When you travel in the Maritimes in Canada, you want lobster. Fancier restaurants will be glad to serve you lobster in the shell with the accouterments for a nice hefty price.
What you really want is a lobster roll, where they do the work and you get the meat. But too often in a lobster roll, you essentially get a lobster salad sandwich, where the mayo is the star and you are picking out celery instead of picking up lobster.
You want a lobster roll where the lobster is the star.
The lobster roll usually consists of a split hot dog bun filled with lobster meat — lightly moistened ideally with butter but often with mayonnaise or sour cream and sometimes with celery in the mix.
The lobster salad sandwich defeats the purpose of eating lobster. If you can't find the lobster or taste the lobster, you're paying a lot for what you aren't getting.
Chicken salad. Tuna salad. The design of the salad is to hide the impact and taste of the protein. Tasting the tuna in a properly made tuna salad is virtually impossible. This is quite fine for chicken salad and tuna salad, but lobster is too rich and too nice to waste in a bed of mayonnaise.
You have to be careful where you get your lobster. A restaurant in the heart of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia serves a lobster salad sandwich on a hamburger bun. Places such as these count on tourists wanting lobster no matter how pathetic the presentation.
When I visited Halifax in 2009, I wanted desperately to try the McLobster, the McDonald's version of the lobster sandwich. In late August, McLobster was no longer in the restaurants. In late July 2015, the McDonald's did carry McLobster. And I could walk to a McDonald's and order a McLobster.
I put the word out on Twitter as to whether I should try the McLobster. No one responded to my cry. Just as well, since I wasn't leaning toward purchasing the sandwich. As we noted earlier, every review I've seen portrays the McLobster as a decent lobster salad sandwich. But I wanted a lobster roll.
The "false advertising" that fast food burger photos normally incorporate would be somewhat helpful in the case of lobster rolls: give me a glimpse of what your lobster roll looks like and I'll know if I want it.
Finding the butter version is extremely rare in my travels. Perhaps that is more of a, ahem, Maine lobster roll.
Making your own lobster roll — the step we usually recommend at some point — is rather difficult. If you start with a live lobster and you have a place to cook the lobster, cooking the lobster is easier compared to getting the meat out of the lobster. Buying cooked lobster meat is a great option but harder to find, especially on vacation.
Tracking down the special bun much less finding a place to grill the bun is the most significant challenge. Not any hot dog bun will do.
Finding a good lobster roll
I did find a good lobster roll in Halifax, down at the Seaport Farmers Market. Lobster, lightly dressed, in a homemade bun, though not a classic bun.
Even lightly dressed, you could taste the lobster. The bun complemented the lobster very well. The place offered side salads in lieu of kettle chips, but the chips went well with the sandwich, and a pickle.
$13 tax included for a bad lobster roll is still a pretty good deal. And that was $13 Canadian, so U.S. visitors got at least 20% off with the exchange rate. You want a good lobster roll but you also don't want to pay too much for one.
You might think this is the end: you find a good lobster roll and the world is happy. But there was one more quest, one more experiment. What if you could order a lobster roll — naked. The lobster roll, not you. What if you got just lobster and bun.
The place in the farmers market was willing to give me a lobster roll sans mayo, though the young woman apologized for using the same spoon. She asked me if I had an allergy or preference against mayo. I told her what she did was fine. Scientists might have found traces of mayo but my taste buds were clueless.
If you have a lobster roll with just lobster and access to a genie, you would wish for a dish of clarified butter. Lobster and clarified butter make for a very nice couple. So as wonderful as a lobster roll is without mayo or butter, the sandwich is a little dry. The sandwich was still a very good sandwich.
Trying to find a lobster roll sans mayo might be seen as extreme, same as the crab sandwich I ordered in the Sunday morning farmers market in downtown Baltimore in 2010. The difference with the crab sandwich is that I was able to get some Old Bay seasoning for the crab.
Ordering a dry — naked — sandwich allows me to get the true taste of seafood. Having grown up nowhere near an ocean, I've ordered too much fried seafood to wonder what it actually tastes like. It's nice to appreciate what the cooked seafood really tastes like.
Lobster rolls are supposed to spotlight lobster. The other players can play small parts, though the bun might be the supporting actor/actress in the play. Lobster is expensive for a reason. Hold out for a really good lobster roll.
photos credit: me