If you haven’t the inclination for or the mastery of eating a hot boiled lobster, a lobster roll may just be the ticket for a deliciously easy lobster fix.
New York is Just a Starting Point
New York City has a smattering of top-rated lobster shacks like the tiny twins Pearl Oyster Bar and Mary’s Fish Camp in the West Village or Maine import Luke’s Lobster. Each has its loyal following and a preparation heightened by a secret technique or ingredient.
Boston Is the Runner Up
Boston commands second place in the lobster roll derby with Island Creek Oyster Bar’s choice of hot or cold versions at the Hotel Commonwealth just around the corner from Fenway Park. Another fine choice is the oversized roll in a decidedly different setting at The Barking Crab on Fort Point Channel in a 25-year-old seafood shack. Book a room and ask the charming concierges at the boutique Hotel Lenox to help you circumvent the long waits there.
But, for the real deal, you’ll want to travel north to Vacationland as Maine is called, where lobster rolls are a religion and are generally served cold and in their most basic form: a mix of lobster knuckle, claw and tail meat with mayo on a buttered, split hot dog bun.
Go for the Gold in Maine
Although Maine didn’t invent the lobster roll – Connecticut actually did -- it could easily lay claim to having done so. Maine lobster is the sweetest, most succulent in the country, and the lobster rolls here compete with each other in offering the “best of the best.”
The Clam Shack
The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport doesn’t look like much, but the lines in front will tell you that something special is going on there. The shack is set next to a seafood store just across the bridge from the town center (you’ll know the town as the summer home of the two former Bush presidents). You can have your lobster roll plain, with a drizzle of butter, with mayonnaise smeared on the roll, or with a combination of both. This roll eschews tradition, too, as it’s piled on a special roll made in a nearby bakery and it’s served right from the pot and is just a bit warm.
The Tides Beach Club
You’ll want to stay at The Tides Beach Club nearby. The Grand Yellow Lady of Goose Rocks Beach, as it is known, was built in the Gilded Age and is now a full-service inn with its own tasty lobster roll, prepared hot with lemon butter or chilled with garlic aioli. Dine on the patio or take it straight to the beach.
Bite into Maine
Further north, the great eating city of Portland welcomes you with lobster rolls that stand out on their own merit. With a view of the Portland Head Lighthouse, the famous Bite into Maine food truck in Fort Williams Park has long lines no matter when you go. You’ll soon see why: the lobster roll is packed with just-caught-from-the-ocean freshness. Be a purist like me and have it plain. But more adventurous souls might want to add some of their homemade curry, chipotle or wasabi mayonnaise.
Sea Glass Restaurant
For an overnight resort experience a short bike ride away, The Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth gets high marks on all counts for its luxe oceanfront rooms, gorgeous grounds, private beach and delicious Sea Glass restaurant. Lobster on the menu comes from the lobster boats you can see bobbing in the water. Served on buttered brioche, Chef Andrew Chadwick's lobster roll gets a special kick with a dash of Dijon mustard, celery salt and sour cream and is perfect for a picnic on Crescent Beach.
You’d have a hard time missing Red’s Eats in Wiscasset as the line in front stretches the length of the bridge. A tiny family-run shack that dishes out a mammoth meaty lobster roll, this is a “destination” for foodies. Red’s Eats’ lobster roll is consistently named the best in Maine. Red’s happily has seating on an outdoor patio.
A half-hour away, the award-winning Harraseeket Inn in Freeport is a lovely choice for traditional inn-style accommodations. If you’re a shopper, you won’t want to miss the flagship L.L. Bean store and the town’s many outlets. The Harraseeket Inn also has an indoor pool and small gym to help you unwind from spending too much money.
Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound
There’s no shortage of “lobster in the rough” places in Downeast Maine, home of Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Stop at the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound at the foot of the island for an uncrowded setting. Here the lobster roll is served warm on white bread, designed to let the flavor of the lobster shine through along with just a hint of lettuce and mayo. This is lobster at its most basic, for sure, with steam from the lobster boilers surrounding you as you sit at the outdoor picnic tables.
Bass Cottage Inn
Finish your lobster roll sojourn with a stay at the boutique Bass Cottage Inn for a dose of Maine hospitality in the center of Bar Harbor. The owners can help you pick out a hike or bike route for a perfect park day. And plan a hiking stop in the middle of the park at the Jordan Pond House where the lobster roll is served on a grilled brioche accompanied by the restaurant’s famous popovers.