Lobstah Rolls, Baby — Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Bar Harbor, ME

The rain in Maine falls Maine-ly on the Maine.

There are many businesses in Maine that use the pun, “Maine-ly” in their titles. On the highway, you pass “Maine-ly Maine Souvenirs” and “Maine-ly Speaking Clothes” and “Maine-ly Lobstah” lobster shacks.

Willa wearing her Maine pride

Willa wearing her Maine pride

Maine is just one of those places I always knew I would like, sorta like Alaska and Tokyo. Some places you have an idea of before you, and you get there, and you say, “Oh.”

Other places you have an idea of and you get there and you say, “Yes, this is what my idea was or actually even better.”

Maine is place like that. It reminds me a lot of Alaska, in fact, except the trees are mostly deciduous instead of coniferous. But the landscapes are rocky and watery and dramatic, and the human outposts remote and wind-battered and in many cases painfully charming.

Flynn at Claws Lobster Shack

Flynn at Claws Lobster Shack

One “Maine” thing I was particularly excited about arriving here was eating a whole lot of lobster rolls. My pal Nat, an East Coaster whose lovely sister lives in Maine, introduced me to the concept of the lobster roll one summer when lobster prices were rock bottom and we had a lobster pick-and-pahty in Topanga at our friends, the Glynns. I wrote a post about the experience, and subsequently got a scolding from an East Coast blog buddy for using Old Bay seasoning in my lobster roll.

Now I was going to experience the real thing for myself. And I would be four-for-four with my lunches and dinners — lobster rolls, every one.

Our first stop on the road between Boston and Bar Harbor — and if you’re ever traveling between Boston and Bar Harbor, eschew the speedier i-95 route in favor of the coastal Highway 1 — was Claws Lobster Shack in Rockport.

I’d studied up some on lobster shacks along Highway 1 before we left, but couldn’t remember what I’d read. So I watched as the shacks popped up, confident I would know the right one when I saw it. Some crummy looking ones passed by, and we passed by a few that looked pretty promising that I regretted not stopping at. But on this leg of the trip, I had one shot — neither my kids nor my wife would humor multiple lobster roll stops. As soon as I saw Claws, I said, “That’s the one!”

Side Street Cafe's lobster roll

Side Street Cafe’s lobster roll

While the kids loaded up on hot dogs, corn on the cob and cole slaw, I dug into a roll piled sky high with fluffy clouds of lobster meat. “Did you want lettuce on that?” the wafer-thin waif helping me had asked. Sure, I said, what did I know. The lettuce was barely discernible beneath the mountain of lobster, which drenched in melted butter was like ivory heaven.

Lobster rolls may not translate so well from Maine to California. But I was beginning to understand them better than they did when Nat gave me my West Coast introduction, and my confidence in reproducing a delicious one was growing. The key was the toasted sliced hot dog bun and the insanely decadent lobster-to-bread ratio.

Our ultimate Maine destination, Bar Harbor oozes sweet charm like an overstuffed jelly doughnut. The online recos pointed me toward a popular joint on a side street, away from the faux-quaint tourist souvenir boutiques hawking puffin fridge magnets and lobster stuffies, called Side Street Café. Piled not quite as high as Claws’ roll and lacking melted butter, it assumed the second place position. The lobster was stellar fresh, however, and — I would point out to my lobster-roll-blog-buddy scoffer from the previous post (who is located in Delaware, by the way) — dusted with Old Bay.

Charlotte's Famous Lobster Shack

Charlotte’s Famous Lobster Shack

The following morning, after breakfast at a friendly but miserly café that spread a teaspoon of cream cheese across two half bagels, we set out into breathtaking Acadia National Park. I find each new national park I visit even more spectacular than the last. And that was certainly the case in Acadia, where every turn brought a jaw-dropping new vista into focus.

After lunch I dropped the family off back at the hotel to lounge by the pool, and set off on my next lobster roll adventure. This one would turn out to be something of a lobster roll wild goose chase, as I headed for distant peninsulas of Mt. Desert Island in search of a roll recommended on one knowledgable-sounding website to be “the best on Mt. Desert Island, if not in all of Maine.”

After 45 windy but dazzling minutes on the road, I arrived at my destination. Or what Google Maps and Yelp said would be the destination. And there was a field. I decided to carry on a little further, and found not the lobster shack I was searching for but another — Charlotte’s Famous Lobster Pound. Good enough for me.

Charlotte's lobster roll

Charlotte’s lobster roll

“Don’t forget to eat fried clams!” my pal Paul had chimed in via text message at some point in the previous days.

So I ordered a lobster roll and fried clams, and wandered around a tiny forgotten early 20th-century cemetery of seven or eight toppled gravestones tucked inexplicably behind the restaurant.

I found a shorter route back to the hotel, and was poolside within 15 minutes, eating my lobster roll. (The clams didn’t make it the quarter hour drive.) How was Charlotte’s entry? Tasty, a towering mountain of red claw meat and pearly tail lightly dressed with mayo. But more or less the same as the others.

The fourth lobster roll was nearly an afterthought — out last night in Bar Harbor, I thought the odyssey was finished. But we were having trouble finding a meal that wasn’t an overpriced tourist trap. We’d given up and were heading back to our hotel on the road out of town, when we stopped into Peekytoe Provisions, promising “Maine specialty foods” and advertising warm and fresh cooked food.

IMG_7766

I was immediately impressed by the small but überfresh-looking fish counter. A weathered-looking guy came in with a bucket full of clams. Among the haddock and halibut and other delicious seas food was a selection of Maine oysters, including hyper-local Mt. Desert Island (MDI) oysters. I ordered two.

These were among the finest, freshest oysters I’d ever had — briny like the Maine sea air, just the right sweet-spot size between too small and too fleshy. I would order several more. The clam chowder was multi-layered with the inclusion of pork belly and not floury thick, an Asian pulled pork sandwich was a lovely counterpoint to the buttery lobster roll. A fresh red and white cabbage salad kept the arteries happy, while local Atlantic Brewing Co. beers on tap pulled the whole meal together.

MDI oysters at Peekytoe Provisions

MDI oysters and Atlantic Brewing Co. IPA at Peekytoe Provisions

Peekytoe Provisions was our favorite place in Bar Harbor. Mt. Desert Ice Cream was a close second, with flavors like Rocky Maine Coast (a rocky road riff), Maine Salted Caramel and Cereal Milk (Cap’n Crunch and the bottom-of-the-bowl milk).

I decided Claws’ roll was the best of the three — although I couldn’t be sure that wasn’t simply because I’d poured a couple ounces of melted butter over the top — followed by Peekytoe which wasn’t piled as high but was warm with thyme butter, served with that smoking fresh slaw and at $13.50 the best deal of the bunch.

A few takeaways I will contribute to the broader online lobster roll conversation, which can be a heated one:

• Lobster is poorly represented if served without melted butter
• Warm or room temperature lobster rolls are tastier than cold lobster rolls (especially with melted butter)
• All lobster rolls are good — a fine showcase for Maine’s star seafood — but the difference between a marquis roll and an average roll comes down to some very fine points indeed

Finally, the shaved and toasted hot dog rolls are pure genius, and might be just as well served to us Southerners (i.e. anyone not living in Maine) stuffed with a grilled frank and mustard.

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17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chuck Buck
    Jun 29, 2015 @ 01:04:59

    Glad you guys are having great good and pigging out. There is not much to match it in Tupper Lake! Safe travels!!

    Reply

  2. Mom
    Jun 29, 2015 @ 03:26:08

    Bruce also highly recommended fried clams and is miffed that he wasn’t mentioned. That for me was the apex of Maine
    food. We had so much lobster we may never touch it again. It was the season when they change their shells and the naked lobster is considered a delicacy. We found it slimy and unappealing.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jun 29, 2015 @ 11:34:15

      Soft-shell crabs are my favorite thing on earth. But then, that’s crab right? I bought some beautiful langoustines at the supermarché that I’m excited to cook!

      Reply

  3. Mom
    Jun 29, 2015 @ 13:28:57

    Once I found soft shell and Dungeness crab it was all over for lobster for me.

    Reply

  4. apriljulianne
    Jun 29, 2015 @ 20:36:46

    You’ve gotta try the steamers (much tastier than fried clams) & fried scallops too!

    Reply

  5. apriljulianne
    Jun 29, 2015 @ 20:43:13

    Also, if you have time to stop in Portland’s “Old Port” (which is very quaint) on your way back to Boston, the fish & clam chowdas are to die for.

    Reply

  6. andreathompson2
    Jun 29, 2015 @ 21:02:43

    Sounds like an awesome trip. I LOVE lobster.

    Reply

  7. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Jun 30, 2015 @ 21:44:29

    Sound like a wonderful trip Sean for you and family. I love Maine and I definitely love Lobsta with lotsa butter, too. Be safe. Cheryl

    Reply

  8. Ella
    Jun 30, 2015 @ 23:05:44

    Jealous of this wonderful eating adventure you seem to be on 🙂 I’ve always wanted to visit Maine, now even more so.

    Reply

  9. Jessamine in PDX
    Jul 04, 2015 @ 06:48:25

    “All lobster rolls are good…” That’s what I like to hear because each one of your pictures had me drooling. I can’t imagine any of them not being delicious. I also think I would like Maine. It just seems to have that vibe.

    Reply

  10. Trackback: I Left My Heart in Poutineville | skinny girls & mayonnaise
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