For the Love of Lobster
January 19, 2004
There has been a great deal of discussion in food circles about where one can get a good lobster roll in New York. I have now hit the three that always seem to come up for discussion -- Mary's Fish Camp, Mermaid Inn, and Pearl Oyster Bar, and wanted to report back on my findings.
Now, let me preface this by mentioning that half of my family lives in Maine. My perfect lobster roll (or any lobster-based-product, for that matter) is something best eaten at a picnic table, not in a restaurant. If I could create the perfect lobster roll, it would start with a toasted and very lightly buttered hot dog bun, one with enough of a crust so that it holds its shape. It would then have a leaf or two of Boston or Bibb lettuce, topped with large chunks of fresh lobster meat. Naked -- no mayo. Perhaps a drizzle of melted butter, and finished with a squeeze of lemon. That, to me, is heaven on a bun. Most of the lobster rolls I have seen outside of Maine, and even the majority of those in Maine, do not resemble my perfect creation, but instead are tarnished with the dreaded mayonnaise. (Did I mention that I don't really like mayonnaise?) I will admit, if the mayo is fresh, homemade, and applied with a very light touch, I don't mind it that much.
That all said, here's the lineup, according to me. In third place, Mermaid Inn. Although Mermaid bills it on the menu as a "Lobster Sandwich," it's still just a variation on the lobster roll. The thing that did their version in for me was threefold -- way too much salt, as well as too heavy on the seasoning in general (hiding the taste of the lobster), too heavy on the mayo, and the chunks of lobster were too small. The plate itself was enhanced by the Old Bay spiced french fries that came with it, served with malt vinegar. Mmm. In second place, Mary's Fish Camp. A solid, middle of the road lobster roll. A little heavy on the mayo, but otherwise, no complaints. In first place, Pearl Oyster bar. Still a little heavy on the mayo for my taste, but an extra squirt of lemon is enough to take my mind off of it. I love the skinny, shoestring fries they serve with it, too.
My favorite lobster place (although I've never had the lobster roll there -- I stick to the entire beast) is the Naples Lobster Pound in Naples, Maine. Simple steamed lobster, served on picnic tables with plenty of extra paper towels. I will know that I've found the right guy for me when he can watch me chow down on a lobster and find it sexy, or at the very least, endearing. Personally, I think people should eat messy food on dates, because if you can't be comfortable with someone when you have lobster juice dripping down your arms and you're cracking claws open with a nutcracker, what hope is there?