At least once a summer, (more often, if I'm lucky), I have to have a lobster roll — preferably consumed at a picnic table with a salt water view. My preference is the hot version, fresh lobster meat drizzled with butter and piled into a hot dog bun.
Not that I turn my nose up at cold lobster salad sandwich or its chic sister, the lobster BLT, (especially if paired with a gimlet or martini), but there's something about the alchemy of hot lobster, butter and a squeeze of lemon that is way more than the sum of its parts.
Turns out that the ambrosial combination is a uniquely Connecticut creation.
Mike Urban, an Old Saybrook resident and author of "Lobster Shacks: "A Road Trip Guide to New England's Best Lobster Joints," says the hot lobster roll originated at Perry's Restaurant in Milford, (the restaurant closed in the '70s), and continues to be a Nutmeg state tradition.
"The concept is starting to bleed north a bit," says Urban. "But for the most part, when you order a lobster roll elsewhere in New England, you're going to get cold lobster tossed with a bit of mayo."
He should know. Urban researched his book by eating his way — and possibly his weight — in lobster rolls at more than 80 casual, seasonal restaurants, i.e. "shacks," up and down the coast.
In his book, Urban profiles 65 of these "dining in the rough" eateries, where customers stand at a window and place their orders; then pick up a tray and plenty of paper napkins before digging in. Each place has its signature touches — such as variations in the roll and the ratio of claw to knuckle to tail meat. Regardless, order a hot lobster roll and, for the most part, what you'll get is a buttered, toasted bun, piled with about four ounces of lobster meat, accompanied by a bag of chips.
Price tag? An average of $15 to $20.
"It really is the whole experience," says Urban. "You're eating something great, outdoors, usually in sight of the ocean. You're at a place you can only visit in the summer and most of these spots have been around, and unchanged, for years."
And he does have his preferences — although he opens himself up to criticism whenever he lists them.
"People are passionate about their favorite places," he says. "They let me know in no uncertain terms."
In Connecticut, Urban says some of his top Connecticut picks include The Lobster Shack in Branford, Lobster Landing in Clinton, the Guilford Lobster Pound, Captain Scott's Lobster Dock in New London, Atlantic Seafood in Old Saybrook and Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank.
Sally Lerman, who calls herself "The Lobster Gal," and has a blog by the same name, (www.lobstergal.com), has a new book titled "Lobster Rolls of New England: Seeking Sweet Summer Delight."
In it, the West Hartford resident profiles 40 coastal lobster rolls and their venues and offers recipes for both the main event and sides, such as chowder, Indian pudding and grape nut custard.
While most of her highlighted restaurants are within sight of the water, she does include a spot for those of us in the Hartford area who need a lobster roll fix and can't make the trip to the shore.
City Fish Market in Wethersfield, "offers one of the very best lobster rolls in Connecticut for three reasons," writes Lerman. "Fresh meat, bakery-fresh bread and a choice of hot with butter or cold with mayonnaise."
Regardless of your dining destination, if you're heading out for a lobster roll, Urban says you should always ask one crucial question before you place your order: "Was the lobster cooked fresh and picked that day?"
"That's really the key to a good lobster roll," he says. "If the answer is 'no,' you might want to move on."