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

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: “JAMES HOOK AND CO” in Boston, MA

James Hook & Co.Anyone who grew up in or around Boston will recognize the name of James Hook & Co. An institution since 1925, James Hook was situated at the entrance to the Fort Point Channel. Their sign with the angular white lettering against their brown building was a landmark. That is, until 2008 when a fire consumed its main building, along with 60,000 lbs of lobster. Over $5 million in damages to the property didn’t stop the Hook family from rebuilding. And although the landmark facility is now gone, Hook remains in business to this day.

We were on our bikes and decided to swing by Hook to split a lobster roll. The place was crowded, so we stood in line for awhile. When our turn came, we noticed that there were completed lobster rolls in the display case, a la Roy Moore’s. Luckily, the clerk asked if we would like our roll toasted, which we did, so our roll ended up being made to order. We took our lunch out to the old drawbridge leading to South Boston to enjoy our roll in the sunshine.

James Hook & Co InteriorThis roll was very good. Buttery, toasted split-top hotdog bun filled with delicious, fresh and flaky lobster meat. This roll had a bit more mayo than necessary, but not so much that it detracted from the tender lobster meat. We were surprised to hear people mention light celery in their reviews, because as far as we could tell there was no celery in ours. In many ways, this roll was very traditional, and reminiscent of Shaw’s or Harraseeket, but was even simpler in that there was no lettuce lining the roll, winning additional style points for Hook. And at about $12.99, you’ll have a very difficult time finding a better value in all of Boston.

We really liked James Hook & Co.’s lobster roll, and awarded it a rating of HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Here’s how they stacked up (0-100):

  • T’s Rating: 90
  • P’s Rating: 90
  • AVERAGE: 90

James Hook & Co. is located at 15-17 Northern Avenue in Boston, MA. WEBSITE: http://jameshooklobster.com. PHONE: 617.423.5501.

James Hook & Co Lobster Roll

James Hook & Co.’s lobster roll is delightful in its simplicity. We had no camera with us on this visit, so we borrowed this snap from Jo Boston. We’ll be happy to remove the image upon request.

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.