The lobster roll at Mickey's Oceanic Grill.

The lobster roll at Mickey's Oceanic Grill. (Staff photo / June 27, 2012)

Mickey's Oceanic Grill

119 Pitkin St., East Hartford, (860) 528-6644


Mention lobster rolls and most people think of rustic seaside shacks, days at the beach, toes in the sand, sunburn, summers in Maine, etc. Not me. I conjure up images of concrete bridges, twisted interstate overpasses, and hulking robot-like electricity towers. Of East Hartford. More specifically: of Mickey's Oceanic Grill, which is located in a kind of off-the-highway world of parking lots and off-ramps. This is a place where people eat their lunches in their parked cars, with the AC cranked.

Before I even launch into something on the subject of lobster rolls, I should include a caveat that every assertion be bracketed with the words "in my opinion," because few things around here (except maybe pizza and hot dogs) get food fanatics more worked up than these hot buttery heaps of deliciousness. Mickey's Oceanic Grill serves up a great lobster roll. But at $15, they're not for the value-meal crowd. (Mickey's offers a savings on buying them in pairs Thursdays through Saturdays.) Then again, the cost of lobster rolls brings to mind that well-lubed saying about getting what you pay for.

Summer came on strong last week, with the near-100-degree heat and all that, right out of the gate. And the official arrival of summer each year serves as an official jump start to lobster-roll season for me. It's maybe a little funny that lobster rolls tend to cost so much. Lobsters, after all, used to be poor-people food. Talk to old folks from up in Maine and Nova Scotia and they'll tell you how those crustaceans were once something to eat when you couldn't get anything else. Now it's a rare treat, decadent even.

I've never really gone in for many other lobster dishes. I'm too lazy, too self-conscious and too uncoordinated to get out the bib, the shell-cracking tools and those long forks. A lobster roll is a wonderfully efficient delivery device for lobster flesh. Did you know that a hot buttered lobster roll is a CT thing? For many of us, lobster rolls mean warm lobster meat, slathered in butter and served on a toasted hot dog bun. But venture outside of Connecticut and you'll find that many places serve what amounts to cold mayonnaise-y lobster salad on a roll. I might be overreacting here, but I find that to be an outrage.

Mickey's Oceanic Grill serves up both hot and cold lobster rolls. I enjoyed a hot one last week, despite the mind-melting temperatures. As much as a lobster roll is a thing of delicate beauty, it's not something to linger over for long. It's a bit like tempura, or ice cream, or carpaccio, or a fruit salad: best to eat it quickly after it's served. If you gaze in rapture over your lobster roll as the seconds tick away before you bite in, you might find yourself left with a soppy and soft hot dog bun that is no match for the melted butter and juice. A lobster roll can get unwieldy fast. But I found the roll at Mickey's to be just right on the manageability scale: neither skimpy on the lobster-meat side, nor overloaded to the point of spilling everywhere. A squirt of lemon juice brightened everything up nicely. From there, I tried to wolf it down without setting the thing back on the plate.

If you're there, you might consider getting an order of Mickey's onion rings, which are thinly sliced — not so fine as to turn into a crunchy excelsior — and yummy. A hard-to-pull-through-the-straw chocolate milkshake rounds things out nicely.

There are infinitely worse ways to start the summer off than this.

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