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Rabia’s – Boston, Massachusetts

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lobster roll rabias

This was the first lobster roll after completing my book on the subject.  I felt totally lobstered out and figured I needed a good solid break from lobster writing, but a trip to Rabia’s in Boston refreshed and inspired me to get back on the wagon.  After a rather disappointing trip to the Boston Flower Show (I was at the Philly Flower Show the weekend before, so my standards were high) we decided it was time for some linner (lunch-dinner).  I dragged Ken and my pals Mark and Lu to my new favorite spot in the North End, Neptune Oyster, only to find that they were working on a 3 hour wait.  It was the Saturday before St Patricks Day in Boston, so understandable, but not doable if you’re hungry.  So, we headed two doors up to Rabia’s, it looked to be a crowd pleaser, no wait, large seafood and Italian menu and a roomy dining room, not easy to find roomy spaces in the North End.  I really hesitated on ordering this lobster roll.  I hadn’t brought any of my gear, scale and such, and I had Neptune on my mind and felt that anything else was bound to be disappointing.  But, our waiter told me that they cook and pick the lobsters in house.  Impressive, Neptune doesn’t even do that, there isn’t much space in the North End as I mentioned.  So, I had to give it a try.  They had four options, butter, mayo, bisque with mozzarella and one other I can’t remember.  I decided against butter since that is Neptune’s standout and went with the unique lobster bisque and mozzarella option.  The waiter described it as the most “soggy” option, not enticing but I went with it anyway,  In retrospect, I think he must have meant “has the most topping” and used the wrong descriptor.
When it arrived, I was thoroughly impressed by the looks of it.  It was quite large, I didn’t have my scale, so I couldn’t say exactly.  The bun was the texture and flavor of an Italian bread and the shape was more like a sub roll.  The bun had been warmed, but I couldn’t tell if it was grilled, there was no evidence of crispness and I frankly don’t think grilling would have worked here.  The meat was tossed in a thick bisque and sprinkled with what I would call more of a mozzarella garnish than anything, very minimal.  The bisque was thick enough and the bun hearty enough to prove the waiter wrong.  Throughout the eating experience, I experienced no sogginess.  That is quite a feat for any hot lobster roll, they all usually break down on the bottom, spilling the meat out.  The first bite really blew me away.  This lobster meat was incredibly tender and delicious, huge chunks of tail and claw.  I will admit, they need work on their lobster picking skills, I got several inner claw shards.  I felt like I should have been upset about it, but I actually found it strangely impressive because it was direct evidence that they do indeed pick in house.  You don’t find shell shards in frozen meat.  I have always been a believer that a lobster bisque roll should be done far more frequently.  I often order it with my roll to create it on my own, but I have only ever encountered one other and it wasn’t quite my vision.  This was exactly my vision, everything a lobster bisque lobster roll was meant to be.  Tender meat, hearty but light bun and a super flavorful bisque that had the texture to stick to the meat, not soak the bun.
I really had trouble containing my excitement and trying to share my joy with the table without sharing bites.  I wanted this whole thing for myself.  I still can hardly believe that the perfect hot buttered lobster roll (Neptune) is only two doors down from the perfect and most elusive, bisque lobster roll.  I’m certain I will be back to Rabia’s many times for this work of lobster perfection.  I have found in my travels that I am always very skeptical of lobster rolls in very close proximity to wildly popular lobster rolls with long waits.  But, every time, they have thoroughly impressed me.  There is a reason they can stay in business next to such a hot spot.  So, next time you’re too hungry to wait for Neptune (though I do highly recommend you wait at some point) head to Rabia’s and prepare to be wowed that there is no wait for this amazing roll.

Visited March 2014

Rabia's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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

Roy Moore Lobster Co. – Rockport, Massachusetts

Roy Moore’s lobster roll is in my book, Lobster Rolls of New England!!

lobster coveredited

The Clam Box – Ipswich, Massachusetts

Clam Box lobster roll

When a place is world famous for having the best of one dish, as Clam Box is for their fried, whole belly clams, chances are excellent that is the thing to order.  Such is the case with Clam Box, at least I assume.  I don’t actually eat much in the fry food group and haven’t developed a taste for the whole belly, so I can’t personally vouch for them.  But, judging by the line I’ve seen multiple times here, they must be good.  I’m glad I found a day with a minimal line, because if I had waited for this lobster roll for over an hour, I think I may have felt a bit like the woman in front of me at Red’s who ordered a grilled cheese…stupid.

I knew when I got to the window to place my order and asked my questions that I was glad I hadn’t been in line too long.  The lobster meat is not cooked or picked there and yes, it is previously frozen lobster meat…  I was still holding out hope that it would be the good kind of frozen meat.  I mean, frozen meat, to me, has never been as good as fresh, but it can be decent.  For $18, ($3-$5 more than I’d paid for fresh picked that very same day) I expected at least decent.  As I took it into their cozy, mid-century, not modern, but cute cape cod, knobby pine vibe dining room, I still thought it sure looked like a good lobster roll.  The standard bun was buttery grilled, but one bite told me, this lobster roll was not for me.  What was curious was that the meat actually had lots of large chunks of tail meat in addition to claw, highly unusual with frozen meat.  In fact, I can’t remember ever encountering frozen tail meat in a lobster roll, this is a first.  Unfortunately, this tail meat seemed to take on an unpleasant, grainy texture, and none of it had much flavor at all.  It had minimal mayo, but in this case, I think more may have helped.

On the up side the onion rings were tasty.  Apparently, they change their frying oil at least once during the day, impressive.  The clam chowder was truly amazing, not to be missed.  As I should have expected, order what they are known for, fresh clams and fried food, skip the lobster roll.

Weighed in at 7.6 oz.

Visited October 2012

Clam Box of Ipswich (Reopens Feb. 16) on Urbanspoon

Woodman’s – Essex, Massachusetts

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Lobster Roll Woodman's Essex, Massachusetts

Had never heard of this spot, though I must confess, I haven’t done a great deal of research on the north shore of Mass (I think that’s how people refer to it, but again, I’m no expert).  I actually saw a photo of this roll when some man posted on twitter and it looked like a lobster roll I had to have.  When we arrived to this sleepy little town, I thought we might be in for a quick visit.  No chance, turns out this place is quite a destination.  Giant parking lot, masses of outdoor picnic tables overlooking the pretty marsh, two stories of tables and a line out the door.  Best and most ingenious of all, they have a whole setup in front with lots of cooked lobsters all layed out for you to choose your fave, get it dropped in the water for an additional heat up, pay, and be on your way.  No waiting for a half hour for your lobster to cook.  The person who orders the full lobster can eat it at the same time as the person who orders the lobster roll.  On the down side, you have to wait in line twice if you want anything besides a lobster, but people seem to work out a system with friends.  They also serve booze in a separate line, draft beer, wine, liquor and all, delightful.  This spot has been serving up lobster and clams since the early 1900’s, love the history, nostalgia, memorabilia and photo of the original old man Woodman and the little lady photo on the wall.  I like a place with history, shows they’re real innovators.  The lobster roll really was everything I hoped it could be from the twitter pic.  The bread was a real standout.  This was not from the Sysco distributor or any cousin of the mass produced wonder roll so loved throughout the lobster roll community.  It was indeed a top split hot dog bun, grilled, though mysteriously not very hot, but this tasted to be some sort of bakery, small batch, fresh, unique roll.  First, it was quite wide and sturdy at the bottom.  Despite a generous portion of lobster, this puppy was not going to topple.  The flavor was part potato roll, part sweet challah.  The texture was sturdy but light.  It was the kind of partner that a filling of the integrity of fresh lobster meat deserves to be with.  The meat was fresh, tender, perfectly flavorful, ideal sized chunks, not too small or large, tail, knuckle, claw, no spongie, lightly mayoed.  It was really the perfect marriage of bread and lobster that makes a great lobster roll.  I wish the bread had been a bit more buttery grilled, and I wish they had a warm buttered meat lobster roll option, but that’s it.  This one was a real winner.  Thanks mysterious twitter guy.

Weighed in at 7.7 oz.  (still trying to figure out the new scale settings in the photo)

Visited May 2012

Woodman's of Essex on Urbanspoon