McLoons Lobster Roll | South Thomaston, MainePhoto Credit : Mark Fleming
New England lobster rolls are fairly new on the scene, at least relative to other classic regional foods. Perry’s in Milford, Connecticut, is credited with the invention of hot buttered lobster on a bun, c. 1929. Before that, there was the cold, mayo-dressed dish known as lobster salad, but as any New Englander knows, the bun’s the thing. Ideally, it’s split-top and griddled until buttery and browned. And hot dog buns are definitely a 20th-century invention.
So it’s taken fewer than 100 years for lobster rolls to become the ultimate New England summer dish, the it-isn’t-vacation-until-I-have-it standard-bearer. And wherever your travels take you in our region this summer, we’ve got you covered with our favorite New England lobster rolls in all six states.
We may prefer split-top buns in general when it comes to New England lobster rolls, but we’ll make an exception here. Owners Enea and Cathie Bacci serve a pile of beautifully buttered lobster meat in fluffy, Italian-style grinder rolls. And though it lacks the crisp exterior of a classic roll, it’s really quite delicious. One common peril of the Connecticut-style hot buttered roll is overcooked meat, but the Baccis cook their lobster with a careful hand. Combine that with their rustic, shack-chic eatery and the water view, and you have yourself a winner.
Yes, the location is stunning: a small red shack on the water, with a working lobster pound mere steps from your picnic table. And it’s fun to watch the crews unloading crates while you tuck into your lobster rolls and grilled clams. But the roll’s the thing here, made with candy-sweet meat and served on a perfectly buttered bun. Even better, they serve the mayo in the bottom of the bun, rather than mixing it with the meat, and that clarity of flavor makes a bigger difference than you might expect. There’s a butter version, too, and half-and-half for fence-straddlers. In 2017, Yankee senior food editor Amy Traverso named it the best lobster roll in Maine after sampling nearly two dozen contenders.
Chef-owner Jeremy Sewall sources his lobster from his cousin, Mark, who captains a boat out of York Harbor, so the meat is always ultrafresh. We like both the hot-butter and cold-mayo styles (the later is jazzed up with aromatics like lemon and celery). The one caveat: You’ll pay Boston prices here. But we think that a roll this good is worth it. Note: You can also find this roll at Row 34’s location in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
While both the cold and hot lobster rolls at this tiny waterfront spot in Rye, New Hampshire, are tasty, we can’t resist the hot roll bathed in a butter-sherry sauce that brings to mind classic seafood dishes of yore, like lobster Newberg. The sweet meat and nutty-tangy wine are a heady combination, and even better when eaten with a cup of chowder on the side (it’s made with clams but comes with chunks of the same sherry-scented lobster meat).
Given the care with which owner Perry Raso raises his oysters in the waters of Potter Pond, it’s no surprise that the restaurant he opened at the eastern edge of that same pond takes no shortcuts with its lobster rolls. Lobster meat is sweet and tender, not oversauced, and abundant. Order a roll with a plate of fresh Rhody oysters, and you have yourself a meal.
Don’t underestimate New England’s only landlocked state when it comes to delivering in the lobster department. Honeypie, the casual sister restaurant to the Beard-nominated SoLo in South Londonderry, takes its burgers and sandwiches seriously, including a buttery roll accented with chives, lemon, and celery. It’s a welcome addition to a meat-driven menu and a great accompaniment to one of Honeypie’s signature milkshakes, which come in flavors such as salted caramel and rhubarb-basil. Where are your picks for the best New England lobster rolls? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.