When I moved to Connecticut from Massachusetts seventeen years ago, I fell hard for the most quintessential of summer eats: the lobster roll. I was never a fan of the cold, mayonnaise-drenched version proffered in the shacks of my home state. For me, the Connecticut version is sublime: just sweet meat and melted butter. While it’s a bit of a no-brainer, some are better than others and we ate a slew of them to find the best. Here’s our list.
p.s. because lobster prices vary according to market, we didn’t include them here.
We were smitten with Ford’s the moment we walked in. Mint green walls hung with black and white photographs of lobstering history, de rigueur lobster pots and paraphernalia, plus tables full of locals chowing down on lobster grilled cheese, fish tacos and lobster bombs (1/2 pound of lobster in a bread bowl!). The scene is straight out of the fifties, but the folks at Ford’s are fooling with you. Ford’s is only four years old, but lobstering goes WAY Back in the little village of Noank. We stuck with the classic lobster roll, served on a golden bun (we asked our slightly incredulous waitress what made the bun so delicious and she responded, “it’s a grinder roll!”). Grilling it in butter transforms the thing, and comes stuffed with 1/4 pound of meat wedged inside. On the side? a mountain of crispy, brown fries and absolutely awesome slaw. Add some iced sweet tea and New England clam chowder and you’ve got a summertime feast. Could be my new fave. Plenty of outdoor seating in summer, plus service boat-side when it’s really jamming. Next time we’ll go for the lobster grilled cheese, although our waitress shared that the grilled fish tacos are the bomb. BYOB.
Lobster Landing, Clinton
I wasn’t intentionally on the quest to find the ultimate lobster roll, but it found me anyway. For years, I’ve heard Lobster Landing in Clinton makes the meanest roll on the Shoreline, but like the New Yorker who hasn’t trekked to the top of the Empire State Building ($20 for the elevator ride!), I’d never been. Driving back from Madison the other perfect summer day, lobster for lunch seemed like a good idea.
That’s how I found myself in a short line at the outside grill at Lobster Landing and a few minutes later, munching the perfect roll: a 1/4 pound of warm lobster meat, tucked into a barely grilled sub roll (“imported” from Vermont), and drizzled with butter and lemon. That’s it. The secret? The roll is sturdy enough so the whole thing doesn’t get soggy and fall apart before you’ve had a chance to savor it, and the unadorned lobster, straight from the pot, is the star. There are many tasty versions on the Shoreline, but for me, this is The One. Sunday – Thursday, 11 – 6, Friday and Saturday, 11 – 7. BYOB.
Find Lobster Landing on facebook here.
Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock, New London
Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock is a no-frills eatery serving up (very) lightly buttered chunks of fresh lobster in a classic New England style toasted bun. Wedged between the train tracks and a marina, this popular spot has plenty of parking and picnic tables. Find yourself a stool overlooking the boatyard or grab a shaded table under the pavilion and order either the Classic (12.95) or Large (16.95) roll. We like that the sandwich wasn’t dripping with butter, clearing the palate for plenty of fresh, sweet meat. Lots more to order here, from bisque to chowder, to a full-on Shore Dinner (next time) but we were concentrating on rolls this go. Save room for a cone of Gifford’s ice cream on the way out. BYOB.
Guilford Lobster Pound
Years ago a friend of mine had the brilliant idea to have her rehearsal dinner at a clam shack on the water before her wedding on Cape Cod. It was, bar none, the best (and tastiest) rehearsal I’ve been to. That memory came flooding back at Guilford Lobster Pound. A simple deck, lined with picnic tables and views of the Sound and Salt Island, would make a perfect setting for a party (and, yes, it’s available to rent). Their roll was as classic as they come: a grilled and buttered, smallish hot dog roll, stuffed with sweet, juicy meat. It’s a happy alternative on a pretty day to lunching on the Green, as it’s just down Whitfield Street. Take a right into the parking lot at The Moorings Restaurant and drive through until you come upon the shack.
When we first arrived in Connecticut EVERYONE told us to head straight for Abbot’s…and we did (until we discovered Lobster Landing). This is more of a fast food experience, though the lobster meat is fresh from the pot. Here it comes Maine style, a cone of meat on a buttered sesame seed bun. You can’t get more classic than a bag of Utz chips and slightly sweet cole slaw served alongside. Outdoor seating on a summer day with a water view is sublime, but this rainy one we chowed down inside. Save room for strawberry shortcake and pick up a pint of Rhode Island broth-based clam chowder to go.
Fresh Salt at Saybrook Point Inn, Old Saybrook
On a dreary afternoon, the idea of a lobster roll in a cozy room with a view, where river meets the sound, was just the ticket. At Fresh Salt, you can enjoy your roll outside or in, eliminating the necessity of a sunny day. Here, chunks of tender claw and tail are dipped in butter and overflow a grilled brioche bun. Accompanied by a basket of absurdly irresistible house-made, wisp thin, kettle-fried potato chips, plus a half lemon dolled up in a net for seed-free squeezing, complete the experience. I’m not crazy enough to say this roll had too much lobster but I walked away more than satisfied.
Westbrook Lobster (in Clinton!)
This spot is a bit of an anomaly. At first glance, it appears to be your classic seafood joint offering up surf and turf, baked stuffed shrimp and lobster pot pie. But they lean new school too, with organic salmon, dayboat scallops and lobster mac’n’cheese on the menu. They’re justifiably famous for their generous happy hour bar bites and craft beer lovers will be thrilled with their extensive local draft selections. But we were here for a lobster roll at lunch and stuck happily to our mission. The moment I sat down, my waitress placed a small loaf of a warm and fabulous whole grain bread and whipped butter on the table. Not that I needed the extra carbs but who could resist? I’ll always take an onion ring over a french fry so loved having the choice here. For $1 extra, you can really pig out and have both (moi). The roll itself was the usual toasted bun with hot buttered lobster and ranks up there with the rest of the bunch. With an extensive selection of non-seafood items and a happening bar scene, this is a good choice for families, picky eaters and cocktail hour, too.
The Treehouse at the Oyster Club, Mystic
We’ve all got our rites of summer, and high on many Nutmegger’s list is the first lobster roll. I decided to take mine at TheTreehouse at the Oyster Club in Mystic. This series of decks on top of the restaurant has you dining in the treetops. What we love about it (besides the vaguely Robinson Crusoe feel) is that you’re getting the same earnest sea-to-table, all local ingredients as the acclaimed restaurant downstairs. But here, it’s dialed down a notch. Think summer seaside fare, from Rhode Island Clam Chowder to Saugy Dogs. You’ll be hard-pressed to skip the fantastic lobster roll, served warm and buttered on a brioche roll with crispy fries. Throw caution to the wind and order the scrumptious grilled cornbread with maple butter for dessert.
Lobster At Home
I don’t cook lobster at home anymore (we call it TMT – too much trouble), but we know that out-of-town guests love a lobster roll, so here’s my method: I pick up a pound or two of boiled and just-picked-from-the-shell lobster meat at Atlantic Seafood in Old Saybrook, douse it in melted butter and stuff it in a mini Martin’s roll for a super simple summertime snack. (Good idea to call Atlantic Seafood ahead).
Another entertaining option is even easier. Ring Thimble Island Lobster Bakes, and they’ll arrive in the Lobstermobile, ready to serve up lobster rolls or an entire Shore Dinner (steamers, lobsters, chowder, corn and salad) for as few as eight, or up to 200 guests.
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