Profile: “ISLAND CREEK OYSTER BAR” in Boston, MA

Island Creek Oyster BarWe found Island Creek Oyster Bar in a roundabout way, twice over. First, we’d been to their Kenmore Square location back when it was a restaurant called Great Bay (in fact, it was our secret for Red Sox games – have some apps, valet your car, and they’d have it waiting and running as soon as the game got over. 30-minutes from last pitch to driveway!). But we’d also seen Island Creek Oysters featured on Andrew Zimmern‘s television show, Bizarre Foods. We realized neither of these points when we chose to make it the third of a three-roll day hoofing it around Boston. All we knew was two things: first, lots of people like ICOB. Second, they reportedly add all sorts of non-traditional nonsense into their roll. But what the heck… we figured we’d give them a try.

In some ways, ICOB is about as different from places like Red’s Eats and The Clam Shack as you can get. This is a high-end, glitzy restaurant with a mammoth bar and aforementioned valet guys who’ll happily park your car for you. Yet, the great equalizer is this bug from the deep we like to eat in a hot dog roll. So, despite the ambiance, we’re not sure how much of an advantage a fancy place really has over the little guys. The roll is what it is.

Island Creek Oyster Bar InteriorWe asked about the rolls here, and our bartender Vik (who later turned out to be interested in our blog) said they were great. We told him we’d be splitting our role, which seemed fine with him.We waited the usual 10-15 minutes for our made-to-order order, and were pleased to see they actually took the time to cut our roll in half, and give each of us our own plate complete with our own orders of homemade potato chips and our own servings of coleslaw. NOTE TO FUTURE CHEFS OF AMERICA: this very small, cost-free gesture makes your customers feel like you care about them. It is, at the end of the day, pretty easy to delight your customers if you just think about it. But, we weren’t going to let this feel-good service influence our ratings.

This roll was very good. A beautifully buttered brioche roll contained a subtle complex of flavors which, in the hands of a less experienced chef, could have easily gotten out of hand. So let the controversy begin. If anyone had shared these ingredients with us in advance, we’d have been far less likely to drop by ICOB. But, confronted with this roll and nothing left to do but dig in, we were so happy nobody spilled the beans. The lobster meat was sweet, moist, and very fresh. It was dressed in light mayo (which we assume may have been scratch-made), as well as a touch of crème fraîche. This fancy tweak was so nice, and really rounded out the dressing-driven moistness while avoiding more inevitable greasy mayo twang. Tiny cubes of pickle and onion snuck up on us without being “in our face,” while salt, pepper, and a few other things we can’t remember rounded out the roll.

To repeat this was a very good roll! And, despite the laundry list of ingredients (which we’d never had noticed had we not read about them in advance) we are vary happy to award Island Creek Oyster Bar with a rating of HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Here’s how they stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 92
  • P’s Rating: 91
  • AVERAGE: 91.5

Island Creek Oyster Bar is located at 500 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, MA. WEBSITE: http://islandcreekoysterbar.com. FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Island-Creek-Oyster-Bar/157874490904010?fref=ts. PHONE: 617.532.5300

Island Creek Lobster Roll

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Profile: “B AND G OYSTERS” in Boston, MA

B&G OystersNearly every “Best Lobster Roll In Boston” listing includes supposed heavyweights like James Hook & Co., Neptune Oyster, and Louie’s Alive and Kicking. Another perpetual mention goes to B&G Oysters. We’d never been, and were very much looking forward to the visit – especially after walking all the way from our disappointing visit to Yankee Lobster in South Boston. B&G is located in Boston’s South End which, if you’ve not been recently, continues to become more and more lovely. Beautiful brownstones, tree-lines streets, and lots of great restaurants and culture.

B&G Oyster InteriorB&G itself is located right on the main drag that is Tremont Street. The front entrance is closed off, so you need to go around the back and enter through an alternate entrance, before walking down into a really cool, hip setting. Dominating the restaurant is a large U-shaped bar, where we grabbed some stools overlooking the kitchen. The staff greeted us with joy. Since we intended to hit three roll joints on this crisp fall day, we opted to split a roll.

In a brief digression, we can tell you with complete certainty that you can tell a lot about a restaurant by how they handle the split roll order. Do they (a) give you the roll as a single order as if you were one person; (b) do they do you the favor of providing you with another plate; or (c) do they split the sides and give you two mini-versions of what you would have gotten had you each ordered your own roll. Keep an eye on this, rollsters, and make your own judgement.

Anyway, back to B&G (who served us as if we were one person). This was a very pretty roll, and very pretty serving. The roll itself was a bit higher-end than the standard split-top hotdog roll, but was in the same ballpark. It was toasted but, again, lacked the beautiful salted-butter bottom that is, on our opinion, one of the quickest and easiest ways to make a mediocre roll pretty good. The lobster meat itself was fresh and moist, lightly dressed. But the roll was apparently drizzled with lemon juice – a treatment that’s much better left to the customer. We felt there was too much lemon juice on this roll. It also featured chopped chives, which was OK, but was likely as much cake decorating as it was meaningful flavor contribution. By the way, the fries, coleslaw, and pickle sides were actually really good.

We really wanted to like this roll. And, we’ll go as far as to say that we didn’t dislike it. But so far as we’re concerned, this role does not belong in the same company The Galley, Reds, or Clam Shack, and we’re awarding them a rating of ACCEPTABLE. Here’s how they stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 84
  • P’s Rating: 83
  • AVERAGE: 83.5

B&G Oysters is located at 550 Tremont Street in Boston, MA. WEBSITE: http://www.bandgoysters.com/. FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/bandgoysters?fref=ts. PHONE: 617.423.0550

B&G Oysters Lobster Roll

A very pretty roll, and not bad. But far from lobster roll greatness.

Profile: “YANKEE LOBSTER COMPANY” in Boston, MA

Yankee Lobster CompanyYankee Lobster Company is located in the Seaport District, right next to the Bank Of America Pavillion. A staple of the South Boston waterfront since the 1950s, Yankee Lobster regularly appears on various best lobster roll lists. We had never been, and had been looking forward to our visit for some time. We arrived at noon on a Sunday, and were surprised to see the place hopping. This felt strange, as the surrounding area is primarily commercial, and on a Sunday this part of town really does feel like a ghost town. But, here we were, happily waiting in line, having been lucky enough to snag the last remaining open table. We waited about ten minutes for our made-to-order roll, while admiring all the history hanging on the walls. Generally, the place felt pretty good. We noticed there was a 50-50 mix of tourists and locals.

Yankee Lobster Company InteriorThis roll is not large. The roll itself is a standard split-top hotdog roll which was toasted but devoid of any buttery taste. The lobster meat tasted fresh, but was actually quite dry. It’s unusual to hear us say so, but this roll could have definitely benefited by a bit more mayo. And, although we are pretty firmly entrenched in the anti-celery camp, the celery that came in this role was diced so small, it really didn’t distract from the overall experience.

What did distract from the experience, though, was an nearly complete absence of taste. This roll completely lacked a buttery bottom. There was no zip or tang typically provided by mayo (or, God forbid, Miracle Whip). We weren’t even provided with the gratuitous lemon wedge. We will say that Yankee’s coleslaw and crispy fries were actually pretty good. If only the roll itself could have held up its end of the bargain.

In sum, we were pretty disappointed by our visit to Yankee Lobster. We’ll award their lobster roll with an ACCEPTABLE rating, but that’s only because we don’t really have a BARELY ACCEPTABLE rating. Here’s how they stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 75
  • P’s Rating: 77
  • AVERAGE: 76

Yankee Lobster Company is located at 300 Northern Ave in Boston. WEBSITE: http://yankeelobstercompany.com/. FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Yankee-Lobster-Co/111734038864174?fref=ts. PHONE: 617.345.9799

Yankee Lobster Company Lobster Roll

Yankee Lobster’s roll. Surprisingly tasteless.

Profile: “LOBSTA LAND” in Gloucester, MA

Lobsta Land is located off of Route 128, just before the big bridge over the Annisquam River. As such, although they’re technically in Gloucester, Lobsta Land is definitely “off-island.” We wondered if this might lead to some bias amongst Cape Ann “on-island” purists. Yet, it’s a definite destination for locals and has been in business for years and years. Neither of us had even been to Lobsta Land until we dropped in a few years ago on the very strong recommendation of a friend. At that time, we were really disappointed by some pretty poor customer service. If not for The Chronicles we’d probably never have gone back, but there exists a very loyal contingent of Lob Landers who’s conviction and enthusiasm convinced us to give them another try.

We dropped in after a long hike and were quite hungry. And, since it was a football Sunday, we opted to seat ourselves in the lounge. Quite surprisingly, the place was completely empty. Lobsta Land gets a pass, though, as it was the first really nice day in a long time so people were likely taking in the sunshine. Our server, Zoe (who actually runs a very cool vegan baking blog you can visit here), told us it was very unusual to be so slow. We asked “How are the lobster rolls,” and she cheerfully shared that Lobsta Land won Best Lobster Roll North Of Boston 2012 by Boston Magazine. Well that was good to hear but the proof is in the pudding.

We each ordered a roll and were pleased with the turn around time. These rolls came in a beautifully butter-grilled brioche roll with no lettuce or any other nonsense. Just to emphasize, the roll DEFINITELY makes a difference! The lobster meat itself was very fresh and was lightly dressed with just a bit of mayo. One thing we noticed was that these rolls seemed to be made mostly of claw meat. We love lobster tail, but in this case the mostly-claw construct was in no way a negative.

Based on previous experience, we expected to be disappointed in these rolls. We weren’t. They were delicate, fresh, perfectly dressed, and featured the requisite bottom of a really nice roll that was butter grilled and had a great foundation. All in all, this was a really great roll. The fact that it was accompanied by a large order of crispy fries and home-made coleslaw (an great, friendly service) was a bonus.

Lobsta Land was refreshingly respectable, and actually really good. If we lived nearby we’d be there all the time. We award Lobsta Land with a rating of HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Here’s how they stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 92
  • P’s Rating: 91
  • AVERAGE: 91.5

Lobsta Land is located at Exit 12 off of Route 128, 84 Causeway Street in Gloucester, MA. WEBSITE: http://www.lobstalandrestaurant.com/home.html. FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lobsta-Land-Restaurant/120860174608565?fref=ts. PHONE: 978.281.0415.

A really great, sweat roll rooted in lobster roll tradition. Really great!

Profile: “THE CLAM BOX” in Ipswich, MA

The Clam BoxAfter a brisk 5-mile hike through the dunes at Crane Beach, we were fully prepped for the short drive north to visit The Clam Box to give their lobster rolls a try. We’ve been here before, pre-Chronicle days, and have driven by its distinctive “clam box architecture” countless times. As you might imagine, The Box is famous for their fried clams, and many locals claim their clams are the best around (which they aren’t). But we were surprised to hear so many roll hounds claim The Box was their favorite lobster roll joint.

As is nearly always the case there was a pretty long line at The Box, and we waited while the friendly counter girl took orders from those ahead of us in line at what seemed a glacial rate of speed. You know, this can be pretty aggravating at times, but in this case our smiling order taker was simply taking very special care to get everyone’s order exactly right, so we really couldn’t complain. After finally placing our order, we sat on a long wooden bench near the pick-up windows waiting for our number to be called. This position gave us a birds-eye view of the massive fried clam, scallop, and fish platters being distributed by several more smiling and courteous youthful staffers. After about 10-minutes, we picked up our tray and headed out to the picnic area to enjoy the tail end of a warm, sunny Fall day.

As for how we graded The Clam Box’s lobster roll, we should begin by saying this roll really wasn’t bad. They weren’t huge, but they were stuffed pretty full with claw, knuckle and tail meat, all very lightly dressed with a touch of mayo. There was nothing at all offensive these rolls, and we didn’t feel ripped off. Conversely, these rolls were remarkably unremarkable – that is, there was absolutely nothing outstanding or memorable about them. The roll itself was a standard New England-style split-top hotdog bun that was prettily grilled, but it lacked that “butter-grilled” flavor that adds such a nice bottom to the best roll experiences. We wondered if perhaps The Box simply under-buttered our rolls, or maybe they were using unsalted butter (or, God forbid,  some tasteless butter substitute?). Regardless, it lacked bottom, leaving us longing for a Top-10 roll (which this roll certainly isn’t).

Between the roll and the lobster meat was a bed of cut iceberg lettuce. The lobster meat itself was, again, not offensive, but it wasn’t singing of freshness either. We tried to pin down what we were getting, and our conclusion was that this meat tasted like it had been made yesterday and then refrigerated overnight for today’s use. We have no idea if this is what happened, we’re just saying that’s the impression we got. The meat wasn’t overcooked or rubbery, but it wasn’t sweet and succulent, either. If we were to stretch to find something positive to say, it would be that the size and and variety of meaty chunks used in this roll were definitely good.

The Clam Box scores an ACCEPTABLE rating. Here’s how they stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 83
  • P’s Rating: 82
  • AVERAGE: 82.5

The Clam Box is located at 248 High Street in Ipswich MA. WEBSITE: http://www.ipswichma.com/clambox. PHONE: 978.356.9707. The Clam Box is a seasonal business.

The Clam Box Lobster Roll

Not a bad lobster roll, but mostly unmemorable.