Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Lobster Rolls

Like other people with sense, I am a lobster roll purist. In the best lobster rolls, you notice 2 ingredients: the lobster and the roll. Everything else - like generously applied butter and any seasoning - darn well better be there for the sole purpose of bringing out the best of those two ingredients. One new place in town understands this truism very well, while another sort-of-new place needs the most remedial of lessons.

Starting with the ones who get it, we have New England Seafood Company, the long-time wholesaler that just opened a place on Lincoln Avenue, a few doors from Dinkel's. Here, large, meaty chunks of fresh, perfectly poached lobster are given a shake or two of mild paprika and Old Bay (they say the seasoning is a secret. I say it's Old Bay) before being generously piled into a simple, split bun classically slathered with butter and griddled. There's no mayo mixed in - just a smear placed on the roll itself. The lobster is cooked fresh daily, then served chilled with a drizzle of warm butter at service time to create a pleasing temperature contrast. This lobster roll is a thing of beauty. It's big, but you'll want to eat two.


I probably don't have to write anything about this next lobster roll. The picture tells the story. Here (Wellfleet, or The Fishguy - whatever they're calling it these days) we find nothing resembling the simple beauty above. Instead, we have a lobster "salad" which might as well be egg salad or chicken salad, it's main ingredient being so completely unrecognizable. The meat here is shredded finely, as if a food processor did the deadly deed, and mixed with too much mayo and too many herbs. The split, buttered and griddled bun is big and good, but at $20 this has to be the worst sandwich value northwest of the Tree Studios.

My feelings on these lobster rolls also epitomize my feelings about these two places overall. I love New England Seafood Company. The people running it have the warmest, most genuine smiles and clear passion about what they do. They don't strike me as cheffy at all - just good, honest people making good, honest food (including the best damned clam chowder I've had in a long time). Wellfleet, on the other hand, seems to think it has become Blackbird North in many ways. Prices are nutty for the neighborhood, and the food just doesn't measure up despite being cooked by what appear to be more "trained" professionals. The clam chowder at Wellfleet - assembled to order from a refrigerator-case mise en place that's thrown into a pan then topped with cream and given no time for the flavors to infuse - is utterly bland compared to New England's robustly clam-flavored soup. I look forward to trying New England's fish and chips, which have been widely praised elsewhere, and whatever other tasty-looking things they've got on the menu.


New England Seafood Company
3341 North Lincoln Avenue
(773) 871-3474