Profile: “CHARLIE’S KITCHEN” in Cambridge, MA

Charlie's KitchenWe’ve seen Charlie’s Kitchen on several “Best Lobster Rolls in Boston” lists. So, when one day when we happened to drop by Charlie’s for a beer in their beer garden, we decided to give their lobster roll a try. Charlie’s has long played second fiddle to Mr. Bartley’s for burgers, but if you’re looking for a lobster roll and happen upon Charlie’s, do yourself a favor… keep on walking.

In all our travels this summer, this was the absolute worst excuse for a lobster roll we came across – so much so, that we nearly omitted it from the chronicles. But in the end, we spent good money (a whole $12) and got the equivalent of deviled ham-style lobster. There was nothing good about this roll, and we really have nothing further to say about it.

We give Charlie’s Kitchen an AWFUL rating. Here’s how it stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 40
  • P’s Rating: 50
  • AVERAGE: 45

Charlie’s Kitchen is located in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. If you want a good lobster roll, avoid Charlie’s. WEBSITE: www.charlieskitchen.com. PHONE: 617.492.9646.

Charlie's Kitchen Lobster Roll

Charlie’s deviled Lobster Roll. A disgusting travesty.

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Profile: “RED’S EATS” in Wiscasset, ME

Red's EatsAfter posting our inaugural lobster roll report from The Clam Shack in Kennebunk (a pre-Lobster Roll Chronicles visit very early this year), Facebook pal Jeff Beck asked how it compared to Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, ME. It took a Google Maps search for us to realize we’ve driven by Red’s many times and always noticed a long line, but we figured it was just a local hot dog joint or something. Boy were we wrong!

Red’s is one of the few 800 lb. silver back gorillas in the world of lobster rolls. Red’s Eats was named in “1,000 Places to Eat in the US & Canada Before You Die,” USA Today’s “10 Great Places to Eat Regionally, Eat Well,” and “500 Things to Eat Before its Too Late.” You get the idea. But we thought, “How could it be better than The Clam Shack?” (At this point, one of us still held Rye Harbor Lobster Pound in 1st place.) It wasn’t. Each of us actually scored both places exactly the same, bringing them each in for a tie for 2nd Place for Best Lobster Roll in Northern New England.

Red’s uses at least 1 and 1/2 lobsters in every lobster roll. Their bun is a wonderfully soft, grilled split-top hotdog roll heaped with some of the most delicious lobster meat you’ll ever have. The lobster is served with light mayo, but also with a side of melted butter – the secret weapon in lobster roll greatness (mayo AND butter, that is – The Clam Shack also uses this method).

We got to Red’s at around noon on a weekday, and found ourselves in line for about an hour. This is something you should expect if you visit Red’s… they’re just that good. But as we waited patiently in line, we were served various complimentary treats from the kitchen, including fried shrimp.

Red's Eats Line

This is the line that awaited us on the day we stopped by Red’s Eats.

We mentioned that the Red’s embraced the mayo + butter approach (although the butter at Red’s in on the side). We found this to be a consistent winning formula, even when the butter-grilled bun delivers the butter portion of the recipe. The other differentiator between places like Red’s and the wanna-bes is the use of claws, knuckles AND tails. When compared with the abysmal rolls by places like Neptune Oyster, we believe 100 out of 100 people would choose Red’s. So, there’s a note to all you aspiring chefs – from roadside line cooks to exec chefs with three Michelin stars – DON’T OVERTHINK THE LOBSTER ROLL! Use truly fresh ingredients, light mayo, top-quality roll, melted butted (either within or without), and end it. No celery, no apple, no lettuce. And, of course, every roll is made to order. Visit Red’s to see what we mean.

We give Red’s Eats a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating! Here’s how Red’s stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 94
  • P’s Rating: 93
  • AVERAGE: 93.5

Red’s Eats can be found at 41 Main Street in Wiscasset, ME.  FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Reds-Eats/175139778087?fref=ts. PHONE: 207.882.6128. Check their schedule, as Red’s is a seasonal business.

Red's Lobster Roll

Our snap of the Red’s lobster roll came out fuzzy, so we borrowed this snap from Marcrescue. We’ll be happy to remove the image upon request.

Profile: “THE BEACH PLUM” in North Hampton, NH

The Beach PlumWe heard about The Beach Plum from Facebook pal, Steve Allan. Steve saw that we were chronicling our lobster roll experiences this summer and made a strong push for us to include the Plum. We’re glad he did! In fact, The Beach Plum spent a fair amount of time in each of our Top-3 lists.

Our visit to the Plum was exactly half-way through a 40-mile road ride. So, when we finally pulled into the parking lot we were both VERY ready for a high quality lobster roll, and a bit if hydration. As such, we opted for the 10 oz. “Super Jumbo” over the standard 7 oz “Jumbo.” This increase in size by just under half is a true bargain, with only a slight increase in price from $16.49 to $19.49. We try not to get caught up too much on price, but this deal means that you’re getting the first 7 oz. for about $2.35 per oz., while the additional upgrade to the Super Jumbo costs you just $1 per 0z. – or, about 60% discount per oz. on the upgrade. Anyway, enough about economics… just know that this roll is BIG!

It’s also delicious! Top quality lobster meat with just a bit of mayo. Steve points out that they have kids cracking lobs in the back, so there’s no frozen meat here. This roll is the absolute best value of any roll in our survey, which may warrant it’s own prize! We thought we recalled a grilled roll and went online to look at other people’s photos of the Super Jumbo, but because the thing is so darned big and stuffed with so much meat that we couldn’t find any photos that clearly showed the outside of the roll!

The Beach Plum finished in our Top-10 and we give it a rating of HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – the only lobster roll with a score below 90 points to receive this rating. Here’s how the Plum stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 88
  • P’s Rating: 87
  • AVERAGE: 87.5

The Beach Plum has two location, but we visited them at 17 Ocean Boulevard in North Hampton, NH. WEBSITE: http://www.thebeachplum.net. PHONE: 613.964.7451

We forgot to take photos during this trip, so this snap is borrowed from Jax House, while the top snap is borrowed from New England Lobster Roll Reviews. We’ll be happy to remove the images upon request.

Profile: “ROY MOORE LOBSTER COMPANY” of Rockport, MA

Roy Moore Lobster CompanyRockport has long been a favorite for us, and we seem to find ourselves there at least once per month, usually via the 30-mile bike loop around Cap Ann. Right in the heart of Bear Skin Neck is another institution, Roy Moore Lobster Company. We should point out that Roy has also opened sit-down restaurant in Rockport Center called Roy Moore’s Fish Shack, but ritual calls for a visit to the original lobster shack for some chowder or a lobster roll “in the rough.” Every time we stop by Roy Moore’s, Roy himself greets us (and everyone) with a big smile and a warm welcome. Just an overall nice experience.

We’ve always thought Roy’s had pretty good, simple food. But, having recently earned out PhDs in lobster-ology, we felt compelled to return to Roy’s for an objective assessment or Roy’s rolls.

The first thing we realized was that Roy keeps a stock of finished lobster rolls stacked in his ice chest. This means that these rolls were likely made long before, and we were surprised we hadn’t ever noticed this before. This, we felt, contributed to the lack of freshness with Roy’s rolls. This is not to say that the rolls were unacceptable in any way, just that they were noticeably less fresh than those that are made to order. Additionally, we noticed that these lobster rolls were quite small, in an undersized split-top hotdog roll – in fact, they were the smallest on any rolls we had all summer. Despite the size, Roy’s lobster rolls will still set you back about $15, but perhaps the location and view from his back deck are worth the premium. In our opinion, the lobster rolls themselves were over-priced.

We like Roy Moore and will continue to stop by his place as part of our Sunday biking tradition (although Top Dog now gives Roy a run for “our” money), but we’ll likely stick with the chowder and leave Roy’s puny rolls for the tourists.

So, we’ll give an ACCEPTABLE rating – acceptable, that is, compared to the “average” lobster roll you’re likely to find out there. But compared to the big boys, Roy Moore’s is out of its class. Here’s how it stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 76
  • P’s Rating: 79
  • AVERAGE: 77.5

Roy Moore Lobster Company can be found on Bear Skin Neck in Rockport, MA.  FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Roy-Moore-Lobster-Co/125287641097?fref=ts. PHONE: 978.546.6696 Check their schedule, Roy Moore’s is a seasonal business.

Roy Moore Lobster Roll

Decent, but very small. Note the size of Roy’s lobster roll compared with the bag of chips.

Profile: “NEPTUNE OYSTER” of Boston, MA

Neptune OysterWe make frequent trips to the North End, and have walked past Neptune Oyster for years. Many, many people rate Neptune as one of Boston’s best lobster rolls, so when we started chronicling our lobster roll adventures we knew Neptune was on the short list. We initially tried them on Labor Day, but found them closed. Recently we circled back on a rainy Sunday morning to find a line of about 20 people waiting Neptune to open. Listening to people’s conversation, it seemed that most of them were first-timers, having been told that, while in Boston, you need to hit Neptune.  Needless to say, we were excited to finally check Neptune off our list.

We realize that many people will consider this review to be controversial, if not downright blasphemous. But, after spending the summer tasting the best lobster rolls New England has to offer, we can honestly say that this was one of the worst lobster rolls we’ve ever had.

Neptune Oyster provides two options – warm with butter, or cold with mayo. We’ve run into this limitation before, and wish there was a third option of warm with butter and light mayo, such as can be found at lobster roll Meccas like Red’s Eats or The Clam Shack. In fairness to Neptune, we each ordered warm with butter, this having been our preference when restricted to this choice, and in retrospect we should have ordered one of each. For all we know, the cold with mayo roll might have been better, but we doubt it. The meat itself was chopped into overcooked, marble-sized pieces so whenever you’d try to take a bit, all the little pieces would literally roll out of the roll. We’ve had much bigger lobster rolls that were much easier to eat.

The roll itself seemed pretty good – not the traditional split-top hotdog roll, but a sweeter, softer artisan roll. But we were quick to notice the puddle of reddish liquid pooled underneath the roll, making it somewhat soggy. We also wondered what, exactly, this liquid was. We expected butter, a la Rye Harbor Lobster Pound, but instead got what we thought tasted more like warm water with a slight butter flavor and lobster color. This was pretty horrible and, at a whopping $25 per roll, very disappointing (especially with lobsters selling at around $3.99 per lb).

The lobster meat was problematic. We initially assumed that it was over-cooked, but as we forced down the last of our rolls, we realized that this tasted like yesterday’s lobster. Now we’re not saying that we got yesterday’s leftovers… we’re not saying that at all. We’re simply saying is that each of us thought that’s exactly what it tasted like – old, rubbery, just plain bad. In fact, for at least an hour afterward, we still had an awful taste in our mouth, this despite numerous attempts to cleanse our palates with everything from Pellegrino to pistachio macaroons (from Maria’s, of course!). In fact, one of us actually felt a little “off” for a several hours after the Neptune experience.

How could so many people be so terribly wrong? Perhaps it was just a very bad day for Neptune Oyster. But at the end of the day we need to call ’em like we see ’em, and neither of us is in any hurry to give Neptune another chance. We give Neptune Oyster an AWFUL rating. Here’s how it stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 55
  • P’s Rating: 65
  • AVERAGE: 60

Neptune Oyster can be found at 63 Salem Street in Boston MA. WEBSITE: http://neptuneoyster.com. PHONE: 617.742.3474.

Neptune Oyster Lobster Roll

Made us feel sick for hours.

Profile: “RYE HARBOR LOBSTER POUND” of Rye, NH

Rye Harbor Lobster PoundWe stumbled upon the Rye Harbor Lobster Pound quite by accident while looking for a place to park for a Sunday road ride along the NH coast. Nestled in a row of shacks next to Rye Harbor, the only hint of its existence was a sandwich board – one of many – along Route 1a, Ocean Boulevard in Rye. The word “understated” is, well, an understatement. A couple of lawn chairs and a $10 white plastic table comprise the dining area. When you enter the shack, be sure not to step on the yellow dog! Friendly faces will welcome you and make you feel right at home, but you still don’t have a sense of what you are in for.

The lobster rolls at Rye Harbor Lobster Pound are, in a word, delicious! An electric griddle stands at the ready to toast your standard split-top hotdog roll to perfection, while the owner carefully extracts warm chunks of lobster meat from a delicious bath of buttery stock. These lobster rolls are “mayo-free,” and the lobster here is light and fluffy (the Pound also dishes up award-winning “Fluffy Clam Chowder“). When you’ve had as many lobster rolls as we have, you become quite good at detecting not only “fresh” lobster, but also lobster that is “perfectly cooked.” Rye Harbor Lobster Pound scores extremely highly in this regard – so much so that, after visiting so many of New England’s heavyweight lobster roll joints later in the summer, we felt compelled to make another stop in Rye to be sure we got it right. We feared that since we first visited the Pound following a long, hard road ride, our exhaustion and appetite must have flavored our results. Not so. Our second visit confirmed that this hidden gem has one of the very best lobster rolls you’ll ever find. In fact, for the majority of the summer, the Pound held the top spot on P’s list, and was in the top-three for T.

These rolls are a good size – not huge, but for $12.95 they are a good value. On our first visit, P chose to forego her Lay’s potato chips. To her delight, Sylvia consequently brought her a free sample of her delicious Lobster Gazpacho.

We HIGHLY RECOMMENDED the Rye Harbor Lobster Pound! Here’s how their lobster roll stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 91
  • P’s Rating: 95
  • AVERAGE: 93

The Rye Harbor Lobster Pound can be found at 1870 Ocean Boulevard in Rye, NH – 6th shack on the right. FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/ryeharborlobsterpound. EMAIL: ryeharborlobster@gmail.com. PHONE: 603.964.7845 Check their schedule, as we believe they are a seasonal business.

Rye Harbor Lobster Pound Lobster Roll

Warm, moist, fluffy, delicious! Although simple, this is one of the very best lobster rolls you’ll ever find!

Profile: “J.T. FARNHAM’S” of Essex, MA

J. T. Farnham’s is an Essex institution that is often overshadowed by it’s down-the-street competition, Woodman’s. Both restaurants are considered fried clam royalty (Woodman’s actually claims to have invented the fried clam).

JT Farnham's In the spirit of full disclosure, one of us has a definite bias for Farnham’s over Woodman’s. This is because (a) this person truly like’s Farnham’s fried clams better, and (b) Farnham’s is the “little guy” in this fight. Woodman’s is the 800 lb gorilla of area seafood establishments. We can remember the original Farnham’s family hand battering their fried clams with care. At Woodman’s, it’s more of an assembly line. Although there’s nothing wrong with Woodman’s, there is definitely a feeling that supporting them is kind of like rooting for IBM or US Steel. Woodman’s is huge, diversified, and simply put doesn’t need our help or support. We’ve had Woodman’s lobster rolls, and they’re good, but that’s about it. So, for all these reasons, we chose not to include Woodman’s in our survey.

Back to the Farnham’s lobster roll. We happened to be driving through Essex and made an unplanned stop. As is often the case, the place was hopping and we had to wait quite awhile for our order to arrive. This gave us plenty of time for us to eyeball the delicious fried clams on everyone’s table, and had us second-guessing our decision to go with their lobster roll. However, then the order arrived we were not disappointed. Farnham’s lobster roll was generously portioned, but contained much smaller chunks of lobster than we prefer. It wasn’t “lobster salad” by any stretch, but it didn’t feature the large chunks of lobster that we see from our favorite destinations. The lobster meat, which rested on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce, was a bit wet, but not so much so that it was a problem. Standard split-top hot dog roll.

This thing that trips us up about Farnham’s lobster roll is that we can’t really remember anything outstanding about it. It was good, it was fresh, but, in the end, it was unmemorable. We would stop short of recommending the Farnham’s lobster roll, but neither would we discourage you from trying it. So, we’ll give an ACCEPTABLE. Here’s how it stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 83
  • P’s Rating: 83
  • AVERAGE: 83

J. T. Farnham’s can be found at 88 Eastern Avenue in Essex, MA. They don’t appear to have a website, but their Facebook page can be found here. PHONE: 978.768.6643.

We borrowed this snap from Kathy YL Chan, and will be happy to remove the image upon request.

Profile: “THE CLAM SHACK” of Kennebunk, ME

The Clam ShackIn the spring of 2012, we loaded our road bikes onto the car and headed north to Maine for a leisurely 30-mile ride along the coast. Our route took us from Wells to Cape Porpoise, and through the towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. By coincidence, we’d just seen the Travel Channel show “Food Wars,” which featured a showdown between two local restaurants for Best Lobster Roll (you can see the episode here). The contenders were Alisson’s Restaurant of Kennebunkport, and The Clam Shack of Kennebunk. Although the two are in different towns, they are literally a stone’s throw away from each other, with the Clam Shack located just over the bridge into Kennebunk. What sparked our interest in the show was that last December we had lunch at Alisson’s and were honestly not too thrilled with the experience. In fact, we were later told by colleagues who lived in the area that “locals never go to Allison’s.” Whether this is true or not, we have no way of knowing… but we weren’t surprised by this feedback.

Based on previous experience we chose not to include Alisson’s is The Lobster Chronicles, but we feel that a comparison between the two will shine a light on the differences between The Clam Shack, and various posers. (1) The Clam Shack uses soft shell lobsters, while Alisson’s uses only hard shell. (2) The Clam Shack stores their lobsters in fresh sea water before picking, while Alisson’s refrigerates their lobsters. (3) The Clam Shack uses claws, knuckles and tails (which are more pricey), while Alisson’s uses only claw and knuckles. (4) The Clam Shack offers their lobster rolls with either mayo, butter OR BOTH, and the do NOT coat their lobster meat in mayo – instead, the mayo is spread on the bun, where Alisson’s makes their lobster rolls wet with mayo [in our travels, we found mayo+butter to be a definite advantage]. And (5), and this is a bold move, The Clam Shack uses a home-made round bun, where Alisson’s uses the traditional split-top hot dog roll. And, of course, The Clam Shack makes every roll to order.

Without giving away our results, we can enthusiastically say that The Clam Shack maintained its position as #1 Lobster Roll for the better part of the summer. We HIGHLY RECOMMENDED The Clam Shack, and here’s how their lobster roll stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 94
  • P’s Rating: 93
  • AVERAGE: 93.5

The Clam Shack can be found at 2 Western Avenue in Kennebunk ME. WEBSITE: www.theclamshack.net. EMAIL: theclamshack@adelphia.net. PHONE: 207.967.3321

The Clam Shack Lobster Roll

Since we had no idea that this visit to The Clam Shack would lead to the creation of The Lobster Chronicles, we never bothered to take a photo of the  Clam Shack lobster roll. But to show you what you’re missing, we borrowed this image from Martha Fung. We’ll be happy to take down this photo upon request.