite living in Boston or Cambridge on and off for the better part of 17 years (gasp! has it really been that long?)... and going up to Maine fairly often... I had actually never eaten one of New England's famous lobster rolls. Part of this is dating a vegetarian, since lobster pounds and seafood restaurants generally come second only to steakhouses in their inability to comprehend that some people only eat vegetables... but the biggest reason is that I was pretty sure I despised mayonnaise until fairly recently, and even though I dig the mayo in fullness these days... I've still been a little slow to really embrace dishes, like a lobster roll or potato salad, where it's a central component.  A side issue is that as a Chesapeake Bay boy, my first love in the subphylum Crustacea is the blue crab... and so eating lobsters feels a little like being unfaithful. But the fact that lobsters are really, really tasty has helped assuage any guilt.

So being that I've made it for well over a decade without feeling the need to eat a lobster roll, why catch the bug now? Well it started with Kenji's post over at Serious Eats about how to make the perfect lobster roll. I was intrigued, and thought it would be a great summer cooking project to blog about... but wait I minute, I had never even had a lobster roll, so how would I be able to judge whether my efforts were any good or not? I mean, certainly I've made various ethnic cuisines without ever having sampled a paragon of the style, but I live in freakin' Cambridge not Kansas... I have access to the best lobster rolls in the world: so why not sample some before severing any lobsters' central nerve ganglia? Seemed prudent, and Serious Eats answered the bell with their "17 Lobster Rolls We Love in the Northeast"... but unfortunately, their list only covered Southern Maine, so I had to ask for recommendations for options more Down East. The name that came back most frequently was Thurston's Lobster Pound over on the quieter side of M.D.I. in Bass Harbor, and since we were already planning a hike up nearby Mansell Mountain, it seemed like a pretty obvious destination for lunch (for me at least - Anna ate beforehand and got some corn for a snack).

So what did I think? Well, it was pretty awesome to be honest. I was shocked at how key the freshly buttered and toasted (still hot) roll seemed to be to the experience. The light level of mayo also seemed perfect. But I was just at some random lobster pound (though recommended by SE) and had no experience with lobster rolls, so what did I know?

I will say to the Yelp!ers that it's a lobster pound: so don't expect ambiance. You're eating under a big yellow tent at picnic tables and you order at a window, though the view out into the harbor is nice. Just thought I'd throw that out there after looking at some of the reviews.

But after the hike, we had dinner at one of the best restaurants in Bar Harbor (I believe at least) in Cafe This Way. I enjoyed the earlier lobster roll so much I ordered their "Lobster Roll Trio" (Traditional, Asian, Southwest)... and I would have to say, that while good, they weren't even close to what the humble lobster pound produced. They used brioche that was cold... I guess expecting the inherent butteriness of the brioche to compare to a buttered hotdog bun, and that with a cold lobster salad hot bread does not matter... it did not, and it does. The mayo was also too heavy, overwhelming the lobster to some extent. The "Asian flavors" (sesame/soy) were interesting, but the Southwest action seemed to consist simply of corn added to the mix, which I found odd.

Anyway, I had my first, second, third, and fourth lobster rolls all in one day... but I think I begin to understand why native New Englanders are so passionate about the issue.