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Bill’s Seafood – Westbrook, Connecticut

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Kind of a fun vibe going on here and by fun, I mean rough around the edges in a way where weekend bikers and prissy college girls can all go mingle, drink and feel tougher than they are.  It has a nice, large deck that’s very crowded with happy patrons on a warm summer day.  It overlooks some type of water, not very pretty though.  My friend Jill, who joined me that day, pointed out that I shouldn’t miss the “singing bridge” view, apparently a big draw here.  Frankly, I don’t get it, it’s not pretty and I didn’t hear any singing, just cars.

After setting up camp at a prime table on the deck, we ordered up some vino (yes, they have a full bar) and I asked about the lobster rolls.  Yes, the meat is fresh picked and cooked there, according to the waitress.  I was actually only going to order the cold version, but since she said it was fresh picked we ordered up a hot and cold lobster roll.  Kind of unusual, and a good thing, to have a choice.  Most places are committed to one version.

Upon arrival, they looked to be good sized rolls, slightly longer bun than usual, but the meat just looked, well, sloppy.  It just didn’t look as appealing as you would like it to.  It was kind of a mess, shreds, chunks, poorly distributed mayo, all just shoved into a bun in an uneven manner.  They just didn’t look that good, probably partly because we had just eaten the beautiful, lobster roll perfection served by High Tide Gourmet maybe two hours before.  The lobster rolls both weighed in at about a hearty 8.5 oz, generous amount.  Trying not to judge a book by it’s cover, I tried out both.  The cold was pretty good.  I could do without the lettuce and tiny bits of celery, but it had good flavor, not too much mayo, buttery split top bun.  Really, pretty good, but not so good I’d come back soon for it.  The hot was worse.  There was a lot of butter and that certainly never hurts a situation.  The problem was the meat.  As Jill put it, it tastes like how lobster ravioli tastes when it’s been sitting around hot for too long.  There was tail and claw in both, and if the waitress was correct about the fresh picked status, which I do feel like I’m questioning, this should have been great.  Booze sold, waterfront, fresh picked, choice of hot and cold.  Bill’s had all the elements, but somehow missed on bringing them together.

Then there’s the check.  I get lobster stands not taking credit cards, I don’t like it, but fine.  By the way, most these days do take credit cards, I mean you can get a credit card swiper on your phone now.  This place is a full service, year round restaurant that serves booze and they don’t take credit card.  With checks that size, to only take cash is a problem.  They point out that they have an ATM in the front, great.  I’ve heard all the arguments why places don’t take credit cards, mainly because the card companies charge a % of the transaction, but I would think that works out in your favor when you figure how much less people spend when they know they can’t outspend the amount of cash in their wallet.  All cash business also depend on a great deal of honesty at all levels of the business.  While at the front for the ATM, I stopped in the restroom and had to hold my breath the whole time because it reeked of urine.  This is the ladies room, on a Monday afternoon.  I can’t imagine how the mens room smells after a Saturday night.  Never a good sign at a food service establishment.

On the up side, the onion rings were quite good.  Also, they do have an ice cream stand outside that serves Gifford’s ice cream and the staff was all very pleasant and fun.  I’ll be back to Bill’s for an ice cream, but doubt I’ll return for the lobster roll.

Weighed in at 8.5 oz. for cold and 8.2 oz. for hot

Bill’s Seafood website

Visited July 2012

Bills Seafood Restaurant 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

Day’s Crabmeat and Lobster – Yarmouth, Maine

day's lobster roll

This spot has been beckoning me from I-295 for quite some time.  But, it seems that we are always driving by in the off season and they are only open May-October.  This August, we finally caught them while they were open.  It is very easy to get to off of the highway.  This spot has a lot of authenticity, particularly for a place not on the water.  They have a history that goes back to the 1920’s when they started selling lobster rolls.  They don’t claim to have invented it or anything, but I have to assume this must be one of the oldest lobster roll purveyors in the state.  Day’s is a simple white building with a fairly large lobster sorting area and a takeout window with picnic tables around and behind the building overlooking a rather lovely marsh.  It has a very peaceful vibe going on.

The lobster roll is really very good.  The lobster meat is cooked there and fresh picked and you can tell as soon as you bite into it.  The meat has that fresh taste of the sea and is cooked to a perfect tenderness.  I’m guessing they cook it in seawater, it just has that great taste.  They have huge chunks of tail, claw and knuckle lightly coated in mayo and served on a perfectly buttery grilled bun.  There is also an option on the menu to order without mayo.  There are spongies, but as is the case with expertly cooked lobster, I felt no need to pick them out.  If I had one complaint, I think it could use more lobster, it was a little light.  I actually ate it all before Ken had a chance to get a bite, too bad for him.  Don’t miss the fresh baked molasses cookies.  Overall, I highly recommend this spot, it is exactly what you look for in a fresh Maine lobster roll with the convenience of being right of the highway.  Perfect for a fix when you’re driving to or from wherever you visit.  I’d like to try the cooked lobster dinner next time, I bet it’s great.

Weighed in at 5.4 oz.

http://dayscrabmeatandlobster.com

Visited August 2012

Days Crabmeat & 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.

http://www.thelobsterdock.com/

Visited August 2012

Lobster Dock on Urbanspoon

Boothbay Lobster Wharf – Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Boothbay Lobster Wharf’s lobster roll is in my book, Lobster Rolls of New England!!

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