Growing up in the small town of Keene, New Hampshire, there was one thing my family always did on special occasions: drive to Kimball Farm for their lobster rolls and ice cream. I never got the lobster roll, though. I think my parents wisely didn't let a kid be responsible for $30 worth of seafood. But I did know it was special and delicious (at least I could decipher as much from the single bite I was allowed to have).
I also knew that lobster rolls were served one of two ways, cold or hot, as we called it. Hot meant it came warm, drenched in butter in a split roll with extra butter on the side. Cold meant it came like the Kimball Farm’s did, with mayo.
It seemed like everyone in the Northeast had their preferences. You were either a die-hard hot lobster roll fan, or you only ever wanted the cold version. There were even plenty of restaurants that wouldn’t specify how their lobsters were prepared. You were just supposed to instinctively know it would be the better version. It wasn’t until I got this assignment that I found out "hot and cold" lobster rolls actually have more distinct names.
What’s the difference between a Maine lobster roll and a Connecticut lobster roll?
A Maine lobster roll is served with the lobster meat chilled and dressed in mayo with some crunchy greens like chives, celery, and/or scallions. A Connecticut lobster roll is served warm, dunked in butter, on a toasted bun. But after talking to some folks who own lobster shacks and seafood restaurants around New England, I learned it’s all about where you are.
“It means different things in different places,” said Sarah Sutton of the Bite Into Maine lobster roll food truck. “If you order a Connecticut-style in Connecticut, it will be a warmed roll. If you order [the same in] Maine, most likely the meat will be chilled with butter either on top or on the side.”
Steve Kingston of The Clam Shack in Kennebunk, Maine, agreed. The lobster roll at his restaurant is served with “chilled meat piled onto a grilled, round, locally-made yeast roll, served with the customer’s choice of mayo on the roll or warm butter drizzled over the cold meat.” It is probably best to ask if it's not specified on the menu.
Is a Maine or Connecticut lobster roll better?
That, I found out, is a dangerous question to ask New Englanders. As I remember from my childhood, everyone has an opinion.
“We serve the hot buttered Connecticut-style roll for no other reason than it just being simply delicious,” said Rachel Steponkus and Angela Morander of Lobster Landing in Clinton, Connecticut. “With the cold ones, you can add more fillers, but with the hot ones, it’s simply lobster, lemon, and butter on a roll—that’s it.”
Fans of the other style have a similar argument. “I am a purist,” said Janet Demetri, owner of The Friendly Fisherman Seafood Market and Restaurant in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. “I think the way we prepare our rolls is the traditional way to consume a perfect lobster sandwich—a toasted buttered roll, a bit of a crispy green, and chunks of meat lightly dressed in mayo. If you want hot lobster, get it steamed and pick it yourself!”
The Arnold's Restaurant Lobster and Clam Bar in Eastham, Massachusetts, serves them both ways, but one version sells a little better. “The cold lobster roll is still the most popular, but not by a big margin,” said owner Nate Nickerson.
So, which do you prefer?
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