When reviewing lobster rolls, I think the most important thing is to clearly explain your idea of the perfect lobster roll. That’s why you will see on the side of this site tabs to search my reviews by location, roll qualities and venue qualities. I know what my idea of the perfect lobster roll is, but I wanted to make a page where everyone could find where they should go to find exactly the lobster roll they are in the mood for that day. I want to know the details, hot, cold, tail, claw, mayo, butter, the bread, the venue, oceanfront, etc. All of my reviews are obviously colored by my view of the perfect lobster roll, but I want to be sure that someone with entirely different standards will be able to tell if this location will be worth a 4 hour drive for them. So, here is what I look for:
- Tail Meat My idea of the perfect lobster roll has all parts of the lobster included, claw, knuckle and most especially, tail. I know I hear from some places that the claw meat is sweeter or something so that’s why they use only claw meat. I’m not buying that for several reasons. First, tail meat is delicious, tasty, different flavor and texture than claw, but great. When I read reviews that call a roll “chewy”, this immediately alerts me that this may be a roll I would be interested in. Tail meat is naturally more dense and if all you ever eat is claw, sure, you might call it chewy, but it is, in fact, perfectly cooked. I will differentiate tail meat, or any meat for that matter, that is chewy because it has been overcooked. Second, I think it indicates that the meat is not fresh, cooked or shucked in-house. If it was, what did you do with the tail meat since there are no other items on the menu using the tail meat?
- Flavor I can’t claim to know the difference between fresh, frozen or canned lobster meat. I’m trying and maybe someday I will but until then, I just go on how I think it tastes. If it is fresh, cooked in seawater as is the standard, it tastes amazing. Some rolls are just flavorless, so I tend to think, not fresh, but I don’t know. When possible I will try to find out details like: fresh or frozen, cooked in-house or shipped, what was it cooked in, hard or soft shell lobster, Maine lobster or somewhere else.
- Hot with Butter Actually, I really prefer warm, when the meat is sautéed in butter for a hot lobster roll, it tends to overcook it. Ideally, the meat would be warmed by steaming with salt water tossed in warm butter, not hot. Hot butter doesn’t stick to the meat and soggs up the bread. I have learned to appreciate a cold roll with the very lightest touch of mayo, especially on a hot day, but I’m still a hot fan.
- Chunks I like my lobster in large chunks, I would say about 1 inch chunks, ideally. Being cut into small pieces or shredded, takes points off in my book. I am also very open to whole pieces of claw or tail, but to reference point two, it must be perfectly cooked to pull this off. If I bite in and the whole piece comes out, that’s no good. This move only works for perfectly tender, ideally soft shell meat.
- No Spongies I have never seen this aspect of lobster rolls referenced anywhere else, so I can only assume I am alone in my aversion to the “spongies”. What are spongies, you may ask. Well, they could best be described as lobster fingers. If the hunk of claw is the lobster palm, the part that they would use to pinch you is the spongies. I think they have a spongy, rubbery texture that ruins a bite of roll. However, that being said, the spongies can be done right on the rare occasions that I have only ever experienced in Maine. I call it the slippery texture spongies, a good thing, that is usually only found on the best lobster meat, a true marker of greatness. I should probably call it something more glamorous than slippery but, oh well.
- No anything else That’s right, no celery, lettuce, paprika, fancy spice/sauce concoctions, nothing. I like butter that grabs the meat or minimal amounts of mayo and I happen to like a lemon wedge on the side too.
- Amount I don’t give extra points for massive amounts of lobster. But, like anyone, I can be wowed by it, but try very hard not to let that color my opinion of the actual meat flavor and content. I don’t like it when they are stingy with the meat, particularly if it makes for a bad bread to meat ratio.
- Artisan/Bakery Roll I am definitely partial to an innovative roll selection. The world is too full of fantastic bread selections to go with a grocery store wonder bread roll. These are supposed to be restaurants after all, putting forward what they think is the best possible combination of flavors. With all the great bakeries they could partner with, or bake their own, I just can’t believe that plain white bread was the best they can do. It is still important that the bread perfectly compliment the lobster, and not overpower it. I’m ok with hot dog or hamburger style roll, split top or not. I do like a roll grilled so that it tastes like a grilled cheese sandwich. If the bread doesn’t taste like that with your method, skip it. I find all other methods of toasting, dry grilling or otherwise warming a crappy roll just annoy me.
The Other Stuff
- Price I rarely mention the price. I find that it fluctuates too frequently and is usually between $15-20. If it’s more, or less and makes it a better or worse deal, I’ll mention it.
- Sides I couldn’t care less about the sides that come with a roll. I’m buying the roll, the rest is just fluff. I also don’t really like most sides, they usually go to Ginger (my dog and lobster roll assistant). I do enjoy a great onion ring, but who cares. If there is anything else on the menu or sides that are great, I’ll talk about it. My exception would be lobster stew. In Maine, if this is on the menu, I do order and judge much like the rolls. So, I may include that.
- Service I know a lot of people make a giant deal about the service but honestly, I really don’t care. As long as I can place my order and get what I ordered in a somewhat reasonable amount of time, I really don’t care if you’re in a bad mood and hate your job. Maybe it’s because I was apathetic waitress myself back in the day.
Biases I feel like lots people’s views on lobster rolls are colored too much by two main things, quantity of meat and fabulousness of venue. I do mention these things as they can be important, but try to confine my actual reviews of the actual roll to the lobster roll itself. That said, some days you just want to enjoy a decent lobster roll by the ocean, with a gorgeous view and a glass of wine. On those days, some hole in the wall in the ugly, middle of nowhere with a fantastic lobster roll just won’t hit the spot. So, I do try to bring those factors up for your decision making.
My mood Lets face it, when you’re on your last lobster roll of a week long trip where you’ve been trying tons of lobster every day, even the biggest lobster lovers among us can get a little burned out on it. I do still try places even if I know I’m not in the right mood for an unbiased review mostly because I’m not sure if I’ll be back any time soon and I want to at least get a photo and a bite to document the venue. I’ll try to point out when it is a review that may be unfairly biased. On the other hand, the first roll in Maine of the season after a long winter can also get an unfairly positive review. Ken (my husband and main lobster trail partner) pointed that out in May of this year. Oh well, I’ll still let it stand. Wine, that’s another thing that can affect reviews a bit. If I’ve had a few glasses, my reviews can get magnified. If it’s good, I may make it sound better than it really is, and same with if I’m not loving it.
Gold Standard Until I find a better lobster roll, which is always my quest, The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport Maine is my gold standard and the closest I’ve ever tasted to perfect. If I had one last meal on this earth, this would be it. I try it every time I go to Maine, unless I’m with people who aren’t ok with or clear on my obsession. I know I love it, but every time I actually take a bite of it, I remember how much I forgot about how it really is the best thing I every tasted.
Platinum Standard When I’m not in Kennebunkport, I like to convince myself that I actually make the best lobster roll which involves ideally, lobster meat from Young’s Lobster in Belfast, ME or most often, City Fish in Wethersfield, CT. Tail and claw, steamed in salt water to warm, land o lakes salted butter melted and allowed to cool for a few minutes, then toss the two together. I make the Martha Stewart dinner roll recipe and fashion the dough into hot dog buns and cut them split top. When they are fresh out of the oven, I brush them with melted honey butter and sprinkle with sea salt. Mmmm, maybe that would be my last meal.
Photos I will always include a photo of the actual roll I sampled and try to catch a pic of the venue/view just in case you don’t trust my descriptions. Some of my older posts that I visited years ago before I had my checklist won’t have as many photos. I’ll try to stop back for follow-up reviews/photos.
So, there you have it, my FULL disclosure. Happy Lobster Roll Trails to you!!