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Ford’s Lobster (winter) – Noank, Connecticut

lobster grilled cheese

When I heard Ford’s was now open for their first season during the winter, I had to try it out.  Main reason was, I really could not picture where they were putting people inside.  When we were there in the summer, all seating was outside and there were no buildings besides a small kitchen and lobster pound.  Turns out, they have turned a storage building into a lovely restaurant that seats about 50ish with a wall of windows overlooking the ocean.  One of the main reasons I wanted to try out Ford’s in winter is because their lobster for the lobster rolls is fresh picked.  That’s not so easy to find in the high summer season and pretty rare in the winter.  When you factor in eating a fresh picked lobster roll in winter, with a waterfront view, I think I can count the ones I can think of on one hand (Ray’s, Brown’s, Markey’s, Eastwind Lobster and Petey’s).

The staff at Ford’s is a big part of what makes it great.  I know, I profess not to care whether staff are happy or not, as long as I get what I ordered, in a reasonable amount of time.  But, the staff here just makes you feel like you stopped in to a friend’s house for lunch.  They are so friendly, open and chatty, but not too chatty, just right.  And, they all just seem to genuinely love working there and love working for the owner.  I don’t know who he is, but judging from how his staff talks about him, he seems like a great, hands-on owner who engenders a great deal of loyalty from his staff. lobster bomb roll

When we were here in the summer, we had the cold lobster roll and the bisque lobster roll.  Both very good, but for winter, I wanted to try the hot lobster bomb, buttered, hot, fresh picked lobster (nearly twice as much as in the lobster roll according to our server), served in a sourdough bread bowl.  Honestly, I kind of wanted to take home several of these fresh baked bread bowls and eat them with all manner of yum inside.  When the bomb arrived, I wasn’t really sure how I should approach eating this concoction.  Do I pick it up, use a fork and knife, if so, where do I start?  So, I just dove in with my fork and knife chopping into it.  Yum, this is some good stuff, tail and claw meat, tender and tasty and sourdough bread that is crispy outside, soft and chewy, warm inside.  If I had one complaint, I would say it just didn’t taste buttery enough, but it wasn’t soggy, so that was good.  I think they saute the meat in butter, which is a tougher move to pull off since the butter gets too hot to really cling to the meat and cooking already cooked meat makes it taste just a smidge over done.  I prefer the meat to be warmed by tossing it in melted butter, maybe barely heating it a bit more.  That sort of lobster perfection was achieved by what Ken ordered, the special for lunch, lobster grilled cheese.  I know, the first thought with lobster grilled cheese is, isn’t the cheese going to overpower the lobster.  The second question is, are they just going to put some small amount of lobster into an otherwise regular grilled cheese.  Both of those concerns are no concern in this case.  The sandwich contains the same amount of meat as the lobster roll, still in all of its full chunk tail and claw glory.  The American cheese melts perfectly into the lobster, giving it the warm creaminess so elusive in many a hot lobster roll.  This is what you want, when you want warm lobster on bread, perfection.  This may be one of the best lobster concoctions I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth.  Too bad Ken ordered it, so I only got a few bites.  As if all that wasn’t enough, I’m pretty sure, though I didn’t ask, that the bread used was bakery fresh, I think it was wheat or a multi-grain, a flawless complement.  It was a special, so you may want to call ahead so you’re not disappointed.

One more note, the chowders here are fantastic, particularly on a blustery winter day.  I ordered the New England chowder (creamy) and Ken ordered the Noank chowder (clear clam broth).  Then we switched since we both preferred the other chowder.  I was a huge fan of the Noank and it was chock full of clams.  More tasty goodness, even if it did mean I didn’t have room to order the peanut butter pie from a nearby bakery for dessert.  Oh well, next time!

Ford’s Facebook Page

Visited February 2013

Ford's Lobster on Urbanspoon



Ford’s Lobster – Noank, Connecticut

Ford's lobster roll

I felt like I had really reached some inner circle of lobster roll status when some folks who saw my Lobster Gal interview on NBC 30 passed on this tip to me.  I had literally never, ever heard of Ford’s Lobster in Noank, not on any boards, searches, articles, nothing.  As you may know, I’m not really a fan of the popular Connecticut lobster roll spots, also in Noank, Abbott’s and Costello’s, so to hear that there was another lobster roll establishment in Noank for those in the know came as quite a surprise.  Even writing about it now feels a bit like letting the cat out of the bag and sharing some sort of lobster roll state secret.  Much as I would love to keep this spot all to myself and those few in the inner circle, this venue deserves to be known, much more widely.

It’s not easy to find.  Frankly, it wasn’t even easy to find the address on a google search, all lending more to the exciting, clandestine nature of Ford’s.  Once my GPS finally figured things out and led us down a tiny, windy road to the water, there it was.  Nothing more than a quiet lobster sign with the word Ford’s marked that you had arrived.  There is was, down by the water, just two little shacks covered in lobster buoys and a deck overlooking one of the prettiest views with lobster in Connecticut.

The menu is fairly basic, at this BYOB establishment, but they were clearly getting quite creative and much more high-end than a shack with their specials list.  Then I saw it on the menu, the lobster roll I dream about and often put together myself, the lobster bisque option in addition to a hot with butter and a cold with mayo.  We decided to go with one cold and one bisque, it was a warm day, and frankly, Abbots had recently turned me off from the hot version.  I asked and the meat here is indeed fresh picked, not at Ford’s, but at another local facility every morning.  She did say that the lobster was Canadian, not Connecticut lobster.  I respected and thanked her for her thorough honesty on the lobster source, that’s very important info to me and not something every place is willing to part with.  Honestly, ideally, I always prefer local lobster, not Maine, but whatever state we are in when eating the lobster roll.  I think it lends to the authenticity, freshness and it always feels good to be a lobster locavore.  But, I will take fresh picked lobster however I can get it as it is not very common anywhere and less often in Connecticut.

I actually forgot to ask about the previously frozen, fresh picked status before ordering, but once I bit into this one, I knew immediately, that this was not previously frozen.  The fresh, briny, tender flavor was there and if you happen to have just eaten a suspected frozen, then you eat a definitely fresh picked, the difference is obvious.  Ford’s uses large chunks of tail and claw, tender, the cold version is tossed in minimal mayo and has celery chunks, which I could do without and mostly picked out, but I didn’t really mind because the meat was so tasty.  They also seem to mix to order, so I’m sure you could request sans celery.  The bisque version is warm and has the very thick bisque poured on top.  I would really prefer it to be tossed in the bisque.  The large blob on top makes it a bit unwieldy and the bisque doesn’t move into the whole sandwich, equally distributing itself in each bite.  The bun is not your standard top split bun, it’s more of a hearty hot dog bun, somewhat larger and more dense.  The flavor is similar to the standard white bun, but it has a bit more flavor, freshness and I suspect possibly bakery fresh.  The bun is not toasted or grilled.  I happen to like it this way, but I know it’s not for everybody.  They are so nice here though, I suspect they would grill it for you if you asked. The Ford’s lobster roll is certainly among the best in Connecticut, fresh hearty meat served on fresh bread on the ocean, doesn’t get much better.  They also had something curious on the menu called a lobster bomb.  I assumed this just a jumbo lobster roll, but our waitress explained that it was kind of a hollowed out bread bowl, filled with lobster.  Wow, this is definitely something I need to try out.

As it happens and I actually had trouble believing at first, Ford’s is open year round, Wednesday – Saturday.  I say hard to believe, because I’m still not sure where they put people inside, but sure enough on their Facebook page, lots of specials and pictures going on through the winter.  I fully intend to make my way down there this winter and report back.  I’m thinking a hot lobster roll in the winter, on the ocean, would be just heaven.

Weighed in at 6.3 oz. for the bisque and 6.1 oz. for the cold lobster roll.

Ford’s Lobster Facebook Page

Visited September 2012

Ford's Lobster on Urbanspoon

The Lobster Dock – Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Lobster Dock lobster roll

I was determined to hit this spot since it seems to be the most popular place in town to get a lobster roll.  As I’ve said, I’m very partial to their neighbor about a quarter of a mile up the road, Boothbay Lobster Wharf.  So, I needed to schedule in some time and stomach space to see why so many people feel this one is the preferred lobster roll in Boothbay.  Before even going in, I can see that location is likely one of the major draws for this spot.  It is just a few steps from the footbridge that leads across the harbor from the main part of town and if you’re looking for a lobster shack experience, this looks like the spot.  It is a very cheery welcoming building, lots of lobstering paraphernalia, great view of the harbor, red picnic tables inside and out.  There are two tables outside of the actual restaurant that are designated the “dog friendly” tables.  Seems a little segregated for an outdoor picnic table spot.  Boothbay Lobster Wharf is very dog friendly and dogs hang out just like the regular people that they are.  I should mention in advance that I’m inevitably going to be comparing Lobster Dock to Lobster Wharf throughout this review.  It can’t be helped, they are very close to one another, Dock is more popular, locally and nationally.  They were even on Throwdown with Bobby Flay and featured in Coastal Living.  Wharf doesn’t get that kind of exposure and I happen to think Wharf has one of the best lobster rolls and lobster eating ambiance, full package, venues in Maine.  So, it seemed up to Dock to prove that they could live up to the hype.  Sadly, I can’t say that they did.  I say sadly, because I genuinely do want all lobster roll places to be amazing.  And at the least, I want to see the amazing places be the ones that are getting the hype.

First, we arrived to a line, always a downer, but I’m willing to live with it in summer.  What started to frustrate me, as lines are bound to do was the inefficiency.  I don’t mind a line because a place is busy.  I do mind a line because they are inefficient.   There is one girl taking orders and filling everyone in the party’s drink order before she moves on to the next person.  Despite the fact that there is a decent size line, plenty of empty tables, and multitudes of “food runners” wandering casually about, no one is helping this girl to get the line moving.  You place your order, wait for your drinks, get a number, have a seat, then a food runner roams all around the place looking for the person with that number.  So, the time between when your food is ready and the guy finds you can be a decent amount of time.

When we got to the counter to place our order, I felt the need to ask a question I never ask.  Not sure why I felt possessed, maybe because it was high soft shell lobster season and it was on my mind.  Either way, I asked the gal about fresh cooked and picked (yes, it is), then I asked if it was hard or soft shell lobster in the lobster roll.  Her reply was unexpectedly blunt.  She didn’t know, she wasn’t going to check, but she replied, “Honestly, probably soft shell because it’s cheaper, sorry to say”.  Yikes, I’m betting that isn’t the answer your boss would be happy to hear you give.  In her defense, she had spent the entire time taking orders, money, and filling every drink order with absolutely no help, so I understand she was frustrated.  I actually prefer soft shell for lobster rolls.  It is less dense, a bit more tender and sweet, ideal for the sandwich bite experience.

On to the lobster roll that finally arrived after I flagged down the food runner guy who looked like he was lost and carrying my order on his tray.  There was a choice of hot or cold, it was a rainy, cold day, and it’s unusual to see a hot version in this neck of the woods, so hot it was.  It had many of the elements I look for, fresh picked tail and claw, the chunks were smaller than I prefer, but still nicely sized, spongies, but not too many.  The amount of meat was on the skimpy side, it weighed in at about half the weight of it’s neighbor at Wharf for a very similar price.  But, the meat just somehow missed.  The flavor was bland, it tasted more greasy than buttery, it wasn’t overcooked and rubbery as hot can be, but still missed perfect texture.  The bun was buttery grilled, but managed to not be crisp, possibly because it was in the cardboard sleeve for a while before the food runner found me.  The butter did manage to sog up the bottom, but not so much that it fell through.  It wasn’t bad, it was decent, I just can’t say that it was in any way good or memorable.  I was left feeling disappointed that I had wasted valuable stomach space that could have been spent on the incredible Lobster Wharf roll.  Also left feeling a bit glum that once again lobster roll hype has been directed at the wrong place, particularly when whoever was doing the writing for Coastal Living or the scouting for Bobby Flay was so close to the marvelous Boothbay Lobster Wharf, just a few feet down the road.

Weighed in at 6.3 oz.

Visited August 2012

Lobster Dock on Urbanspoon

High Tide Gourmet – Madison, Connecticut

lobster roll high tide

This food truck was not on my “to visit” list.  I had never even heard of it, and I definitely try to hear anything there is to hear about lobster rolls, particularly in CT.  While doing an impromptu lobster roll trail with my pal Jill on the CT shore, we were driving down the main drag through Madison and saw a large sign saying “lobster rolls” in front of a cute truck with a happy lobster painted on the side, curiously among palm trees.  So, of course, I had to check it out.  Sure am glad I did, this may be one of the best lobster rolls I have had in CT.

I think this is the first year in operation for this truck.  A little research told me that it was opened by a chef and that sure shows on the menu.  They really aren’t kidding about the gourmet part.  I mean, rum guava pulled pork sandwich, tai peanut sea scallops with asian slaw, wow.  But, the prices are far from gourmet, a real deal.  So, I ordered up the lobster roll and waited.  It seemed like I was waiting a while, but when the chef came out to deliver my lobster roll, I realized why.  He is actually cooking the lobster to order back there.  This not only isn’t pre packaged, that lobster is alive before you order.  This method takes longer, but well worth it.  I have only seen this method done one other time at Fisherman’s Grill in Portland, ME.  It is impressive.  The meat is fresh and tender and served warm.  It is actually more key than I had previously thought that a hot lobster roll really should be served fresh because cooking it, chilling it, reheating it to serve a hot lobster roll really ruins the texture on so many lobster rolls that really are fresh and should taste better.  I’m beginning to think this is the only way to do a hot lobster roll, cooked fresh.  Once you’ve had one, you can tell the slightly rubbery texture and slightly off flavor that lobster meat gets from being reheated.

The lobster roll here is filled with lobster meat and the holy grail of lobster rolls for me, whole, uncut tail meat!  And they cooked it perfectly, no coming out of the bun on first bite.  The bun is a  dry grilled (not buttery) standard split hot dog bun and the meat is served with just enough slightly lemony butter to make it fantastically tasty without sogging up the bread.  I really think this may be a gold standard of the CT hot lobster roll version, actually served in CT.  The flavors just all came together in you mouth for a perfect bite, with spot on meat:bread ratio.  It really confirmed for me how good this lobster roll was when I visited Lobster Landing in Clinton next, which had previously been one of my favorites.  They use fresh picked tail and claw meat, with butter.  But compared to High Tide, it just tasted flat, reheated and tasteless.  Don’t get me wrong, Lobster Landing is still quite good by most standards, but very few lobster rolls, particularly in CT can stand up against the High Tide Lobster roll.  This lobster roll could be compared most in Maine and still come out standing proud.  Even more luckily, he doesn’t close up shop after the summer, he just moves the truck to New Haven.  I sure wish he would consider a day here and there in Hartford, a gal can dream!

Scale was being wonky on picnic table surface, so no accurate weight, sorry.

High Tide Gourmet Facebook Page

Visited July 2012

J.T. Farnham’s – Essex, Massachussets

J T Farnham lobster roll

This is the perfect place to take in leaf peeping season while enjoying a tasty lobster roll.  This house-like establishment is situated overlooking a salt marsh, parking is a little sparse, but not a concern in the afternoon in October.  I love that instead of being open three months a year, as many lobster roll spots are, this is only closed three months a year.  Closes end of November and reopens the first week of March.

Walking into J.T. Farnhams feels like walking into your great aunt’s country house kitchen, circa 1950, in a very good way.  The kitchen floor is large checkerboard tile, the fairly large dining room is furnished with pine wood booths and the whole room has wrap around windows to take in the view, very cozy warm, friendly vibe.  The ladies working there are just sweet as pie, and the serve beer and wine, always a plus in my book.  As I ordered, I found out that they do indeed cook and pick the lobster meat fresh daily, and, upon ordering my butter side, I also found that you can order the lobster any way you like because it is mixed to order, love it.

The lobster roll did not disappoint, it was just as tasty tail and claw meat as I expected, generous portion, with a side of great onion rings.  Establishments in this area are known for their fried whole belly clams.  Since I’m not a fan of much fried, the onion rings were as close as I’m getting to the fame.  The lobster meat was more chopped than I usually go for, but it worked, minimal mayo, but remember, you can order it your way.  The bun was buttery grilled standard split bun.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the bread.  The place just had such a family, homey vibe, I guess I was expecting fresh baked bread.  I know, my fault, it’s so rare an occurrence that I in no way take off points for the standard bun, but I do add points on the rare, rare day that I encounter one.  So, overall, great place, great schedule, beautiful view, fantastic, customizable lobster roll.  Top notch spot, I’ll be back for sure.

Weighed in at 7.1 oz.

Visited October 2012

J.T. Farnham's on Urbanspoon