Category: Travel

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.

Exploring Maine


Yours truly photographing our daughter as she climbed along Giants Stairs, a dark basalt formation of 30-foot cliffs over a thousand feet in length along the Atlantic coastline on Bailey’s Island in Harpswell, Maine, April 28, 2018.

With Mary having become a Traveling Nurse this past April, we’ve gone pretty far out of our comfort zone. Since late April we’ve been living in Maine while she works her first assignment and, as people have been telling us, we’ve seen a lot more in the short time we’ve been here than some have seen in 40 years of living here.

It always does seem that way regardless of where you go.

In taking notes and documenting our trip in pictures and videos, one project I’ve taken on is building a Guest Directory for the long-term apartment we’re staying in. You know, one of those binder thingies you find stuffed into the drawer of the desk in a hotel or motel, one that never has the info up-to-date and is covered with pizza sauce and other … ummm … well, anyway …

This is the current atate of the Directory for this apartment. There are a few placeholders yet for places we want to go to but haven’t gotten to. And honestly, even though this says it was assembled by “a guest”, some of these places were suggested by our hosts, especially after I told them of this project.

So if you’re ever coming to Maine, these are some of the places we liked best. And if you’re already here, you’re welcome.

Note: There’s a little symbol at the top-right of the PDF viewer below which will open it in the Google viewer full-screen. There’s also a download link below it so you can save it for later.

Download (PDF, 161KB)

Recipe: Authentic Florida Rum Runners


Our bartenders for this development: Bree, Kim, and Mary.

A habit we’ve started getting into the past couple years is vacationing on the east coast of Florida. As I write this, I’m sitting in a beautiful little duplex on the Indian River in Ft. Pierce. We had come here just over a year ago and fell in love with St. Lucie County and the surrounding area, along with really appreciating the people here, both the locals and those who are also habitual visitors. Arriving here from Michigan again last week, the duplex made us feel as though we had come home. Because of this feeling, we’re already making plans to come back next year as well.

The duplex is owned by our friends Kim and Bill. Kim and my wife Mary had gone to high school together, and Kim and Bill rent the duplex out to various people throughout the year while living in their own home up the river. Built in the 1950s or early 60s, this quaint little duplex is simple, with hurricane-resistant concrete block walls covered with stucco, and poured terrazo floors. But the couple has really warmed up the interior with just the right furnishings that give it that strong feeling of home.


On The Edge Bar & Grill, as seen from the Ft. Pierce Inlet, April 12, 2016.

On our first full day here last April Kim had driven us up the road a piece to the On The Edge Bar & Grill for lunch. Located on the north end of South Hutchinson Island along the Ft. Pierce Inlet that allows for boating and small ship access (Coast Guard cutters, heavy barges, small cruise liners, deep-sea fishing vessels, etc.) to the two-mile-wide Indian River, the restaurant is open-air with two levels.


My Hoisen-Glazed Yellowfin Tuna at On The Edge Bar & Grill on May 9, 2017: Sushi-grade Ahi Tuna seared rare, with hoisin glaze and wasabi mayo, topped with a seaweed salad and served with sides of wasabi mashed potatoes and grean beans.

The food at the restaurant is seriously good, especially the seafood. From their Facebook page:

“All of the fish served at On the Edge Bar & Grill is fresh, locally caught & never frozen. Our Mahi-Mahi, Swordfish, and Tuna, in particular, are caught in deep water, approximately 150 miles offshore to the northeast of Fort Pierce. These fishing boats consume about $6,000 in fuel for a round trip that can last up to 3 days.

If you don’t understand why fresh seafood can be expensive, read that again. But also understand the prices on the menu at On The Edge are extremely reasonable, and are actually comparable to those at better seafood restaurants in places like Toledo and Ann Arbor. The seafood at On The Edge is better though, and worth the trip.

It was at On The Edge during that lunch with Kim that Mary had her first-ever Rum Runner. Legend has it that the Rum Runner was first developed at a place called the Holiday Tiki Bar in Islamorada (“ah-lah-mor-ah-dah”) sometime in the 1950s when there was “an excess of rum and certain liqueurs that needed to be moved before the arrival of more inventory.” This makies sense, as a lot of dishes, from casseroles, to “Chef’s specials”, to Polish paczki for Fat Tuesday, were created this way and always will be.


Some of the Rum Runners from our trip here in April 2016.

Throughout our travels here over the past couple years, from here at the duplex through the 220 miles to Mile 0 at the southern end of US 1 in Key West 90 miles north of Cuba, Mary, Bree and I have tried quite a few Rum Runners at various establishments. There are apparently countless variations: One bar here in Ft. Pierce also has a package liquor store, and they specifically told me they use the Ron Corina 151 dark rum in their version, and sold me a bottle. This made for a Rum Runner that was far too strong, and not at all like Mary is used to.

In trying all those other Rum Runners though, the flavor profile we appreciate most goes right back to On The Edge. We ate there again yesterday evening with a friend of Bree’s from high school who lives down here now and came to visit. The Rum Runners were, to our taste buds of course, absolutely perfect.


Shish Kebab party! May 7, 2017, Ft. Pierce, Florida

A couple evenings ago we hosted a shish kebab party for Kim, Bill and their two sons. Bree and I prepped chicken thigh meat, 51/60 p&d shrimp, as well as fresh veggies from the renowned Ft. Pierce Farmer’s Market. People made up their own kebabs on bamboo skewers, which I then grilled for them, serving with chips and hummus. One of the neighbor families also showed up, which was a good thing as Bree and I had prepped a lot of food!

Between us we had also put together the rather expensive list of ingredients needed for Rum Runners, as laid out on the Florida Keys Guide web site. Restaurants and bars with larger liqueur inventories will certainly be able to have most of this on-hand for various beverages. It does get a bit unwieldly for two or three people, but if you regularly enjoy Rum Runners this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Bree, Kim and Mary put together the Rum Runners, and the flavor was extremely close to what On The Edge serves. Yup, it made for a fun evening!

The ingredient list below is fairly specific. This combination comes quite close to what On The Edge is doing, but we make no claim to it being exactly the same. Make substitutions as is necessary or as you see fit. Your own recipe may be completely different. Amd that’s alright.

Authentic Florida Rum Runners
Add one ounce of each of the following to a glass, or add multiples of one ounce each to a pitcher, and stir well:

Add one cup ice to each glass, and serve.
If the frozen slush version is desired, pour the completed drink with ice into a blender and run until the desired consistency is reached.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2009 at the Occoquan Inn, Occoquan, VA


A slice of the fresh Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie, with whipped cream. Dessert first, right? Other available desserts were an Apple Cinnamon Cobbler and a Chocolate Coffee Mousse.

We’d been planning this trip for a while: Spending Thanksgiving with Mary’s youngest son, LCpl John Winckowski, USMC, just north of where he’s stationed at Quantico, south of Washington, DC. It fell to me to find a place for Thanksgiving dinner so I headed to Serious Eats out of New York City to ask the question:

We’ll be in the Potomac Mills area for Thanksgiving. Does anyone have any suggestions for a decent (i.e., comfortable, pleasant, not fast food) restaurant for 6 or so for dinner? Doesn’t quite matter if it’s a “traditional” Thanksgiving Day meal, although that would be preferred.

The first answer, from user Womandingo, included the following:

Alas, the Woodbridge area is not known for its culinary diversity. You might want to come a few miles north on I-95 to Occoquan, a really pretty place right on the river where there are some lovely little locally-owned restaurants … One really nice place in Occoquan is The Garden Kitchen – http://www.gardenkitchen.com/home – I don’t know if they’re doing a Thanksgiving dinner, but I would be surprised if they weren’t … Check out the Occoquan Inn, another pretty place, that IS serving Thanksgiving dinner and taking reservations now – http://www.occoquaninn.com/occinn.php … I wish I could give you better information about the area around Potomac Mills, but, alas, it’s just not designed for gourmands – or even people who want to eat better than fast food … Good luck.

Womandingo is quite correct about the lack of diversity around the Potomac Mills Shopping Center itself. The area is loaded with chains, ranging from White Castle to 5 Guys, Denny’s to Chili’s and Applebee’s and just about everything else. It’s just not well-suited for anything close to a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner, especially a dinner to share with someone who’s had mostly Mess Hall food for months at a time.

After a couple false starts I finally nailed down a noon reservation for us for Thanksgiving dinner at the Occoquan Inn in Occoquan, Virginia, for their limited menu from noon to 4 p.m., the only time the Inn would be open on Thanksgiving Day. Womandingo’s other suggestion, The Garden Inn, a block away from the Occoquan Inn, was closed for Thanksgiving.

A brass historical marker on the front of the Occoquan Inn indicates the older construction is circa 1780, although the framed copy of the ghost story next to the marker places construction in 1810. The building, the village itself, the river that runs through the valley behind the Inn … this is all authentic older America. Occoquan’s city hall is a converted one-room schoolhouse, one which is quite similar to the circa 1861 schoolhouse Briahna lives in.

We arrived at the restaurant shortly before noon and, as other guests headed behind the Inn to the river, we were the first ones seated. It turned out our reservation was for the table near the center of the front window, making for a beautiful view of the village. By 12:10, the Inn was packed with guests.


Mary, John and Briahna after being seated.

For the rest of this post, I’ll let the photos basically speak for themselves. This was a beautiful meal. If you have a chance to enjoy eating at the Occoquan Inn as we did, make sure you do. Thanks Womandingo!


While you may not think of shrimp as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, Mary’s family does follow this tradition. These were plump and flavorful shrimp, with a wonderful dipping sauce.


Marinated mushroom caps, with whipped cream cheese with bacon and balsamic. The filling was incredibly light and airy with a rich flavor.


Baby spinach salad with hot bacon dressing and boiled egg. The spinach couldn’t have been fresher or crispier. A Ceasar salad was also available, as were a Virginia Clam Chowder and a Blue Crab Bisque. Briahna and I had the chowder and while it’s almost impossible to get a good photo of, it was positively stunning.


The Traditional Tom Turkey Dinner with roasted turkey, stock gravy, baked ham (which wasn’t listed on the menu), country-style stuffing, sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, crisp fresh vegetables and housemade cranberry sauce. This plate was huge, piled high, and quite simply, too much wonderful food to finish with desserts in-sight! Other available entrees were Roast Prime Rib of Beef with horseradish sauce, Baked Rockfish Supreme in an herb marinade with shrimp and wild rice, and Chicken Imperial stuffed with blue crab and a lemon Hollandaise sauce.

Waterside Dining at Boatwerks, Holland, Michigan

Every once in a while I’ll get an email out-of-the blue from Patty Lanoue Stearns. Patty is one of the more well-known food writers here in the state of Michigan, having written quite a few books on Michigan foods and authoring an even larger number of articles on the subject. One of Patty’s current gigs is that of food contributor to the coffee table mag “Michigan Blue“. This magazine focuses on living in Michigan on, or finding entertainment and activities near, one of these four Great Lakes. (Ahem … yes, I know there are five, but Lake Ontario doesn’t apply here.) Since I can look to my left at the moment and see Lake Erie, “Michigan Blue” applies to Mary and I in many ways.

A year or so ago one of Patty’s questions was this: Was there anywhere down here in southeast Michigan where a boater on Lake Erie can dock the boat and enjoy a good meal? I told her of a few places; Weber’s on Lost Peninsula, Bolles Harbor Café, and Erie Party Store, an Oliver’s Pizza franchise in a fishing shop that also owns a marina in Bolles Harbor. A lot of folks dock at the Erie Party Store and walk the thousand feet or so to Bolles Harbor Café for one of Chef Silverio’s delicious meals.

The Party Store and Bolles Harbor Café made it into the final printing, but Weber’s didn’t. That may be because of the Lost Peninsula location which, if you don’t really understand it, it’s kinda weird. Ok well, it’s kinda weird anyway … Lost Peninsula is what George Clooney would call a “geographical oddity”. While it’s not “two weeks from everywhere”, and it is part of Michigan, you can’t get there from here without going through Ohio first. You have to take Summit St. south out of Michigan where Summit splits off from I-75 at exit 2. Follow Summit into Ohio. After the bridge, turn left onto 131st St. Follow that till it turns left and you’re heading north again. Immediately after the “Welcome to Michigan” sign on the peninsula, Weber’s will be on the left. As there’s no bridge connecting the peninsula to the rest of Michigan, the Mason Consolidated school buses have to take this route to get these kids to school in a part of the state that isn’t “lost”.

Weber’s does have its own nice marina there in the Ottawa River so dockside dining is a given.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

It’s Patty’s fault that I now find myself looking for these kinds of places where a boat on the Great Lakes can be docked during dining. I don’t own a boat and so have only been on one of the Great Lakes in a boat a few times in my life. But boats are a passion of mine anyway so I’ll keep looking for these places. We found a really nice one a couple weeks ago in Holland, Michigan, over on the Lake Michigan side of the state on Lake Macatawa. I’m not sure if Patty covered this restaurant in her article in her Michigan Blue article. Seriously, I can’t find the darn thing. I think I may have left it at the Erie Party Store.

Patty may not have covered Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant in Holland as it seems to be fairly new. We spotted it from the road as we were driving by but since they had just opened for the day there weren’t many cars in the parking lot. One of the employees was going inside when I shot this photo and I actually asked her if they were open yet. Of course they were, so we went inside for a Friday lunch.

It was once we were inside that Mary asked if there was outdoor dining. We were taken through the restaurant, past the large panes of glass that made the grill area in the kitchen an exhibition, through the open boathouse dining rooms with the high vaulted ceilings, past the coffee table seating areas with boating magazines on low tables, and outside to the real waterside restaurant

Patty may not have covered Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant in Holland as it seems to be fairly new. We spotted it from the road as we were driving by but since they had just opened for the day there weren’t many cars in the parking lot. One of the employees was going inside when I shot this photo and I actually asked her if they were open yet. Of course they were, so we went inside for a Friday lunch.

It was once we were inside that Mary asked if there was outdoor dining. We were taken through the restaurant, past the large panes of glass that made the grill area in the kitchen an exhibition, through the open boathouse dining rooms with the high vaulted ceilings, past the coffee table seating areas with boating magazines on low tables, and outside to the real waterside restaurant

I ordered the ground steak cheeseburger on a toasted Kaiser bun with gouda. This was served as you see it in the first photo of this post. Those chips are handmade from whole potatoes in the exhibition kitchen. The burger itself is made from very flavorful ground meat and grilled to perfection. The bun was fresh and was toasted just the way I like it. The gouda was thick, probably 1/8″, and as it was so thick its own flavor set the burger off nicely. And those chips were rather remarkable and delightfully crispy. If I could duplicate them at home with the same flavors, I would.

Mary had the Grilled Chicken Sandwich. Souns simple, doesn’t it? The menu describes it best:

Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Herb marinated breast of chicken, grilled and topped with applewood smoked bacon, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onion. Served on a unique pretzel bun.

Yeah, that’s a pretty good thing, there. You can just imagine it, and then it’s even better than that. Mary thoroughly enjoyed it.

Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant is the kind of place we’ll definitely go back to when we’re in the area once again. Maybe by boat? Who knows …

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