Warm or chilled.
Butter or mayonnaise.
Celery or salt and pepper.
We are declaring 2019 as the Summer of the Lobster Roll. Not to be confused with a sushi roll filled with lobster meat and its accoutrements, we’re talking about the sandwich. Claw, knuckle, tail and leg meat of the most luxurious crustacean of the sea has found its way onto the plates and into the hands of food trucks, taverns and restaurants across the Triad.
While there are a number of species of lobsters, the Maine lobster yields more meat and is known for its distinct sweet, succulent taste and almost buttery and creamy texture. Its origins are very modest. In Colonial times and up until World War II, the bug-like shellfish was considered so common that it was often derided as food for the poor. Lobsters were so plentiful on New England’s shores that they were often fed to prisoners. And when push came to shove, the crustaceans were crushed and tilled into the soil, used as fertilizer rather than consumed. The 10-legged animal eventually became a delicacy, found in the best dining clubs and in the kitchens of the elite — a story in itself. Lobster wasn’t rationed like other commodities so demand grew as did prices. Today, tied with caviar, shrimp and oysters, the lobster is one of the most expensive creatures of the sea.
Some balk the price of lobster rolls, which can creep up to as much as $20 a pop. But it’s worth it. A handheld vessel that can take the labor out of cracking the tough exoskeleton and time-consuming preparation is an ideal meal option. It’s a palatable vehicle to get the sweet meat into your belly.
You can find lobster rolls on a few menus here and there, but year-round area eats include Pier Oyster Bar and Grille in Greensboro; King’s Crab Shack, Katharine Brasserie in Winston-Salem; and Lobster Dogs food truck, which parks all over the Triad.
And this summer, it seems they’re everywhere.
The traditional lobster roll has a few variations. A Maine lobster roll is served on a buttered and toasted hot dog roll, filled with big chunks of chilled lobster meat that’s been tossed with mayo, giving it a blush hue and a creaminess. Sometimes, there may be small pieces of celery mixed in for added crunch. Connecticut-style rolls start with a warm, toasted New England-style bun, split from the top with white bread-like sides instead of a crust. Stuffed with warm lobster meat and dressed with warm butter, that is all there is to it, though lettuce may make an appearance to keep the bun from getting soggy. Connecticut lobster is also typically redder than its Maine counterpart.
Stumble Stilskins owner and New England native Chris Flathers has been selling Maine-style lobster rolls for over 5 years. Available for a limited time during the summer, customers flock to the bar for the generous portions of chilled lobster. Piled on a perfectly toasted split-top bun with a hint of mayonnaise and a lettuce leaf, it’s a seasonal favorite.
King’s lobster roll is described as “traditional” on the menu. Served on an untoasted hoagie bun and stuffed with a modest amount of meat, the lobster is heavily seasoned, served with Cholula hot sauce and piping hot. Tossed with an addition of cooked onions casually on the bread, it’s anything but traditional. Served with the side of your choice (the crispy, battered French fries are excellent) and a ramekin of coleis anything but standard.
Pier’s roll is described as “lobster salad on a buttered split-top brioche roll.” There seems to be more bread than salad, but the lobster is tossed in a heavy mayonnaise dressing and lightly seasoned. Also served with French fries, try the house grits as a more untraditional side to make this Northeastern-style sandwich placate a more Southern palate.
Katharine Brasserie’s lobster roll has a prominent spot on its bar and lunch menus. A buttered and toasted brioche-style bun is layered with warm lobster meat tossed with lemon, dill, fennel and celery root remoulade garnished with a fresh watercress salad.
And while I probably wouldn’t eat lobster from a gas station, I would absolutely eat one from a food truck.
A light swipe of heavy mayonnaise on a buttery toasted New England split-top style bun and stuffed with claw and knuckle meat, the lobster roll from Lobster Dogs is a new favorite. Salt, pepper, a secret blend of seasonings and drizzled with melted butter, this simple preparation seems to be the way to go. Nearly six years ago, Chris Yelton of Mooresville started the Lobster Dogs food truck. Now he’s selling more than 300 lobster, crab and shrimp rolls out of two trucks each day, and is in the process of franchising his business to include two more trucks in North Carolina.
People are in to it.
“It’s been overwhelming in the Winston-Salem market,” said Yelton. “I’m not a TV show. I feel like people can relate to me. I’m hoping I can grow this thing as big as I can.”
Yelton is referring to the Los Angeles-based Cousin’s Maine Lobster Truck, which made headlines on the NBC TV show “Shark Tank” and has franchises all over the country, including North Carolina.
“There’s got to be a Pepsi to a Coke and being that I’m the local one, the popularity of the trucks is amazing,” he said.