Category: Sandwiches

Maine’s Lobster Roll, Authenticity, plus A Shack With A View


The overstuffed fresh lobster roll at Five Islands Lobster Co., Georgetown, Maine, on July 5, 2018.

I had first attempted to eat lobster in May of 1991 at a popular seafood restaurant on the east coast. I won’t say which restaurant, as it’s still open at the time of this writing and they’re still serving lobster as they always have to happy customers. But to say that I was sorely disappointed is an understatement. I had no idea how to open the thing as it didn’t come with instructions, and the meat was not only a bit tough but rather rubbery as well. The flavor seemed “off”, not being anything like any crab I had ever eaten of any variety, including Chesapeake Bay blue crab, Opelia, or King. I decided lobster is nothing more than an expensive way to eat melted butter.

I wasn’t about to give up though, and as time went on I attempted to enjoy lobster every chance I got. I rarely got back to the Atlantic shores very much so most of the lobster I tried was in the midwest. The classic preparation in the Michigan or Ohio is that of grilled lobster tails. They’re rarely fresh there, being processed and frozen raw on the coast before being shipped to frozen food distributors. At larger gatherings and restaurant buffets where they offer a “lobster bake” the lobsters arrive already boiled, packaged in individual nylon nets. They’re then thawed, the nets are removed, and the whole lobsters are boiled quickly for about another four minutes before serving.

Lobster cooking techniques and presentation in the midwest can also end up being rather far off the mark. In 2018 this was one area restaurant’s Lobster Roll:


The New England Roll Special with Tarragon on Brioche at a restaurant in the midwest, as seen on Facebook on July 6, 2018.

This isn’t a New England Lobster Roll, regardless of what the Chef says. What this does is disrepect the lobster as the main ingredient, elevates the roll itself to a bread New Englanders wouldn’t use, confuses people who know what a real New England Lobster Roll is, and presents an inaccurate version of the dish to patron who have yet to experience the authenticity of the New England Lobster Roll.

This kind of situation is why I hadn’t yet been able to enjoy the real article.

It wasn’t until we ended up in Maine for six months beginning in April of 2018 that I finally had the opportunity to try fresh local lobster that had been cooked in a kitchen specializing in northern Atlantic seafood. The first full day we were there we ended up at the Taste Of Maine restaurant in Woolwich, where our daughter proceeded to order two whole lobsters.


Our daughter’s two whole lobsters at the Taste Of Maine restaurant in Woolwich, Maine, on April 21, 2018.

With a lot of their patrons being from out-of-town or out-of-state the restaurant’s placemats give detailed instructions on how to break down a whole lobster. Once we followed the instructions, along with some good hints from our server, we all tried it.

The difference between any other lobster I’ve tried and the meat from those two animals from Maine waters that had also been cooked nearby in a Maine restaurant was rather eye-opening. The meat was sweet and moist, very tender, and had a rich flavor that I felt had been missing in all the other dishes I’d attempted to enjoy for almost thirty years.

The cuisinologist in me hadn’t given up on multiple preparations of this same or similar dishes, and my determination was firm in continuing the quiet mission of trying to find out what was wrong, why I hadn’t been able to enjoy such a popular meal. And it paid off, right here in Maine.


Five Islands Lobster Co., Georgetown, Maine.

  1. Try your best to avoid using frozen raw lobster.
  2. Get the freshest live lobster possible, less than about 72 hours after it was landed on the lobster boat. If you’re not near any lobstermen, your best bet is to have live lobster overnighted from the coast. If it’s been in a tank for a while, especially a tank that doesn’t contain real seawater, it’s not worth it. Check the color of the shell and make sure when you squeeze the sides there’s a little bit of “give”.
  3. If the live lobster has to sit at all before cooking, ensure that it’s in well-salted clean room-temperature water for as short a time as possible.
  4. Cook the live lobster quickly using the time-honored methods of lobstermen or people in those fishing areas. Here are the two simplest methods as published in a 1964 local cookbook:

    Do You Boil It Or Steam It?

    As far as I am concerned, “you takes [sic] your choice.” Either method is satisfactory, although I feel that steaming is preferable: there’s not as much water to drain out of the lobster when it comes out of the pot, and the meat texture seems firmer yet more tender … For boiling you need enough water (sea water if possible, otherwise well-salted water) for complete immersion. The water should be boiling briskly when you dunk the lobsters headfirst. When the water comes back to a boil let them cook for about 15 minutes. Take them out and put them on their backs to drain. Then serve them hot, with lots of melted butter … For steaming you need only an inch of water in the pot, and when you have a good head of steam drop them in and give them about 18 minutes of cooking. (A nice touch: put in ½ cup of sherry. The flavor and sweetness of the meat will be enhanced considerably.) Simple, isn’t it? And in my opinion, about as fine a way as there is to enjoy the full, true flavor and succulent meat of a Maine lobster. [Roux, William C. What’s Cooking Down In Maine. The Bond Wheelwright Co., 1964. p. 3 – 4.]

  5. Either enjoy it immediately, or pick the meat immediately and chill it for making lobster rolls.


A look into the kitchen at the lobster building at Five Islands Lobster Co. Note the bright unmuted color of the lobster’s shell, indicating the live animal’s freshness.

As the summer progressed I enjoyed lobster rolls in a number of restaurants and, more importantly, at roadside lobster shacks where things have generally been done a certain way for a very long time. The first lobster roll I had was at Red’s Eats in Wiscassett on May 2nd during the stand’s 80th anniversary year. Red’s has been popular in the area the entire time they’ve been open but have seen even more business since showing up on a food and travel show called “The Zimmern List”, on the Travel Channel in 2017. Many lobster rolls I had seen weren’t half as stuffed as the one I was served at Red’s. But the one at Red’s was considerably better than I had imagined such a thing could be. It came with sides of mayonnaise and melted butter, and I decided the butter was the way I wanted to go with it. That was definitely a good decision as the butter enhanced the flavor the way it should have on my first lobster thirty years before.

Topping such a great lobster roll is no mean feat, but a couple months (and a number of lobster rolls) later I found the one I believe to be the best. Five Islands Lobster Co. near Georgetown, Maine, isn’t too far from Red’s Eats and was also represented on the same episode of Zimmern’s show on the Travel Channel.


The setting of the Five Islands Lobster Co., showing one of the three outdoor dining areas. The open ocean is just beyond the islands.

Five Islands is probably the freshest lobster shack in the area while also likely being the most fun. Located on a picturesque man-made peninsula in the Sheepscot River, there’s parking for dozens of cars and picnic table seating for at least a hundred diners. Five Lobsters is made up of three buildings. The farthest is the lobster building, where lobsters from the surrounding waters, along with other shellfish such as steamers and mussels, are prepped from live to either direct sale to customers in to go containers or as baskets to eat on-site. The “Love Shack” grill building offers the sweet and overstuffed lobster roll shown in the fist photo above, as well as other seafood preparations, burgers and sandwiches, and many other items. And the ice cream building offers desserts made of local products. Wandering the rocky shoreline nearby is also allowed, it’s only the active boating docks that are private and off-limits. The overall view, past Malden Island, Hen Island and Mink Island to the open ocean, is simply breathtaking.

The difference between the lobster on the lobster roll at Red’s and at Five Islands is only a matter of what’s probably only a few hours in preparation, but there are enough differences in the characteristics of the lobster meat on the roll that the latter is the one I chose, even though I’ll also enjoy a lobster roll at Red’s Eats any chance I can get.

Authenticity matters. Recreating a dish like this with a personal flair to make it seem “high-end” so it fits a restaurant that’s not a lobster shack is disrespectful of the main ingredient, in this case the lobster, and does nothing to create an accurate representation of the named dish. Presenting such a dish the right way is the right thing to do. It’s what people who know the original dish expect, and it teaches accuracy to patrons who are unknowing of the original dish.

Authentic Maine/New England Lobster Roll

The classic recipe is quite simple: It’s two cups lobster meat, cooked, chunked and chilled, folded with two tablespoons mayonnaise, and if desired ¼ cup finely-chopped celery. Butter and grill four frankfurter rolls (what the rest of the country calls a New England roll, a split hot dog bun having flat sides), maybe add one leaf of lettuce, then stuff the roll with the lobster meat mixture and serve.

Building 6-Foot Subs for a Baby Shower


Click this image for a larger version.

What do you do when someone you seriously love, like a daughter, asks for six-foot subs for an event? How do you handle what seems a request with all kinds of possible logistical problems? Well, lemme tell ya’ …

It’s a simple concept: Guys aren’t supposed to attend baby showers or even be anywhere near the things. I’ve been told to drop women and girls off at such an event and have heard at the last minute, “I’ll call you when we’re done”. This can mean the shower might last one hour or possibly four hours. You never can tell until the call comes.

I have to say though that I’d been to a baby shower over 18 years ago. Adam (building the sandwich in the photo on the left) hadn’t quite been born yet. His mom’s sister flew from Michigan to Virginia to be at the shower, but Adam’s mom didn’t know about the surprise shower or that her sister was coming at all. At the hospital she worked at, Adam’s mom showed up at the conference room for a “meeting”, complete with a notepad and pen … and was completely and happily surprised, not only at the shower her co-workers were throwing for her and Adam, but also that I’d brought her sister to the hospital shower as well.

This past weekend we held the shower for my daughter Briahna and our yet-to-be-born granddaughter Allie Grace. Baby daddy Andrew was also there, and we insisted he be an integral part of the shower.

Briahna decided early-on she wanted a pair of six-foot subs for the meal for her friends and relatives, along with the food a few other family members would provide. She asked me to handle the kitchen and I commandeered Adam as well.

Going through the need for the subs, Adam and I quickly discovered one thing: Buying pre-made six-foot subs is expensive. And honestly, they’re not difficult to make from readily-available ingredients. The end result also has a much more reasonable cost as well.

I’ve mentioned Country Market in Adrian, Michigan, a few times in some recent posts. For this particular project the bakery and deli came through for us in providing all the main components of the two sandwiches themselves. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s start at the very bottom …

This past Saturday morning, the morning of the event, I realized I’d neglected to get “platforms”. Adam and I would be building the sandwiches in a kitchen, then moving them out to the party area to the buffet table. We knew we’d need a stable pair of six-foot platforms to do this. Fortunately there were a couple lengths of pine 1×4 in the garage. Adam cut these down to the correct length. Once we got to the kitchen, I wrapped the boards in good aluminum foil and sealed the foil with Scotch tape. Really, it’s that simple, and looks halfway decent.

As soon as Adam and I had decided to do this build ourselves, we also knew there was no way to make, buy, or even successfully transport sub rolls that were a full six feet in length each. So with Country Market‘s help, we cheated. The bakery department makes a very nice 18″ French bread that’s between four and five inches wide. Eight of these would give us the length we needed but I ordered ten just in case, which turned out to be a good decision. On the boards, the pointy heels of the breads were problematic. So we cut the heels off eight of the breads. Lining them up on the boards they were slightly less than six feet for each sub. We then trimmed up a ninth bread to fill in the empty lengths.

Adam used a serrated bread knife to cut the breads horizontally. After opening them up, we started laying out the meats. Bree had asked for a simple Club sandwich: ham, chicken and turkey. I figured the best way to handle the meat was to get a pound of meat for every foot of sub. Country Market’s deli sliced up four pounds each of Di Lusso ham, Kretschmar off-the-bone chicken and Butterball turkey. Folding each slice loosely in half, we eyeballed what it would take to lay the meats out accurately. The chicken and turkey were also cut rather thin and had good grain. Unfortunately, those characteristics made them both a little hard to handle … but Adam did a nice job in ensuring the meats were evenly distributed in layers over the full twelve feet.

Once the sandwiches were built we took one out to the table. For the front sandwich though, we decided a pre-cut would work well to keep the buffet line  moving. We removed it from the board, took the board to the buffet table, then cut the whole length of the sub in the kitchen in 1-1/2″ sections that we then moved wholesale back to the serving board.


Click this image for a larger version.

Condiments we laid out were mayonnaise and mustard, slices of American and Swiss cheeses, tomatoes, sweet onions and Romaine lettuce. Real simple.

So what happened? A few things actually. First, Briahna and Andrew really appreciated the subs. A couple guests also said, “This is way better than Subway!”, which in my opinion really isn’t that big a deal …

But there was one issue we didn’t anticipate. It was the fact that, yes, it was basically a room full of women, probably 50 or so. Not guys … women. Meaning … we had over seven feet of sub left over! We never cut the back one, and there were full slices of sub remaining on the front board.

With enough guys in the house and a couple giveaways, there isn’t anymore sub in the fridge today, two days later. That tenth French bread is still in there though. Maybe we could make some really interesting grilled cheese sandwiches. There’s sure a lot of cheeses left over yet …


The happy parents: Andrew, one of the other guys at the shower, with Bree.

Tonight’s Dinner: A Good BBQ Pork Sandwich

Inspired by the sirloin steak sandwich I had at Quaker Steak & Lube a few weeks ago in Charleston, WV, this evening’s dinner was just a bit on the filling side. I’d slow-cooked a pork loin (seasoned with Kosher salt, pepper and granulated garlic) in a crock pot in its own juices for the entire day. I then drained it and removed the fat, then shredded it and mixed it with two bottles Jack Daniels’ Old No. 7 sauce. I then sautéed some bell peppers and onion in unsalted butter, and served the whole of it on a warm ciabatta roll with a slice of provolone cheese. Yup, this works.

An Odd Way to Make New Friends, and Jeanne’s Café, Grand Haven, Michigan


The Smoked Salmon Omelet with cream cheese, capers and dill at Jeanne’s Café in Grand Haven, Michigan

I didn’t eat this omelet. Neither did Mary. Oddly enough, some biker we met at a rest area ate this particular Smoked Salmon Omelet.

Already, you’re definitely getting the wrong image of the guy. Believe you me, we had an entirely different image of him at first, which was also quite wrong.

Lemme tell you this story …

 Traveling along I-96 last Wednesday we pulled into the rest area just west of Lansing near Portland, Michigan. We pulled in next to a Harley with a lovely young lady standing next to it. We were guessing she was in her early 20s. In the rest room I spotted the other rider … a man obviously in his 40s. My first thought was, “Wow he’s way too old for her.” As Mary and I were walking back to the van she was thinking exactly the same thing. That was, until the guy turned to us and innocently asked, “Would you take a picture of my daughter and I?”

Oops.

It turned out Alexandra is only 14 but, like my own Briahna, easily looks older then that. She and her dad John are from Windsor, Ontario, and had rented the Harley from a shop in Farmington Hills. I would learn later her dad had promised her this trip on her 12th birthday so, as she put it later, “I had to wait two years for this!”

But I digress.

We chatted a bit at the rest area. We told them we were headed for Grand Haven. John and Alexandra had been headed for Traverse City but felt there wasn’t time, so they were headed for South Haven. We chatted a bit more, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Or so we’d thought.

You know how, every once in a while, some really odd coincidence will happen, and the world will suddenly seem very small? That happened to us the following morning when we were leaving the hotel and Mary said, “Hey, isn’t that … ???” There they were, John and Alexandra, leaving the hotel in front of us! We don’t recall telling them exactly where we were staying, so the odds of us showing up at the same hotel some 80 or so miles from where they were headed are somewhat astronomical.


John and Alexandra in front of Jeanne’s Café with their Harley.

As I’d mentioned in yesterday’s post I was already planning on dropping Mary off for her morning sessions and heading for Jeanne’s Café so I told John about the 25 omelets there. When I got to the restaurant, John waved me over to their table. We had a most enjoyable visit, while at the same time enjoying some of Jeanne’s wonderful omelets.


Jeanne’s Seafood Omelet

I knew what I wanted. The previous evening I’d had some of Jeanne’s wonderful Smoked Salmon at the Michigan Association of Mayors reception near the Grand River and I knew that same salmon was in the Smoked Salmon Omelet. John ordered the Smoked Salmon Omelet shown in the first photo and obviously loved it. (Alexandra had ordered the pancakes and said they were also quite good.) But Jeanne had told me of her Seafood Omelet, containing both crab and shrimp, some Swiss cheese, all topped with hollandaise sauce. I’ve always enjoyed a good seafood omelet, particularly one containing crab. This particular omelet was rather good and the Hollandaise sauce was a perfect complement to it. I’m glad I ordered it.

[Yes, I know that’s not real crab, and Jeanne herself had mentioned this the night before. Just because it’s imitation crab doesn’t mean the omelet’s not good. It was delightful, actually. At over $20/lb right now, real crab likely won’t make it into any omelet I eat any time soon, so I’ll certainly take it this way.]


The exterior.

After feeding Mary and the other city leaders Jeanne came back to her café to chat with customers. After spending some time at our table she was off chatting with others … but after a while came back. She asked if I had my camera as she wanted to show some of the buffet photos from the previous evening to some new friends. After sending John and Alexandra on their way I headed to the table Jeanne wanted me to speak with. It turned out the folks there were Larry and Lisa from the Cocoa Cottage Bed & Breakfast further north in Whitehall. I’d heard of their B&B before, and Mary and I had talked about visiting such a place where chocolate is a way of life. We’ll have to head up there sometime.


You guessed it … the interior.

The following morning I once again dropped Mary off for her sessions and went back to Jeanne’s Café for another omelet. After going through the list of 24 possibilities (I planned on something different from the Seafood Omelet) I settled on the Philly, with its roast beef, sautéed onion, green pepper and mushrooms, some Swiss cheese and a side of cream cheese. The dark rye toast seemed appropriate for this omelet.


The Philly Omelet

So far this one’s my favorite. The roast beef was tender and juicy. There were just enough veggies and cheese to give the impression of a good Philly Cheesesteak sandwich without going overboard. And as Jeanne had told me, the cream cheese made for an excellent topping.

One thing I really enjoy doing is making friends at out-of-the-way restaurants the locals go to but that we’d normally never hear of. There in Grand Haven, with Jeanne’s catering service and her café, and with John and Alexandra unexpectedly showing up in the mix as a nice bonus … this is a place, a city, a group of friends Mary and I plan on visiting again when we can.

A word of warning: The backs of the t-shirts read, “PLEASE don’t feed the waitresses”. I get the feeling that’s a sentence we should all heed …

Sea Gull Pier Restaurant, Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, Virginia

Update, September 29, 2014 – Here is a link to the current restaurant that’s at One Island on the bridge:

www.virginia-originals.com

Update, June 6, 2009 – This post … well, it’s garnered a bit of attention since I posted it about a week ago. I don’t really know how people are finding it, but they’re finding it. And to be blunt, not everyone’s agreeing with what I wrote here. I won’t rehash my opinion in this update; I already posted it in the comments among both agreeing and disagreeing responders. However, I’ll approve any comment having merit while also not being insulting. So go right ahead and post your own opinion, negative or positive, on this particular restaurant. Y’ll kinda have me curious now!

I’ve been avoiding posting this one. I don’t like talking badly about restaurants. But this one has irritated me, and I have to explain why.

When you’ve driven extra miles, more than 150 miles one-way from the hotel you’re staying at, to eat at a single restaurant that’s in the middle of literally nothing, on a man-made island of a project once listed as one of the seven engineering wonders of the world by the American Society of Civil Engineers … wouldn’t you expect to find the best Crab Cake Sandwich you’ve ever had, even if it was just for lunch?

I gotta tell you, I was sorely disappointed.

Granted, we weren’t disappointed with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel itself. And there are a couple other pics you have to see at the end of this post. But frankly, the Filet’o Fish at McDonald’s is better than the crab cake sandwich you see here.

The $9.95 “Crab Cake Sandwich with french fries” at the Sea Gull Pier Restaurant on Island 1 of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel wasn’t anything close to what I was expecting for either the price or the location. When the dish was delivered, it was exactly as it appears in the top photo; An overcooked (cooked at least twice the time it should have been) crab cake on an inexpensive (read, “cheap”) bun with a portion dish of tarter sauce and some slightly soggy fries. Not even a slice of lettuce there to put on top of it. Definitely nothing close to what a good Chesapeake Bay crab cake should be, is supposed to be, is expected to be, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

My real problem with this isn’t the dish itself. It’s how that poorly-made dish relates to those miles driven. People consistently travel long distances to see the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, to drive those 20 miles of pavement 20 feet over the waters at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, to get off on Island 1 to see the fishing pier, visit the gift shop and eat at the Sea Gull Pier Restaurant. I know because I lived in Norfolk for over three years, and two of my kids were born in the area. And this was still my first visit to this particular attraction and Engineering Wonder.

My real problem is that this sandwich, and anything else served at that particular restaurant, should solidly represent the seafood of the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, it does not do so, not by a long shot. Honestly, when I bit into the sandwich it was ok, and I was instantly suspicious of the meat being a Chesapeake crab cake from Phillips. If so, that would have been the sandwich’s only saving grace, as Phillips is the way to go in many cases for decent seafood for this purpose. But even it it was, somebody had cooked the Hell out of it and served it up very amateurishly. The result was far from representative of what even that particular seafood supplier would want to see for that product.

Now, having said that, the real reason we went to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was for John:

This is my stepson Pfc. John Winckowski, USMC, and his mom, my lovely wife Mary, at our table in the Sea Gull Pier Restaurant. Memorial Day weekend with a U.S. Marine. Yeah, that’s the ticket. 🙂 John loves watching the “engineering marvels” shows on various cable channels, so heading to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was something he’d looked forward to. I’m pretty sure he enjoyed the rest of our visit to that “enginering marvel”.

John and Mary also posed for me at the overlook that looks to the west at the Chesapeake Bay at the far east end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

And for those of you who are fishermen or fisherwomen who want to fish the Chesapeake Bay without a boat, here’s a look at the fishing pier just outside the restaurant on Island 1.

But if you do fish off this pier, do yourself a favor; Pack a lunch.

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