Lobster in the rough
When I eat lobster, I take no prisoners. All that’s identifiable in the carnage left behind are the eyes, antennae, swimmeretes (those feathery appendages on the underside of the body), and dismembered carcass. Finished, I’m literally dripping in lobster juices.
The only place for such a messy operation is a classic lobster shack, a sometimes rough-and-tumble operation that’s usually within sight and scent of the ocean.
I’ve dined at lobster outposts from Kittery to Eastport. Some serve only lobster, others a full menu ranging from hot dogs to blueberry pie.
I favor the in-the-rough, order-at-the-counter, eat-out-on-a-picnic-table shacks. These are usually pet friendly and often come with free entertainment: You can watch lobstermen unload their catch and refuel and restock their boats. No need to dress up - better to dress down so you can skip the bib. Another plus: Most allow you to bring the go-withs, from cheese and crackers to salads and rolls to wine and beer.
And remember that while lobster prices reflect market conditions, the farther you travel from the trappings of civilization and the deeper you get into bona fide lobstering territory, the fewer frills and the less costly the goods.
When given a choice, I opt for simplicity: If the joint does only one thing, there’s a better chance it’s doing it right. Take Round Pond Lobstermen’s Co-op (Round Pond Harbor, Bristol, Pemaquid Peninsula, 207-529-5725), a more-rustic-than-most spot overlooking a picture-postcard harbor. Buddy Poland serves lobster, steamers, corn-on-the-cob, and chips. Period. When he runs low on lobster, he saunters down the dock, climbs into his dingy, putt-putts out to a lobster car - that floating crate where the crustaceans are stored - and brings back reinforcements.
For those who don’t like lobster, there’s Muscongus Bay Lobster (Round Pond Harbor, Bristol, Pemaquid Peninsula, 207-529-2251, www.mainefreshlobster.com), a larger and wee bit fancier place with a bigger menu. I have friends who favor this spot not only because of the expanded choices - lobster and crab rolls, stews and chowders - but also because it has some sheltered tables, if the weather looks threatening. It also serves fresh Pemaquid oysters, which gives it points in my book. And it earns extra points for having a touch tank filled with all manner of slimy and spiky sea critters for the kids.
While those are the two shacks I frequent, there are plenty of others along the coast. Another classic is Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier (16 Chauncey Creek Road, Kittery Point, 207-439-1030, www.chaunceycreek.com), which overlooks tidal Chauncey Creek (prettier at high tide). Like Muscongus, it has both deck and sheltered seating (heated), all at brightly colored picnic tables. The menu has choices for landlubbers - chicken dinner, hot dog - as well as mussels, oysters, cherrystones, tuna roll, and even shrimp, but lobster is why folks come. Be forewarned: It can be very crowded, parking is a nightmare, and bug spray is a must.
The scenery is top notch at the Cape Pier Chowder House (79 Pier Road, Cape Porpoise, Kennebunkport, 207-967-0123, www.capeporpoiselobster.com), which tops a pier in a traditional lobstering village. The views (bring binoculars) extend to Goat Island Light House. There’s inside seating, so it’s weatherproof, which gives it a longer season than most; it opens in April and goes to November. The menu has a lot more than lobster, and it’s open for breakfast on weekends.
If you’ve had enough of quaint fishing village vistas, head to The Lobster Shack (222 Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth, 207-799-1677, www.lobstershacktwolights.com). It has everything: rocky ledges, tide pools, crashing surf, a broad menu, dive-bombing seagulls, big-ocean views, and a lighthouse (with foghorn - avoid on a foggy day or bring earplugs). It’s a classic with frills: dining inside and out and a menu that includes sandwiches and fried seafood.
Take a break from power shopping L.L. Bean’s and the outlets and head to Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster (Main Street, Town Wharf, South Freeport, 207-865-4349, www.harraseeketlunchandlobster.com), a popular spot on the working harbor. Not much fussiness here; picnic tables on pavement and a tiny dining room are the seating options. The menu, however, is pretty extensive for a lobster joint. You can decide for yourself whether fried clams are better battered or breaded.
Five Islands Lobster (1447 Five Islands Road, Georgetown, 207-371-2990, www.fiveislandslobster.com) tops a lot of lists for favorite lobster shack, and for good reasons. The setting is idyllic. It tips a finger of bridge-connected islands. Sit on the wharf - that’s the only choice - and watch sailboats play hide-and-seek amid the spruce-topped islands in the harbor and lobster boats chug to and fro pulling traps. The headliner is lobster, but there are plenty of other options, from chowder and fish ’n’ chips (hand-breaded) to burgers and chicken tenders. It earns points for making its own tartar and mustard dill sauces and cilantro mayo. You get the idea: These folks are passionate about their products.
No less an authority than the James Beard Foundation gave Waterman’s Beach Lobster (343 Waterman’s Beach Road, South Thomaston, 207-596-7819) an award for being an “American Classic.’’ Order at the window, then grab a picnic table overlooking a working pier and island-studded Mussel Ridge Channel. It doesn’t get much better than that. But it is tiny, and given such a big reputation, expect to wait. And do save room for the homemade pie.
If the line’s too long, or you prefer something a bit more remote, segue over to nearby Miller’s Lobster Pound (Eagle Quarry Road, Spruce Head, 207-594-7406, www.millerslobster.com) on quiet Wheeler’s Bay. It’s on a working wharf, and if you time it right, you can watch lobster boats unload their catches. The emphasis is on lobster, but it serves other shellfish, hot dogs, and homemade pies, too. There is some sheltered seating. Beer and wine are served.
Way, way off the radar screen (and the highway) is Perry’s Lobster Shack (1076 Newbury Neck Road, Surry, 207-667-1955). It’s true to its name, with just three picnic tables on a pier. The menu is limited; it serves lobsters, mussels, and corn-on-the-cob. You might also be able to snag a farm-made ice cream sandwich.
Everyone knows Thurston’s Lobster Pound (Steamboat Wharf Road, Bernard, 207-244-7600, www.thurstonslobster.com) is the best lobster spot on Mount Desert Island. The two-story, screened-in dining area is built on a wharf above lobster boat-clogged Bass Harbor in a classic fishing village. Because it caters not only to tourists but also to the island’s well-heeled summer residents, it’s quite a bit snazzier (perhaps pricier, too) than most lobster spots. Still, it’s an order-at-the-counter place - just be sure to read the rules before doing so.
For the real deal, take the Bass Harbor Cruises lunch cruise to tiny Frenchboro, on Long Island, eight miles off Mount Desert Island, in Blue Hill Bay, for lunch at Lunt’s Dockside Deli (207-334-2902). Lunt’s is built on a working wharf over a harbor that’s filled with working boats, not yachts. En route, Captain Kim Strauss, who has been navigating these waters for more than 55 years, not only shares lobster lore, but also will haul up a trap or two and explain the whole process. And that knowledge makes you appreciate the critters even more.
Hilary Nangle can be reached at hilarynangle.com.