Before the idea of Tin Sheets to the Wind was even conceived, we started to plan a road trip across the country for Jen’s 40th birthday. Sitting in front of a fire with a glass of wine in one of the dog-friendly Garden Cottages at L’Auberge de Sedona in Sedona, Arizona (one of the coolest places we’ve ever stayed and a room service dinner that rivaled some of the best restaurants we’ve eaten in), we began brainstorming to determine where we wanted to travel to and what we wanted to see, do, and most importantly, eat. We each picked some places that we were interested in, whether it be to see a famous landmark, enjoy the scenery, or eat (a common theme for us); and one of Jen’s top choices was to visit Maine and eat lobster rolls.
Well, wishes do come true and we spent a week in Maine tasting five different lobster rolls on our travels. Not unlike when we do wine tastings, we rated each for overall enjoyability, preparation, presentation, texture, flavor, and anything else that stood out. As soon as we had more than one tasty lobster roll, we couldn’t wait to try more and decided the best way to share our findings and favorites was to present the Ultimate Maine Lobster Roll Smackdown. Note: the lobster rolls are reviewed in the order in which we tasted them, not by ranking.
Lobster Roll #1- Five Islands Lobster Company, Georgetown
We were in Maine less than two hours before we headed out to find our first lobster roll at Five Islands Lobster Company. The first true Maine lobster roll either of us had ever tried, we went in expecting a variation on lobster rolls we’d had in other Northeastern cities, more along the lines of a lobster salad. Thankfully our expectations were totally wrong and this was unlike any roll we’d had before and probably ruined us for all other lobster rolls in the future.
Sitting at the end of the pier where the lobster on our rolls was caught with a spectacular view of the Sheepscot River, the lobster roll was served in a red and white checked paper basket with a side of chips. Served on a toasted, buttered split bun with one piece of lettuce and no detectable butter or mayo, it fresh with a noticeable but not overwhelming amount of brininess that showcased the flavor of the lobster- which is to date the best bite of lobster either of us has ever had. The mix of tails and claws had the perfect amount of snap and no rubberiness. We could go on and on, but really nothing more needs to said beyond the fact that it was divine in its simplicity.
Lobster Roll #2- Young’s Lobster Pound, Belfast
Our second day in Maine found us traveling from Freeport to Bar Harbor. Since we were pulling the Airstream, it made finding a lobster roll a bit more of a challenge. It’s been a big adjustment for us Westerners used to wide open spaces and plentiful places to park a large vehicle with trailer (or at least pull over for a short period of time) to traveling in the East where roads are narrower and you can sometimes go dozens of miles without a place to even pull over with a trailer. Luckily, we found a very kind gentleman that let us park in the parking lot of his family entertainment center so that we could walk a quarter mile down to the pier and have the second lobster roll in the smackdown at Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast.
Walking into the pound, there was no doubt that the lobster we would be enjoying was very, very fresh. Next to the counter where we placed our order, there were rows and stacks of open top tanks full of lobsters. Our lobster roll arrived on a styrofoam plate accompanied by a bag of Cape Cod chips, two pickles, and a moist towelette. The roll itself was served on a sesame seed bun with thick globs of mayo on each bun and a piece of lettuce. With lobster spilling out of the bun, we tried a bite on its own and found it to be slightly chewy and noticeably briny; however, when eaten as part of the sandwich, the individual pieces of the roll worked together to create an overall tasty bite. Though good, we did find the pieces to be almost too big to eat in a single bite and that in some places the mayo overpowered the lobster flavor so that it was all that could be tasted. We also found that there was little to no butter on the bread and feel that the sandwich might have benefitted from some additional fat.
As with our first lobster roll, it’s hard to beat a enjoying lunch at a table at the end of the dock with gorgeous views and fresh ocean air.
Lobster Roll #3- Side Street Cafe, Bar Harbor
To us, there is little better after a long, strenuous hike than a cold beer and some comfort food. During our stay near Bar Harbor, we hiked to the top of Acadia and Saint Sauveur Mountains (a great hike with tons of rock scrambling) in the absolutely gorgeous Acadia National Park and immediately post-hike, we headed into town to find our next lobster roll. While doing our initial lobster roll research, Side Street Cafe came up a few times for their use of Old Bay Seasoning on their lobster rolls, which apparently doesn’t sit well with lobster roll purists. Us, not being purists, but on a lobster roll tasting mission decided this one would be a good one to add to the mix.
Served on a buttered and toasted split bun with a single piece of lettuce, a lemon slice on the side, and pub fries, the lobster was according to Jay the “perfect texture” with a nice snap and hardly any chewiness. Covered with orange flecks of Old Bay and mixed with what we would consider a medium amount of mayo, the flavor of the lobster was a little lost but the roll was very good and we thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it wasn’t “true” to lobster roll standards. This one that we would definitely have again…if we were willing to battle the crowds in Bar Harbor. Oh, and the pub fries? Awesome.
Lobster Roll #4- Scarborough Fish and Lobster, Scarborough
Don’t let the location on a busy stretch of U.S. Route 1 scare you off, Scarborough Fish and Lobster is worth the stop. Step inside the unassuming building adorned with giant lobsters and tattered green awnings and you’ll be greeted by a friendly gentleman that will take your order, prepare, and then deliver your lunch to you at the outdoor dog-friendly picnic tables. Although it isn’t located on the water, the outdoor space still reminds you that you haven’t left Maine as you enjoy your lobster roll in the shadow of a (we’d like to imagine) retired lobster boat.
Served in a red plastic basket with the seemingly requisite red and white checked paper, the roll was in a toasted split roll with just a barely detectable touch of butter. Light mayo and a liberal dash of smoked paprika made this roll different from others we’d tried, but somewhat comparable to our Old Bay roll. Good texture and nice smokiness from the paprika made this roll tasty, but overall it fell a little flat and we feel that it would have benefitted from a touch more butter to help balance out the flavors. We should note though that we did enjoy it enough to seriously consider each getting a second one.
Lobster Roll #5- Eventide Oyster Co., Portland
You figure if a restaurant has oyster in their name, it’s a pretty good bet that seafood is their specialty. Well in this case, that was definitely true. Located in the Old Port district of downtown Portland, Eventide Oyster Co. has a trendy vibe and a small, but dog-friendly outdoor patio. Even though we arrived at 3pm on a Thursday, we still had a 30-minute wait for an outdoor table, but it was worth it. Plus, they have this super cool text message-based reservation system that lets you check your place in line as you wait. Back to the real story though, the lobster roll.
Presented on a wood plank in what can best be described as a Chinese steamed bun, this lobster roll was dramatically different than any of the others we had because it was liberally doused in brown butter and served warm. The lobster had a nice texture and the rich, buttery pieces were the perfect size. Not true to the traditional lobster roll preparation, it was a creative and fun reimagination and a few scrumptious bites that we kept talking about long after we left. The only drawback was that it was a bit too rich for Jen, so Jay got the pleasure of eating most of the roll, which he thoroughly enjoyed.
And The Winner Is…
So, you ask. Which one was the winner? Although we had five very good, real Maine lobster rolls, nothing even came close to the very first one that we had at Five Islands Lobster Company. Little more than chunks of fresh lobster in a toasted roll, it was the one that set the bar for these and all future lobster rolls. It is definitely worth the out-of-the-way but beautiful drive! And even though we have a favorite, we’d still try any and all lobster rolls. Since our travels have taken us out of Maine, I guess we’ll have to ensure that our next great road trip includes a stop for more lobster rolls. A lot more lobster rolls.