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Seawell Seafood – Pawcatuck, Connecticut

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lobster roll seawell

I haven’t the foggiest idea how I found this place.  I was just browsing online a list of seafood markets in Mystic after I saw that Seawell was a seafood source for Kitchen Little and I decided to call Seawell to find out if they have lobster rolls.  As luck would have it, they have both mayo and butter!  Seawell is located in Pawcatuck, which is literally inches from the Rhode Island border.  But, Connecticut gets credit for this fantastic lobster roll.  Seawell is actually a seafood market and one of the most authentic feeling ones I have been in.  You really get the feeling that this fish was swimming in the sea a few hours ago and came straight to this store with no middle man.  They list the source of each fish, most of which is Stonington (of which Pawcatuck is a segment I found out) and it looks so fresh you might want to eat it raw, or not.

They also have a homeade soups, a little selection of groceries and, of course, lobsters.  But, not just the normal collection of barely moving 1 and half pounders you see everywhere else.  Their lobster selection has the look and size selection of a Maine lobster wharf.  And they also had something I had never seen before, a blue lobster, alive.  I thought these were super rare, but there he was, for sale with the other 10+ pounders.  That’s something you won’t ever see in Maine as they have a size limit of 4 pounds to keep the lobster population vibrant.  I almost felt like buying the big blue guy just to release him back into the ocean.  Hypocritical of a gal who makes eating lobster her life mission, I know, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for the ones that are still alive.  But, I didn’t, I just took a picture of him and ordered a buttered lobster roll.

The lobster meat is fresh picked right there, can be bought by the pound and that’s the same stuff they use to make your buttered lobster roll to order.  To be honest, that’s why I didn’t order the mayo version because the gal behind the counter pointed proudly to a bin of very chopped up, very mayoed lobster “salad” she had just made up with the same meat.  I’m sure it was good, but it just looked to me like she ruined that great lobster.

I was getting frustrated driving around looking for a flat spot to do my weigh-in because there is no seating in Seawell and no flat spots on my car.  Grumpiness usually negatively colors my opinion of a lobster roll, but wow, on my first bite, all negativity melted away.  This was honestly one of the best bites of a lobster roll I have experienced and as you know, I have quite a bit of experience.  The meat on this lobster roll is without a doubt world class flavor and rivals most in Maine.  The fresh from the sea flavor can only be experienced and explaining it is beyond my skill.  The meat is served cold, with melted butter dizzled on, which can go wrong since melted butter, turns non melted when it hits cold meat.  The re-solidified butter even managed to taste incredible with the meat, quite a feat if you’ve tried that a before.  They add green onions, which, while pretty, I was skeptical of, but they were somehow perfect.  I wouldn’t request without next time.  The lobster roll is served on a potato roll, which is not grilled and a good buttery grilling is probably the only improvement I could suggest.  I’m not sure I’ve ever actually had one on a potato roll but it was the right answer.

I honestly feel like this is THE best lobster roll in Connecticut.  I don’t say that lightly, there are a few that I’m a big fan of, Ford’s, my previous best, and still incredible is where to go for a view and beverage.  High Tide Gourmet truck, Kitchen Little, Deepwater Lobster and Captain Scott’s are all favorites, but the meat in the Seawell lobster roll puts it above all of them.  I’m bringing a cooler next time I come to get picked lobster meat and some of that fish, which I’m betting is even better than it looks.  What a find!!

Weighed in at 4.8 ounces

Seawell Facebook page

Visited July 2013

Guilford Lobster Pound – Guilford, Connecticut

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lobster roll guilford

Perhaps my expectations for Guilford Lobster Pound were too high, or maybe I was just mad at it for not being open the four previous times I tried to visit, but it just wasn’t as good as I had hoped.  I should mention that you should call ahead and confirm with an actual person that they will still be open when you get there.  They are only open Wednesday-Sunday, 12-6, May-Memorial Day.  But, I have found out that those hours are a bit flexible, so is the May part.  Guilford Lobster Pound is a little shingled building at the back of the parking lot for another restaurant with a wide deck with picnic tables and a glorious view of the water.  Walk past the building to the deck where the lobster rolls, along with a minimalist menu including hot dogs, chowder and stuffed clams, are served.  The pound is owned by an actual lobsterman who catches his own lobsters from his boat that is docked right there and they also run boat tours from there.  As far as I’m aware, this is the only lobster pound in CT that is owned and run by a lobsterman and he sells his lobsters right there.  I did not gather that you can order a lobster steamed and eat it on the deck, but maybe you do that inside the building, not sure, it wasn’t on the menu.

I assumed, but still asked if the lobster meat for the roll was cooked and picked there, by them and his wife confirmed that it was.  The hot lobster roll was served to us at our table wrapped simply in foil.  My first impression was that it looked very red and full of spongies for a lobsterman fresh roll.  I have high expectations for a lobsterman’s roll, I guess I expect it too look like lazy man’s lobster, picked fresh out of the lobster, possibly cut up and served up on a bun.  The color always sets of a “red” flag for me (pun intended).  This is just a personal theory, but fresh meat usually looks white and pink, anything else usually has a very red color to it.  I sometimes wonder if part of that might be fresh meat sitting around in butter instead of being tossed to order might have something to do with it.  Bends in the spongies are another flag for me.  When you pick a lobster, have you ever seen the spongies be anything but straight and flexible?  So, when I see a fold set in the spongie, that makes me think it has been out of the shell and sitting in that position for quite some time.  The flavor of the meat was fine, a little dry in texture and the butter didn’t sog up the bun.  The bun was the best part in my opinion, it was perfectly buttery, crispy grilled and warm.  As you may have figured out, I’m not a fan of spongies and I pulled a full 6 large spongies from my roll, which left a whole lot less edible meat on the bun.  If this is fresh picked, what did they do with the tail meat?  That’s always why I’m suspicious of claw/knuckle only rolls.

The chowder was really the high point of the meal, it was one of the best Rhode Island (broth) style chowders I have had the pleasure of eating.  It was chock full of clams, briny, lots of herbs and red skin potatoes, good stuff.  I was very disappointed with the lobster roll, it wasn’t bad, it’s just that I expected better.  But, the view here is beyond stunning, the staff couldn’t be friendlier and they encourage you to byob.  I would love to come back on a sunny afternoon with a bottle of wine and watch the boats go by with a cup of that chowder, and maybe a hot dog.  I’m not really sure what a stuffed clam is, but perhaps I’ll find out.

Weighed in at 5.5 ounces
Guilford Lobster Pound website
Visited July 2013

Guilford Lobster Pound on Urbanspoon

Kitchen Little – Mystic, Connecticut

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lobster roll kitchen little

This lobster roll has been eluding me for quite some time.  Mainly because they only serve it before 2pm on weekdays, never on weekends, that’s always breakfast only and when I called, I was told that it’s not available at their new venture into dinner either.  It has however, been high on my list because they claim to use local, fresh seafood only and seem to be known for home cooking.  They recently moved from their tiny, “little” shack near Mystic Seaport to a much more off the beaten track, but so worth the effort, location at the Mystic marina, (if you knew that existed).  Their website says turn right and follow that road all the way back, which sounds easy enough, but actually involves quite a few twists, splits and drives through residential streets.  But, finally you arrive at the marina and head to the second floor to one of the most gorgeous views in Connecticut overlooking the water.  The second floor view really is a great place to watch the boats go by and relax watching the sun on the water.  We went on probably the hottest day on record in CT and fully expected to melt, but we took a table outside on the deck and found it to be extremely breezy and pleasant.  So, I can imagine it’s even better on a less sweltering day.

After an extremely slow start (probably 15 minutes before we saw an actual waitress), our waitress proved to be extremely helpful, friendly and entertaining.  They cook and pick the lobster meat right there, every day for both the hot and cold versions of the lobster roll.  We, of course, ordered both and I really couldn’t decide which I liked better.  The cold didn’t look very picture ready when it arrived with two giant pieces of lettuce and the meat kind of falling out.  But, that didn’t keep me from seeing the large chunks of tail and claw meat used with a fairly minimal amount of mayo.  They use a mix of fresh chopped herbs in both the hot and cold versions and the subtle flavor addition really adds a pleasant, fresh twist.  The meat is fantastic and the hot version managed to not be overcooked as is a common pitfall of the hot, buttered lobster roll.  The bun was your standard split top and could benefit from a more aggressive buttering and grilling, it was more toasted than grilled.  But overall, these lobster rolls are among the best in Connecticut and once you factor in the gorgeous view, this really is a must try.

As Lobster Gal doesn’t do very well with getting an early start, we were there the last people there after their 2pm closing time and got to chatting with our waitress.  She was lamenting the fact that they really aren’t very busy and that they may be ending the dinner service if it doesn’t pick up.  It’s on the water, they serve beer and wine at dinner and top notch, fresh seafood.  Since I’ve discovered it, I’m really hoping they stay open more hours.  I asked if I could get the lobster roll on evenings or weekends and she said yes, if they have the ingredients and aren’t too busy.  Well, when I called, I was told in no uncertain terms that I could only get the lobster roll at lunch on weekdays, so I guess it depends on who you ask, which isn’t good.

I didn’t tell her, but if I were going to offer Kitchen Little some advice on how to maximize their significant assets, my first piece of advice would be to serve those lobster rolls whenever they are open.  I would also suggest they get rid of their restrictive menu policy of no lunch on weekends and no sandwiches at dinner.  It’s off-putting when a restaurant appears as if it isn’t accommodating of what diners want to eat.  I noticed on Tripadvisor and Yelp that I wasn’t the only one who thought so, not everybody at a table wants breakfast after noon.  You have a great menu, let people order off of it, all of it, all the time.  I would also say they need to trim down the menu a bit, it takes a week to read through and doesn’t emphasize the fresh seafood nearly enough.  I get that somebody in charge here really wants to lead with breakfast, but I would suggest they lead with seafood and also let people know they serve beer and wine.  I would have enjoyed a glass of wine with lunch, maybe it just got lost in the menu, but I saw no mention of it.  They also could use some work on the service issues.  Some more prominent signage along the road back wouldn’t hurt either, it’s not easy to find.

I’m certainly going to make my way down there for dinner, not just to support them so they keep doing it, but because it honestly is one of the best lobster rolls in Connecticut and it is accompanied by one of the best water views on the Connecticut shoreline.  It doesn’t get much better than that, well, it could get better and I sure hope it does, or at least opens up the lobster roll availability.

Cold weighed in at 5.5 ounces

Hot weighed in at 5.1 ounces

Kitchen Little website

Visited July 2013

Kitchen Little on Urbanspoon

Sea Swirl – Mystic, Connecticut

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lobster roll sea swirl

Sea Swirl is a popular ice cream stand on the way from Mystic Seaport into the center of the lovely little town center of Mystic.  They serve like 36 flavors of soft serve ice cream by some special mixing process that adds the flavor to the ice cream.  Very interesting, but as ice cream goes, I prefer the hard ice cream, which was quite good here.  Not as good as Drawbridge ice cream in town, but good.  This ice cream stand is clearly an ice cream stand first, however, they also serve, according to their sign, “fresh seafood”.

I was actually glad I went on a rather slow day because when I asked the cashier if the lobster meat had been previously frozen, she wasn’t sure, but the other girl said that it had not been frozen, and they cook the meat there.  Then, I think mainly because they weren’t busy, she was nice enough to offer to double check on that info with the kitchen.  As it turns out, the meat has been previously frozen.  I did hesitate a bit because $14 or $15 is kind of a lot to spend on a frozen lobster roll, but I decided that this was a popular lobster roll and I needed to try it and report back.

It actually was a pretty decent frozen meat lobster roll.  If she hadn’t double checked, I might have been convinced that this could be fresh meat.  The meat was tender and tasty, didn’t have any of the frozen giveaways like watery texture or chewy edges.  It had good flavor and minimal spongies.  They didn’t give you a whole lot, but a reasonable amount.  The cold claw and knuckle meat only, was tossed in a light amount of mayo and served on a barely grilled bun without butter that I could discern.  The grilling seemed to only serve the purpose of warming the bun a bit, could have benefited a lot from a good buttery crisp grill.  My biggest problem with this roll was the celery.  I have learned that celery can be tolerated on occasion, but, despite the fact that it didn’t look like a lot of celery, the flavor really dominated.

I can’t vouch for the freshness or tastiness of anything else on the menu, but I will stick to ice cream here.  The lobster roll was pretty good if you’re in need of a lobster roll, I can see why people like it.  I guess what annoys me about the use of frozen meat in a lobster roll is the non-disclosure.  Frozen meat lobster rolls can hit the spot and even be quite good, but the truth is that the price of frozen meat is 2/3 to half the price of fresh.  So, when I had just gotten a delicious fresh picked lobster roll up the road at Sea Well Seafood for $10 (particularly, probably far too low priced), it felt wrong to pay more for frozen and most people wouldn’t even know that was what they were paying for.  Frozen should either be cheaper or way more generous with the quantity of meat.  I realize that putting “frozen lobster roll” on the menu probably wouldn’t bring in too many customers, but at least have the price be a hint.  No menu says “canned tuna sandwich”, it’s just assumed that when it’s $6, you won’t be getting a grilled tuna steak on your sandwich.  I don’t know the solution, except to always ask, but even then, as evidenced by Sea Swirl, it still depends on who you ask.

Weighed in at 5.5 ounces

Visited July 2013

Sea Swirl website

Sea Swirl Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Lobster Shack – Ogunquit, Maine

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lobster shack roll

The Lobster Shack is located in perhaps one of the busiest locations on the Maine coast, Perkins Cove in Ogunquit.  Don’t believe me, try parking there in the summer, or I should say, getting anywhere near it.  It is popular for good reason, it’s packed with fantastic restaurants, shops and galleries.  If that weren’t enough, it overlooks the ocean and there is about a mile walk along the coastline with gorgeous views.  Fortunately, for me, a few places started opening in April before the mobs hit, which is the time for me.  Lobster shack has a curious location because it actually shares a wall with another lobster shack, Footbridge Lobster, right next door.  It would be easy to think, as I did at first that Footbridge is the takeout window for Lobster Shack, but they are completely separate entities.  Both of which serve a great, fresh lobster roll.  It would only be right to eat both if you made it all the way into Perkin’s Cove.  I’m not a fan of the other lobster roll hot spot in Perkins Cove, Barnacle Billy’s, but they do have the best view of the three.

The inside of Lobster Shack has a very cozy, warm feel.  It was cold on the day I visited, so that’s a positive.  It’s all pine wood benches, tables and walls.  I should also mention that they have something that I don’t see often, but all lobster places should have, a sink for washing your hands without waiting to go to the bathroom, genius.

When I asked if they cook the meat fresh themselves for the lobster rolls, the friendly gentleman at the counter said that they sure do, several times throughout the day, and pointed to a tank of live lobsters.  Which of course made me feel guilty because I don’t like meeting my meals while they are alive.  Hypocritical, I know.  The lobster roll here is really fantastic.  The fresh picked meat, lightly coated in mayo just melts in your mouth and the standard split top bun, which I, at first thought was burnt, actually added a nice browned butter flavor that was quite nice.   Overall, this is a great spot to enjoy a top notch lobster roll.

Weighed in at 5.6 ounces

Visited April 2013

Lobster Shack website

Lobster Shack on Urbanspoon