Part of my unspoken objective for this vacation was to eat as much lobster, in as many different forms, as I could. Part of my pre-vacation preparation was an 18th birthday celebratory pedicure with my daughter where I chose the OPI polish color I Eat Mainely Lobster. I achieved my goal and forever put to rest the notion that The Red Lobster is a lobster restaurant. Locals in Massachusetts and Maine take their lobster seriously and have clear opinions about where to spend your money on this treat. Even though I read that lobster prices are lower than they have been for decades, and we did see it for sale wholesale along the road for as low as $3.95 a pound, it is still a delicacy when it is prepared for you. I had read extensively before we left about the specific locations of the best lobster shacks, and was extremely disappointed when we blew right past Red’s Eats in Wicasset – presumably home of the best lobster roll and evidenced by the long line of waiting patrons. We did, however, manage to visit three classic shacks that deserve description.
Mac’s On the Pier – Wellfleet, Massachusetts
Mac’s website proudly claims that they have been buying fresh seafood from Cape Cod fishing families since before buying local was in style. The three restaurants they run in Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro have a mission of quality, traceability and sustainability. We visited the Wellfleet Pier location for lunch on my birthday. Even though it was cloudy and drizzling a bit, there were diners sitting out under umbrellas at several of the picnic tables near the water.
At Mac’s, you place your order at the window after selecting from a crazily extensive menu that even includes sushi. I wanted my first Cape Cod Lobster Roll and David ordered an Oyster Po’ Boy.
Wellfleet is known for its oysters and his sandwich roll came stuffed with lightly battered deep fried oysters and Mac’s homemade Poor Man’s sauce, which he described as a spicy aioli. My lobster meat was in a light mayonnaise dressing with chopped red onion and a bit of celery on a roll with lettuce. Yum!
Our second visit was on our way out of Cape Cod. This time the sun was shining and we were going for fried food Nirvana. After asking on many occasions for fried oysters in Provincetown, we knew we could get them at Mac’s. One order of Fried Oysters, one order of Clam Strips (I swear I haven’t ordered them since Howard Johnson’s in my childhood) and – what the heck! – Onion Rings! A vegetable! With ketchup! Another vegetable! Three piles of crunchy brown food behind us, we headed to Maine and Boston rush hour traffic knowing we wouldn’t be hungry on the way.
Waterman’s Beach Lobster – South Thomaston, Maine
Waterman’s is a Lobster Shack which the James Beard Foundation proclaimed “the quintessential Maine experience”. After settling into our Owl’s Head cabin, we put on sweatshirts ready to brave the breeze, brought a bottle of Truro Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay and headed to the waterfront. The parking lot was packed and the front seating area of the shack spilling with 50th anniversary party guests, but a covered seating area behind the restaurant was out of the wind and away from the partiers.
We ordered two 1 1/4 pound lobster dinners with steamers. We poured our wine into the provided plastic cups and admired the array of wine bottles left behind by previous diners on the railing surrounding us. Our waitress brought out two trays with 1 1/2 pound lobsters – extras from the party group at no extra charge – clams, clam broth, corn on the cob, a fresh roll, a plastic cup of melted butter and a bag of Lays potato chips.
Although the clams were a bit sandy, the lobster was succulent and the dining experience “the real thing”. Plastic bib and all. Obviously locals eat here. There was a couple that sat down next to us and never spoke to each other once as they devoured their lobsters and washed them down with a six-pack of Pabst. We stayed until it was dark, eavesdropping on the drunken conversation of the anniversary party family as they divided up the leftover bottles of wine. James Beard may have had other clientele in mind, but these Mainers were as true blue as the blueberry pie they also served at Waterman’s!
Perry’s Lobster, Newbury Neck
Over breakfast at The Wave Walker Bed and Breakfast, our innkeeper, Donna, said she didn’t understand why anyone would drive to Bar Harbor to pay too-much money for lobster when they had the real deal three miles up the road.
Perry buys directly from the boats of the lobstermen who catch in the waters directly beyond the seating dock.
We were surprised to be shown to our picnic table with the direction that the seating on the end of the pier was reserved. From where I sat, I watched the live lobsters being lowered into the steaming – not boiling – pots of local sea water where the ears of corn and steamers were cooked as well. We decided to do a soft shell vs hard shell comparison. Though the lobster seemed to taste the same, the hard shell was more meaty. We were the only diners who did not bring a cooler, and one couple with a small child had brought a salad in plastic bowl as well. It was obvious no one had driven out of their way to get there, and we probably wouldn’t have stopped without a recommendation, but once again, we felt grateful for being welcome at unadorned local landmark.
Footnote – I didn’t exactly heed Donna’s advice. After touring Acadia National Park we drove into Bar Harbor and parked the car to wander the town amongst the tourists who had spilled off of the eye-sore of a cruise ship parked in the middle of the harbor. Since it was lunchtime and the sun was shining, we decided to order one more (over-priced) lobster roll at the take out window of a restaurant on the pier. Perhaps because we ate them overlooking the shining water – or perhaps because they were served with Cape Cod Chips – these were the tastiest rolls of the trip. The rolls were warm and buttery and the lobster meat lightly mayonaissed and peppered to perfection.