There are a myriad of opinions about what makes the list of New England’s most iconic foods. Your geography — whether you are hugging the craggy coastline, or hundreds of miles inland — also factors in. People in Greenwich, Conn., might pick something different than Mainers tucked up along the Canadian border.
Rarely, however, is there disagreement over whether lobster makes the list.
And then, of course, there’s that special variation, the lobster roll — which Sally Lerman, author of “Lobster Rolls of New England: Seeking Sweet Summer Delight” writes, “might be the finest food ever assembled.”
And yet, anyone who has sampled more than three or four lobster rolls from different purveyors knows that not all lobster rolls are created equal. Complicating the matter, lobster rolls vary depending on whether you’re in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, or Narragansett, R.I.
If you have an inquiring mind and a penchant for lobster rolls, you could spend a good chunk of your summer crisscrossing New England, trying to find the best one. Or, you could just let Lerman do the heavy lifting for you and pick one of her 40 places to enjoy a fantastic traditional lobster roll, sampling the best of the best.
Lerman, a lobster blogger and nutritionist, has very specific criteria for judging the region’s top lobster rolls.
The meat must be fresh, never frozen or a combination of frozen and fresh. The standard bread for the roll in New England is almost always a split-top hot dog roll. Lerman prefers it grilled, with salted butter, so the outside is crisp, similar to a perfect grilled cheese. She likes her lobster meat lightly dressed, with just enough mayonnaise to hold it together. She says salt, pepper, and lemon enhance the taste. Lettuce, especially shredded, is a no-no, because it can’t be picked off (which is what she does with it).
Lerman says that what pointed her down the lobster roll path was her disappointment that “so few lobster roll reviews listed useful, objective statements.” In “Lobster Rolls of New England,” she sets out to provide as much detail as possible so readers won’t end up being surprised.
As her research accumulated, she launched a blog, Lobster Gal, back in January 2012. Lerman’s ongoing efforts, numbering more than 255 reviews, are culled into this readable guidebook. Jane Shauck’s photographs enhance the book’s visual appeal. You’ll also find recipes for some of the lobster roll’s best complements and learn about the restaurants, shacks, and chefs, as well as some lobster roll history.
Whether you read it front to back, or jump around as I was inclined to do, you’ll likely be impressed with Lerman’s thoroughness.
Of course, she visits the better-known places, such as Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, Maine, along with her personal favorite, The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport.
But along the way, she also introduces us to more off-the-radar places, like Eastwind Lobster & Restaurant in Buzzards Bay, which she discovered while attempting to find another Cape Cod lobster roll haunt.
Ah, yes, The Clam Shack, home of what Lerman considers the Holy Grail of lobster rolls. She writes, “If I get to choose my last meal on earth, this lobster roll would be it,” along with her mother’s lemon meringue pie.
She likes that the meat, bread, and butter (you can choose to have drawn butter, along with mayo) “are superior to most,” but she says it’s the way the ingredients are combined that makes The Clam Shack’s lobster roll shine.
You have to get “every element in every bite or you aren’t experiencing it correctly.”
Jim Baumer can be reached at jim