When I was growing up in Southern Maine, lobster was a once-in-a-year treat that I associated with the Fourth of July. On the Fourth, we'd head to a local lobster pound to pick up some lobsters and then we'd cook them up on our stove and eat them at the picnic table. To be honest, I never really saw the point of putting lobster on a roll when you could tear it apart yourself. I enjoyed the annual challenge of successfully removing the tail and all of the best meat. There was something rather primal about eating a lobster and I rejected the effete notion of having it presented to me -- already conquered and covered in mayo -- on a toasted roll.
I now realize that the real reason for my rejection of lobster rolls was the fact that I'd never had a good one. It's pretty tough to find a good lobster roll out there. I've suffered through rolls with bland meat, too much mayo, or the cardinal sin, a soggy roll. I've also had lobster rolls at slick Manhattan restaurants where the chef chooses to eschew the egalitarian hot dog roll for something like ciabatta. To me that's the equivalent of taking the nice girl next door and tarting her up.
I was up in Maine this Fourth of July and some friends invited me to their family cottage on an island off Bremen, Maine. The idea was to spend part of the day on the island and perhaps buy some lobster from one of the lobstermen that work the harbor. Unfortunately, the weather on the island turned sour around 4 p.m.. With the fog rolling in as thick as pea soup, we decided to take the boat back to the mainland. My hopes for a lobster dashed, my friends floated the idea of heading to Red's Eats in Wiscasset, Maine.
Red's Eats is known as the home of Maine's best lobster roll. I had never been there as I figured that it was the kind of place that only caters to people "from away." With lines that can stretch for over an hour, I always thought you had to be "numb as a hake" to join the crowd. Still, we drove the 20 minutes to Wiscasset, and discovered that the line at Red's was only about five minutes long. I ordered my lobster roll (no butter, just mayo), waited a few minutes, and dug in.
The verdict? I judge a lobster roll on two qualities. First, the meat must be tasty and shouldn't have too much mayo. Second, the roll must never be soggy. Red's achieves both of these objectives by putting the mayo on the side. As a result, the lobster was allowed to speak for itself and the bread had the ideal level of crispiness. Based on the taste, the sheer size of the roll, and a price of around $16, Red's seems well positioned to retain its crown as the Lobster Roll King of Maine. After all, if the place advertises horse semen on its front window and still manages non-stop lines all summer long, it must be good!