Lobster rolls are the quintessential New England summertime treat. The delicate meat heaped into buttery toasted rolls invokes the strong essence of ocean air coupled with myriad childhood adventures; a summer spent lifeguarding in Narragansett, days lazily drifting around the Cape, nights out in Newport, catering weddings throughout Rhode Island and, more recently, the mini lobster-roll canapes I insisted be a part of our own wedding menu at the Hope Club in Providence. Each version of this dish has its own story; a memory deeply embedded within the soul of anyone who was lucky enough to grow up here.
Rob has long known of my love for lobster rolls. On a recent trip back to the east coast he affectionately indulged my quest to eat as many as possible in our short visit home. These were not however the ‘dirty rolls’ of my childhood memory; there would be no roll from George’s overlooking Galilee, eaten on the sly during a short lifeguarding break. Instead, these rolls were much more grown-up, if a bit fussy. Fancy rolls, the lobster meat was carefully massaged with creme fraiche and tarragon; there would be no mayo here. These updated versions suited their elegant surroundings, but while the addition of tarragon was welcome, I wonder if the creme fraiche was just a tad too sour for the delicate meat. If I were to make these cold lobster salad rolls at home, I mused, I’d use a combination of homemade mayo and chopped tarragon, with just a squeeze of fresh lemon to liven it up; the perfect salute to my carefree childhood days with a slight nod to my (hopefully) more sophisticated palate. Yet, the further we embarked on our lobster roll crawl, the more it became apparent that these jazzed up rolls just cannot compare to the traditional hot lobster roll, the cousin of the ‘dirty roll’ of my younger beach days; it is this version that truly awakened my memories and that I recreated once we returned back to London.
Read about our crawl below and then check out the origins of the dish and my delicious recipe: Traditional (hot) Lobster Roll.
The Chanler at Cliff Walk
Newport, Rhode Island
Lobster Roll Sandwich (cold with yuzu and vanilla creme fraiche, cherry smoked bacon, vine ripened tomato, radish sprouts and organic greens): $29
Despite my unease of dressing up a dish so close to my heart, the lobster roll sandwich at the Chanler at Cliff Walk in Newport was a stand-out: a whole chick lobster, dressed with vanilla bean creme fraiche and yuzu, was neither too sour nor too sweet. So delicate yet firm, the meat was juicy having lost none of its particular lobster flavour. The only downside: the extras such as tomato, lettuce and sprouts make this sandwich nearly impossible to eat. I ended up cutting it in half and trying to eat it piece by piece. Despite the fact it doesn’t work as a proper roll, the flavours were beautifully subtle. Sitting on the verandah along famous Cliff Walk didn’t hurt either; overlooking Second Beach, the view is spectacular. Enjoy this with a glass of Prosecco or white wine. When in Newport…
Castle Hill Inn
Newport, Rhode Island
Lobster Roll ( cold with tarragon creme-fraiche): $24; happy hour sliders: $16
Castle Hill Inn undoubtedly has the best vantage point: from the lawn, the stunning views include the Newport bridge and Narragansett Bay. As the sailboats careen around the harbour, it’s impossible not to feel relaxed. The lobster rolls (or sliders as we ordered), were also deliciously fresh, but the meat lacked the nuance of flavours that we had enjoyed at the Chanler. However, the buns were beautifully toasted and complimented the tarragon infused creme fraiche. While they can’t quite stand up to Prosecco, nor are they suitable for a decadent lunch, these sliders certainly hit the spot as a post-beach treat knocked back with a cold brew.
Watch Hill, Rhode Island
Traditional Lobster Roll (available hot with melted butter or cold with tarragon, celery and lemon creme fraiche): both $26
Ocean House was the first place we visited that had both versions of lobster roll on the menu. We ordered both and shared so that we could compare them and decide which we liked best. While the cold version was very tasty (although I’d definitely lose the celery) and was probably the closest to the rolls of my past, we both agreed that nothing beats a traditional lobster roll filled with succulent buttery meat. To me, this roll conjured up the image of whole lobsters eaten with drawn butter at clam bakes and backyard BBQ’s; the frenzy of digging for meat and the triumph of dunking your prize into the beautiful pot of liquid gold. This was the epitome of my childhood lobster experiences and would serve as the inspiration for when I created my own lobster rolls at home (check it out here: Traditional Lobster Rolls). The added bonus: despite residing next door, Taylor Swift was mercifully not at home.
Lobster Roll (available hot with butter or cold with mayo): both $27
On the advice of my best friend Amanda, we went to the north end to line up for a lobster roll at Neptune’s, easily the most popular and (and overwhelmingly considered) the best lobster roll in Boston. Although the wait was quite long (90 min at 3pm), we could not be deterred. After several pints of Sam Adams around the corner, we were seated at the bar in the small elegant restaurant. In the middle of a busy city, we were under no illusions that this would match the relaxing lobster-roll eating experiences of Rhode Island; however, the roll we received was just as delicious. Having already decided that we preferred hot to cold (and on the advice of Amanda) we ordered one to share, and, here it was, the overflowing volcano of heavenly lobster meat oozing with buttery goodness that we had already missed in our 24 hours away from the beach. My only complaint was that the lobster was seasoned with a bit too much black pepper (white pepper, used sparingly would have been a better compliment) and that the roll had just a touch too much butter; I prefer a crispier roll. Beyond the lobster rolls, the oysters were also exceptional. Their menu gives detailed descriptions as to taste and provenience and were simply some of the best I have ever eaten.
Multiple Locations in New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Maryland
(we were in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Lobster Roll: $15; with chips and soda: $18
If you can’t get to New England, Luke’s Lobster offers the next best thing. Affordable high quality lobster rolls with a dill pickle on the side located in the middle of Rittenhouse Square, this small bite of home definitely hit the spot. Using Maine lobster, their version is a split between the two standards: a combination of spices, ‘a swipe of mayo and a sprinkle of lemon butter’ creates a beautiful flavour that complements the large chunks of tender meat. The look is meant to conjure up a lobster shack with a bit of urban flair and the rolls certainly adhere to the principle – the only downside here is that one roll just doesn’t seem to be enough.