The Truth About Lobster Rolls

Julia Bainbridge
·Food Editor

The Ordinary’s roll

The truth about lobster rolls is that there is no truth except the lobster itself. At least, that’s what we learned from talking to the owners and chefs of the 23 restaurants entering this year’s Tasting Table Lobster Rumble in New York City.*

Whether you call it Maine-style, New England-style, or Connecticut-style, the big argument seems to be mayonnaise or no mayonnaise. Sure, there are differences of opinion about the bun (classic split-top hot dog bun or no?), and about whether the meat should be served hot or cold, but what goes on that meat is the greatest denominator.

“The mayo one is what I what I would consider a lobster salad roll, which is different. I think that’s something that’s a little bit more of a modern creation, probably in the last 70 years,” says chef Andrew Taylor of Eventide Oyster Co. “Back in the day, lobster was cheap. Lobster was prison food! It washed up on shores and was ground up for fertilizer.” For those who did eat it, he says, “in the turn of the century, it was served tossed in a little butter with bread on the side.”

Although Jim Tselikis of Cousins Maine Lobster will serve his warm, buttered lobster roll at the Rumble, he also offers what he calls a Maine-style roll with mayonnaise at the restaurant. Even with that, though, “we don’t mix it together,” he says. “It’s mayo on the bread and then chilled lobster meat on top. We let the lobster speak for itself. We don’t try to disguise the taste with celery or chives mixed in like a salad.”

Of course, you can go even further in not marring the flavor of the lobster by serving it plain, with butter on the side. “It’s a natural offshoot from eating a whole boiled lobster,” says Michael Landgarten of Robert’s Maine Grill, which also offers both styles. That way, it’s closer to the “more traditional lobster experience, you just get it without all the mess by putting it in a roll.”

Then there are the true wild cards. Lee Krassner serves ten different kinds of lobster rolls at Dock & Roll Diner in Austin, Texas, including the Ninja Roll, an Asian-inspired variation and the Fat Tuesday, which is a Mardi Gras-special po’ boy mashup—“you know, our Keep Austin Weird lobster rolls,” he says. “Luckily, we’ve gotten no hate mail. We have actually received a good amount of praise for bringing lobster rolls to Austin.” Krassner will serve his more traditional Maine Event roll at the Rumble.

Perhaps Michael Paterniti summed it up best when, after much research (read: eating), he wrote in Bon Appetit magazine: “My friends asked again and again where I’d found the best sandwich. An impossible question, really, for each shack, bar, and semi-respectable establishment has its virtues.”

There is one thing most everyone agrees on! The meat: it should mainly be from the knuckle and claw. “My proportion is a lot more claw and knuckle because tails tend to be dry and tough,” says David Piacente, Executive Chef of Gosmans Dock Restaurant. “It is like the dark meat of chicken, which everyone knows is always juicy.”

Here are all the rolls that will be part of the Rumble, broken down into the groups we see best fit for lobster roll categorization. If you disagree with our groupings, please don’t slap us.


Robert’s Maine Bar and Grill


Dock & Roll Diner: Austin, Texas
A traditional Maine-style lobster roll tossed lightly in Dock & Roll’s special house dressing and drizzled with seasoned lemon butter. Of the house dressing, Krassner says, “I don’t know how to describe it without giving it away, but it’s creamy and savory in the way mayo is, but you get less of that fatty taste and more of bite. It compliments the lobster better than traditional Hellman’s.” Krasser also said he might surprise attendees by serving his Real BLT variation, as well. “We take chicken-fried bacon and chop it up and add to mixture with tomato.”

Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co.: Brooklyn, New York
“We’ll be making a traditional Maine-style (cold) roll using fresh claw and knuckle meat that has been steamed and cut into large chunks,” says Adam Geringer-Dunn. “It’s served in a top-split New England-style hot dog roll that we toast in a specially seasoned butter. The lobster roll is dressed with a touch of mayo, minced celery, and lemon juice.”

Robert’s Maine Grill: Kittery, Maine
A split-top hot dog roll cooked on the griddle with local butter and stuffed with Maine lobster meat lightly mixed with mayonnaise and a secret seasoning. “It’s a little powder we put together,” says Michael Landgarten, “that has celery salt, oregano, various peppers. We figure it just enhances what the lobster already brings. Ideally you don’t notice it; it just wakes up the tongue.”

Red Hook Lobster Pound: Brooklyn, New York
A quarter pound of knuckle and claw meat dressed in a light, homemade lemon mayonnaise and served in a top-split hot dog bun from Maine.

Luke’s Lobster: New York, New York
A buttered and toasted split-top New England bun with a swipe of mayo and chilled chunks of fresh lobster meat drizzled with hot lemon-butter. It’s all topped with “our secret seasoning,” says Luke’s Lauren Gibson.

The Ordinary: Charleston, South Carolina
Maine lobster meat dressed in mayonnaise with spices, celery, and herbs and served in a New England-style split-top bun, buttered and toasted. “I grew up in Massachusetts,” says chef Mike Lata, “and that’s the lobster roll that I grew up eating.”

Da Lobsta: Chicago, Illinois
A fluffy New England-style hot dog bun with tarragon mayo at the bottom, filled with chilled knuckle and claw meat and then drizzled with warm garlic butter.


Gosman’s Dock Restaurant: Montauk, Long Island
Executive Chef David Piacente hasn’t decided if he’ll use a hot dog bun or a brioche bun for the Rumble, but he will “pick the right size lobsters which are sweeter—the ones that are super alive and strong—which will be steamed to perfection and tossed with a tiny amount of mayo, celery, fresh parsley, and lemon juice.”

Grey Lady: New York, New York
A steamed one-pound Maine lobster served in a well-buttered and toasted Balthazar bun with a touch of Hellman’s mayonnaise, Maine sea salt, lemon and chives.

The Clam Shack: Kennebunk, Maine
“The just-caught, fresh-picked meat of a saltwater-boiled lobster is piled onto an exclusively made grilled bakery bun with a touch of mayonnaise and a drizzle of melted butter,” sats Steve Kingston, “King (in my own mind) of the Lobster Rolls.”

Old Port Lobster Shack: Redwood City, California
“The homemade top-loading bun is buttered, then grilled,” says Old Port’s Russell Deutsch. “The lobster meat—just claw and knuckle—is blended with just a little Hellmann’s mayonnaise, green onions, salt and pepper, and a touch of lemon juice. I like my roll mixed, ready to go, ready to be consumed.”

The North Fork Food Truck: North Fork, Long Island
Chilled lobster salad on toasted, top-split brioche with tarragon aioli and a shake of Old Bay spice.

Macchialina: Miami Beach, Florida
“Our lobster roll is made with whole Maine lobster,” says Macchialina’s Jennifer Chaefsky. “We lightly toss the lobster meat in tarragon mayonnaise, serve it on garlic-buttered brioche, and top it with sea salt.”

The Mermaid Inn: New York, New York
A mound of Maine lobster meat, seasoned with lemon zest, chives, Old Bay and cayenne, sits atop a perfectly toasted and buttered Martin’s potato roll.


Cousins Maine Lobster: Los Angeles, California
“We do our warm Maine country kitchen roll with warm meat sautéed in butter and lemon butter on top,” says Tselikis.

Thames Street Oyster House: Baltimore, Maryland
Fresh cracked, butter-poached, hot tail and claw meat on a buttered split-top bun.

Cull & Pistol: New York, New York
Executive Chef Dave Seigal says, “Our Connecticut-style lobster roll is fresh steamed and shelled lobster meat that is cut into large chunks and warmed in a special lobster butter. The butter is made by reducing a large quantity of lobster stock and then mounting the reduction with colder butter. The lobster meat is then warmed and tossed in the butter and seasoned with brandy and lemon juice, salt and chives, and served on a buttered and toasted split-top new England hotdog bun.”

Eventide Oyster Co.: Portland, Maine
“It looks almost like a traditional lobster roll in that it’s a split-top bun, but it is, in fact, a Chinese-style steamed bun,” says chef Andrew Taylor. “There’s no griddled crust; it’s very soft and pillowy. The meat is warmed with a brown butter vinaigrette. “It’s rooted in Maine tradition, but definitely has a twist.”


Betony’s lobster “cigars”


Betony: New York, New York
“This lobster roll is a thin crispy cigar filled with chunks of slow-poached lobster salad with hints of lime and celery,” says chef Bryce Shuman. “There are definitely going to be some people who poo-poo it. Basically in its own category.

Lure Fishbar: New York, New York
“We are going with a Lobster BLT with some warm bacon and sometimes even throw in our homemade salt and vinegar potato chips for crunch!” says Lure’s Josh Capon. “CRAZY!”

Ditch Plains: New York, New York
Lobster Ditch Dogs: hot dogs covered in lobster mac n’ cheese.

The Clam: New York, New York
A lightly dressed Maine lobster salad topped with fried belly clams served on a griddled brioche bun.

B&G Oysters: Boston, Massachusetts
Although in the past, B&G gas served its lobster lightly dressed with house-made lemon aioli and finely diced celery in a buttered and toasted split-top bun, this year they’re going for a Lobster BLT. “It’s the same lobster salad, but in a different bun with bacon, lettuce, and tomato,” says chef Stephen Oxaal.

* Tasting Table’s 2014 Lobster Rumble will take place at New York City’s Metropolitan Pavilion (125 W. 18th Street, NYC) on Thursday, June 5. Tickets, $165 + tax for general admission and $265 + tax for VIPs, go on sale April 1, at #lobsterrumble

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