The king of local shellfish in the summer is easily the blue crab, but lobster also crawls its way onto many area restaurant menus.
And lately, it seems, more lobster rolls than ever have been popping up on plates. The sandwiches can be found at Wilmington’s new Trolley Square Oyster House; Chesapeake & Maine, the new Rehoboth Beach eatery from the founders of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Matt’s Fish Camp in Bethany Beach and Lewes; and as a Friday special at Harry’s Fish Market + Grill at Wilmington’s Riverfront Market (scroll down for more of our favorite spots).
There is always a debate about what is a “real” lobster roll.
Some New Englanders will probably tell you it’s not legit unless the rosy meat is served with warm, melted butter (no mayonnaise, please), on a grilled, or toasted, buttery split bun.
Yet, others might say a classic lobster roll is chunks of sweet meat tossed lightly with mayonnaise. Sometimes, there are spices, chopped celery for crunch, and even lettuce and tomato.
Here’s the thing. The best part of the lobster roll is you get big, hunking chunks of claw and tail meat that you don’t have to crack and pick yourself. And, you’ll often get much more bang for your buck with a lobster roll than with a crabcake, which tends to be best when chefs don’t get too fancy with breading, binders and other fillers.
But, as this dining veteran has learned, some chefs don’t often heed the adage that what you leave out of a dish is just as important as what you add. Sadly, crabcakes can be one of the most anticipated – and disappointing – items on a restaurant menu.
Still, while lobster might be a beloved crustacean, it is never going to be cheap. This is a luxury item. Locally, a lobster roll can cost anywhere from $14.95, the weekly Friday special at Harry’s Fish Market + Grill at Wilmington Riverfront Market, to $22, the cost for a Maine lobster roll at Rehoboth’s Cheapeake & Maine restaurant.
Lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts supply the U.S. with most of its domestic lobsters.
Prices for lobsters have been somewhat high for most of the last two years, with the consumer price currently in the range of $8 to $12 per pound at retail outlets in Maine, the country’s biggest lobster producer. That’s a couple dollars more than a year ago.
Prices vary around the country, but tend to fall every year in the summer when many lobsters reach legal trapping size and catches increase. Scientists have warned the bigger catches can come early this year — a circumstance that can disrupt the lobster supply chain and depress prices.
So far, that hasn’t happened. Right now, lobsters are trickling in, said David Cousens, a South Thomaston lobsterman and the president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
“As long as they keep coming slow, there’s going to be a big demand for them,” he said.
The busiest portion of Maine’s summer lobster fishing season typically begins around early July, coinciding with the tourist season. Scientists with the Portland-based Gulf of Maine Research Institute have predicted this year’s lobster season will start two or three weeks early because of warm ocean temperatures.
Andy Pershing, a scientist with the institute, said temperatures in the central Gulf of Maine are running about one degree Fahrenheit higher than the 14-year average. He said the bump in lobster catches could happen any day now.
Lobster dealers are approaching this season as they would any other, said Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association. “If weather or volume or any other variable changes based on your best estimate of what may happen, you adjust your plans and act accordingly,” she said.
Here are some local lobster rolls we’ve come across lately, as well as some lobster specials:
One of the best lobster rolls I’ve tried was last summer at Henlopen City Oyster House in Rehoboth Beach. This eatery at 50 Wilmington Ave. is one of my favorites in the area. I highly recommend it for seafood lovers.
The lobster roll is a huge, $22 sandwich with large chunks of lobster lightly blended with mayonnaise and scallions served on a toasted roll. It comes with one side – I chose the crunchy, tangy coleslaw.
Looking for more lobster? Get the lobster macaroni and cheese ($26), a decadent blend of shell pasta with big hunks of lobster meat in a cognac-flavored cheese sauce made with Gouda and white cheddar and sprinkled with brown butter bread crumbs and chopped chives.
The new seafood kid in Rehoboth, Chesapeake & Maine at 316 Rehoboth Ave., offers a very good $22 lobster roll. The shellfish comes from Maine lobstermen who are longtime friends of restaurant owners Sam and Mariah Calagione. Indeed, all the seafood served here comes from either the Chesapeake region or from Maine. And it bodes well that the restaurant’s wooden facade resembles a traditional lobster trap, the portable pot used in lobster fishing.
Big chunks of lobster are lightly blended with a lemony mayonnaise and some herbs. It’s a delicious sandwich, though I had one complaint. During an April visit, the toasted, buttered roll was a little too toasty. My visit came not long after the restaurant opened, so I’m sure they’ve worked out kinks by now for the summer crowd.
If you visit, you must also try Dogfish Head’s “smoke on the water” oysters, which are plump with a pronounced smoked flavor, almost like you just inhaled smoke from a wood grill. The oysters, farmed in an area of the Chesapeake, are “fed” smoked sea salt to develop the flavor. A dining buddy and I split a half dozen and, for him, it was a little too much smoke. Next time, I would order two and get some of the restaurant’s other raw oysters.
Matt’s Fish Camp at 28635 Del. 1 in Bethany Beach, is just one block from the ocean. But you don’t have to go into the restaurant to get a lobster roll. You can just walk up to the takeout window (with sand still on your feet), order and take your meal to-go for a beach picnic. The traditional lobster roll ($21) is served on locally made bread from Old World Breads in Lewes, or you can get the lobster meat warm, bathed in butter, on a toasted roll. It’s served with chips and pickles or, for $2 more, you can get fries. A second Matt’s has recently opened at 34401 Tenley Court in Lewes.
Trolley Square Oyster House is one of the brightest spots to come along on Wilmington’s dining scene in recent months. The casual seafood eatery, run by the Big Fish Restaurant Group, has taken over the former Satsuma Asian Kitchen + Bar at 1707 Delaware Ave. (Perhaps, you knew it best as the old Del Rose Cafe.) Lobster specials are offered on Thursdays.
We popped in recently for a very meaty Maine lobster roll, ($21). The lobster, served chilled, had an appealing brown butter mayonnaise, a light sprinkling of spices and sandwiched crisp lettuce on a split top bun. A pickle and sea salt malt vinegar chips, which could have been a little more crispy, came on the side. The entire meal is served in a brown cardboard box. While there’s a lot to love at this lively neighborhood spot, you should know it’s mostly high-top seating in the main dining room and the stools aren’t very comfortable. Regular tables, however, are available on both the ground-floor and rooftop patios.
At lunch, Harry’s Seafood Grill at the Wilmington Riverfront serves one of the best lobster rolls ($19.95) around. Owner Xavier Teixido has a home in Maine and he’s well familiar with the sandwich. Lobsters come direct from Greenhead Point Lobster Co-Op in Stonington, Maine. The freshly steamed Maine lobster salad is served on a grilled New England style bun with Kennebec potato chips.
But, by chance, I found that you also can get the same lobster rolls, albeit a little smaller, on Fridays at Harry’s sister operation, Harry’s Fish Market + Grill. The cost at the stand in the Riverfront Market is $14.95. The sandwich includes potato chips and a pickle. It’s a very good sandwich and very popular. During one recent Friday afternoon visit, I lucked out and got the last sandwich available. (The lobster meat is already portioned out.)
Going to the source of seafood is another best bet for good lobster rolls. George & Sons’, a seafood market at 1216 Old Lancaster Pike in Hockessin, has a raw bar inside its shop that opens daily at noon. The lobster roll has become a local favorite. Owners pack house-picked lobster, blended with a housemade dressing, onto a split top bun and then sprinkle the seafood with chives. The sandwich is $23 and you can pair it with a cold beer or a glass of wine.
At Fishkiller’s Lobster Shack, 32805 Vines Creek Road (Del. 26), about three miles east of Dagsboro or six miles west of Bethany Beach, owner Captain Chet Townsend, a licensed waterman for more than 35 years, and his family serve lobster rolls made with shellfish he has caught in local waters. The seasonal shack, actually a trailer, is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays now through Sept. 3.
The Townsends use soft-shell lobsters – those that shed their shell – for the sandwiches, which they call lobster rolls ($15). But instead of a roll, they use a croissant. Huge chunks of tender and sweet hand-picked meat – you get a quarter pound, the equivalent of meat from a 1 1/2 pound lobster – are tossed with little more than mayonnaise and light spices. The sandwich comes with potato chips and a pickle.
The stand also sells whole live lobsters or steamed lobster with melted butter. There’s lobster salad ($14 for 1/4 pound), lobster macaroni and cheese ($13), and even a lobster reuben ($14). Call (302) 448-5078 or visit the Fishkiller’s Lobster Shack Facebook page.