When the Best Maine Lobster Roll Isn’t a Roll at All

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Jul 092011

Locals can get a little cranky when you ask, “What’s the best lobster pound?” 

“A lobster is a lobster is a lobster.” 

“It takes someone with a rare talent to screw up a boiled or steamed lobster.” 

Whether or not that’s true about boiled lobster (overcooking does cause toughness), it’s certainly not the case with lobster rolls.  Granted, in Maine they all usually taste great.  However, in side-by-side comparisons, some lobster rolls do taste better than others.  Preparation of the lobster salad varies.  Freshness varies.  And some purveyors, most notably the Lobster Claw in Bar Harbor, will make you a lobster roll that features fresh, unadulterated lobster meat.  Naked, as they say.

Among the lobster pounds near Acadia National Park perhaps the biggest difference in any lobster roll is the very lack of the roll itself at Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound.  At this esteemed establishment, which has had four generations of family members working there, lobster salad is served on a dense white bread that tastes like what my mother used to bake at home.  Says Josette Pettegrow, whose parents started the business in 1956, “It’s the old-fashioned way.  It’s how my mother served lobster salad, and my grandmother before.” 

That’s the way Nancy Jenkins sees it.  Writing in the New York Times, she noted, “The lobster roll is a tradition, though not a very old one. My 75-year-old father, who has lived all his life in Maine, says he doesn’t remember eating a lobster roll until sometime after World War II.” 

So, when you visit Acadia National Park, consider trying a lobster salad sandwich at Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound.  It’s located on Route 3 just as you approach the bridge to cross over to Mount Desert Island.  You’ll see the sign and smell the smoke of the wood-fired cookers boiling the lobsters. 

For more dining options during your trip to Acadia National Park, check out the restaurant reviews at OUR ACADIA.  You’ll get tips on where to find the best crab bisque, great choices for a special evening out, and places to eat with kids.

Jun 112011

I have to disagree with the avid fans of the Lobster Claw who claim it is “the best lobster roll in Bar Harbor” and “a staple among locals” because the “owner is passionate about preparing everything fresh.”  Repeat visitors to Bar Harbor say it’s always on their itinerary.

I don’t disagree with any of these specific sentiments.  Where the fans and I part company is that I think the crab rolls at the Lobster Claw deserve at least as many accolades as the lobster rolls.  You must try both.

For those of you who have not yet had the unique pleasure of meeting Barry McLaughlin, his newly opened establishment at 156 Main Street in Bar Harbor is the reincarnation of Lobster Claw on West Street, which built up its fan base during its seven years there.  Barry has re-opened in the nondescript space formerly occupied by the Main Street Diner, which has lots of tables in contrast to the prior location which was primarily take-out.

What I find unique at the Lobster Claw – and I’m a regular at the lobster pounds in Trenton – is how much choice Barry gives folks to customize their lobster rolls.  He offers the lobster meat in any of three ways: naked, lightly touched with mayo, or drizzled with melted butter.  There’s even a choice of piled into the toasted roll or simply served on a bed of lettuce.

Crab meat is offered in all the same ways. The roll overflows with sweet crab and is also served with homemade chips.  You can also enjoy the crab meat as a crab cake meal served with fries or rice pilaf and cole slaw ($15.99) or a crab cake sandwich ($8.99).

Maybe I’m partial to Barry’s crab rolls because his Maine crab bisque is extraordinary.  The menu says “Have a cup, you’ll want a bowl” and it’s true.  It’s perfectly seasoned with a light touch of sherry.  Crab bisque and both lobster and crab rolls are market priced.

The Lobster Claw is also a great place to stop with a family cruising Main Street in Bar Harbor if you have kids who don’t like seafood.  The menu includes burgers, hot dogs, chili spaghetti, sandwiches, wraps, salads, subs, and quesadillas.  There are several good choices for vegetarians, such as the fresh portobello burger.

After you contemplate this broad menu, which is displayed on one wall, Barry will take your order at the counter.  There was no table service when we were there.

Despite the temptations of the wide-ranging menu, which also included classic fried clams and shrimp, we stuck with a lobster and crab roll and sampled both the New England clam chowder and the Maine crab bisque.  When Barry circled by our table to see how we liked it, he squawked, “What? Did a seagull land here and grab ya food?”

May 2012: The Lobster Claw has closed at its Main Street, Bar Harbor location.  Check in at the link below to find out if it reopens at a new location.

For more ideas for restaurants, guides, boat cruises, and kids’ activities near Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA.