I have to confess something. On its own I find lobster to be overrated. Now, before you get all up in arms, remember that overrated does not mean bad. Lobster is delicious. It’s sweet, it’s light, and drowned in drawn butter, it’s a quintessential summer experience. It’s just that for the amount of money you pay, the amount of meat you actually get, and the amount of damn work that goes into actually eating it, I just don’t know that for me it’s worth it. I’d pick clams, scallops, or shrimp (except peel and eat shrimp-peel and eat shrimp is my nightmare) all day over lobster.
Except, the lobster roll.
I am obsessed with lobster rolls. They are by far one of my favorite foods, and like actual lobster itself, a real treat, because despite their simplicity, in my humble opinion, they are hard to execute, and they don’t just appear on every menu. I don’t know that I ever had a bad lobster roll, per say, but I firmly believe that in order to have a truly good and filling lobster roll, you almost have to be in New England, or close enough proximity to receive fresh, New England lobster, which fortunately, we’re just on the cusp of. Last Labor Day while I was sitting at a riverside bar in Milwaukee, I overheard the man at the table next to me raving about how that particular RIVERSIDE BAR IN MILWAUKEE had the best lobster roll he’s ever tasted. That man made me sad for him.
All of this has really just been an excuse for me to tell you about the greatest lobster roll I’ve had, before I segue way into the more topical subject of getting a taste of great New England seafood right here in Pennsylvania. A couple of weeks ago, my brother, father, and I took a road trip up to the great state of New Hampshire (this is not sarcasm…I’ve learned this year that New Hampshire is in fact, the scallop of states, that is to say, vastly UNDERRATED). We went up to visit Manchester, home of St. Anslem’s college, my father’s alma mater, and on the way up, made a pit stop at Hampton Beach, to drive along the New England coast, and get some proper seafood. Unfortunately, the weather was shitty, so our drive was pleasant, albeit short, but that all didn’t matter due to my experience at Markey’s Lobster Pool in the small town of Seabourn.
Markey’s, like any good seafood joint, is located directly on the bay, and is decidedly no frills. You eat on picnic tables, the drinks come in styrofoam cups, and there is not wait staff. I find great seafood joints something akin to great wing joints: which is, the divier, the better. Markey’s is not divey, and is well kept, but it’s not fancy at all.
Basically, the best seafood comes from places where you sit on picnic tables and are in charge of clearing your own table.
I’m not great at describing food, so you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that this lobster roll was legit. It was the perfect sized bread, the perfect slight toastiness, the perfect ratio of lobster, and an even more perfect ration of mayo. There’s a real fine line between too much and too little mayo and by God, they got it right. It was also huge, and fresh. Usually lobster rolls leave me hungry. This one did not. I also want to give a shout out to their fried clams. These were the best fried clams I’ve ever had, and tasted like they were caught that morning. My only regret is that I didn’t get one for the road.
Now, that I got that out of my system, back to PA. I spent last weekend in Philadelphia, visiting my sister and got to experience great New England seafood, for a second weekend in a row, and having to only drive two, versus five hours.
For my brother and my birthday, knowing our obsession with lobster rolls, my sister got us a gift card to the Oyster House, an upscale seafood restaurant in Rittenhouse, whose main draw is ostensibly its raw bar, but whom purportedly has “the best lobster roll in Philadelphia.” We were all set to try those out, but a few days before the trip while perusing the website, my brother found their “dump dinner,” which essentially is their version of a New England clam bake: clams, mussels, lobster, oysters, sausage, potatoes, and kale (Editor’s note: kale and kale sycophants are the worst), steamed together and served with fries and coleslaw. At $25.00 a person, it’s actually a steal, and comes with options of doing either a $25.00 all you can drink and/or $15.00 raw bar add on, which is cool, and would be perfect for a large group.
I ended up being really impressed with this. Usually with these deals, again, someone is left hungry, but my sister and I, who ended up splitting one “dump” (which serves two), ended up not being able to finish ours. It probably didn’t help that we did partake in both some raw and cooked oysters (tip: get the jalapeno roasted oysters), as well as literal handfuls of oyster crackers, beforehand, but the serving was still more than generous. We didn’t do the booze add on, mainly because we didn’t have the time to sit afterwards as we were meeting friends, but if you’re going to be able to sit for a while, it’s a good deal.
I did wash my dinner down with a nice Narragansett pounder. Narragansett, like New Hampshire and scallops, is underrated. It’s also the official beer of the clam and absolutely what you should be drinking with a seafood feast.
Bonus: Oyster House is located right next to one of my favorite Philadelphia dive bars, Oscar’s, so we were forced to sit and consume some $4.00 22 oz Yuenglings there while we waited for a table.
The next day, before getting on the road, my brother and I had an early dinner at Luke’s Lobster, also in Rittenhouse (in fact, that two are in easy walking distance from one another). Luke’s is a chain, which started in Maine, but has locations, in Boston, New York, CT, and even DC. Its focus is on local, sustainable, and fresh seafood, and while for better or worse, I normally don’t put that much stock into where the food I’m eating comes from (full disclosure, I can’t tell with most foods, but I mean, you’re talking to a guy who actively loves McChickens), but with seafood, I do believe it makes a difference). I also like Luke’s because it’s different-the lobster roll is served with the requisite mayo, and toasted bun, but topped with their special vinaigrette, which makes it stand out (I also learned via their website that they are firmly AGAINST celery in lobster rolls. Agreed Luke’s. Celery is the worst). Luke’s also serves shrimp rolls (great), and crab rolls (never had), and has a great sampler (all three, plus crab claws), that I keep meaning to get. Bonus is that it’s a cool, little underground spot, and also BYOB, which would make it the perfect place to start a Saturday afternoon. All meals also come with Cape Cod Potato Chips, which heightens the authentic feeling, and I enjoy that the only dessert is ice cream sandwiches.
So, is there anywhere else in PA you think has exceptional seafood, especially lobster rolls? Has anyone ever had one from Mr. Bill’s Seafood in Lancaster’s Central Market (they were always sold out by the time I made my way down)? Let me know. Also, is there anyone out there who’s ever had a lobster roll from McDonalds? I’m both horrified and really curious.