Truth be told, I didn’t even know what a lobster roll tasted like until I visited Wilmington’s new eatery, The Maine Lobster Roll Company. I’m originally from the Midwest, which isn’t exactly known for its seafood. Apparently, though, the lobster roll craze is alive and well down South, despite my lack of knowledge on the New England staple. So when Maine Lobster Roll Company opened in Monkey Junction, tucked away in a strip mall, my girlfriends and I headed in for lunch.
We initially had the place to ourselves, but as the clock ticked, more folks trickled in. The Maine Lobster Roll Company is a no-frills eatery with a borderline sterile atmosphere: florescent lighting, not much on the walls and lack of music. The menu is very straightforward also. Yet, the service warms up everything.
The restaurant naturally specializes in lobster rolls, but they also have soups and options for folks who aren’t crustacean crazy, including grilled cheese and a BLT. However, we were there for all things—well, most things—lobster. They have four rolls to choose from: the Mainah (served cold with mayonnaise), the Stonington (served warm with butter), the Rockland (a chilled lobster salad with lobster, mayonnaise, celery and chives, served on a bed of lettuce), and the Portland (a cold lobster BLT). Each roll comes as a half, whole or hearty, and is served with a side of coleslaw.
One of my girlfriends went with a half Stonington, and I landed on a half Portland. I also got a cup of lobster bisque with a “kicker,” which is 4 ounces of additional lobster meat. Our third lunch pal got a bowl of New England clam chowder. Chips and soft drinks are available, as well as a selection of whoopie pies from Steve’s Snacks Bakery in Skowhegan, Maine.
All of the lobster meat is very fresh and high quality. The buns for both rolls come split-top, brushed with butter and briefly grilled. The simultaneous crunch and soft chew of the rolls provide a lovely balance to the sinewy lobster.
Overall, both rolls taste perfectly fine. Facebook tells me folks hailing from the Northeast are crazy for them, which also lets me know maybe lobster rolls just aren’t for me. The Portland is good, but what I found myself enjoying the most was the salty bacon because, altogether, the dish is a touch underseasoned. I cracked some coarse salt over it to zhuzh it up, but it just made it salty, not really salted.
The same can be said for the Stonington. The only difference: I learned I prefer lobster warm with butter instead of cold with mayonnaise. Both rolls are remarkably well-priced at $10 and $11, especially since the portions of lobster are generous. A little salt and some acid from a lemon wedge really brought it home for me.
My biggest takeaway from Maine Lobster Roll Company is the authentic flavor of New England Clam Chowder. All bowls and cups I have encountered in the past have been thick, saucier versions, made with the addition of flour. Maine Lobster uses starch from its potatoes, combined with milk or cream, which lends creaminess to the classic chowder. While adding flour detracts from the flavor of the clams, Maine Lobster’s is a perfect balance—still soupy yet filled with flavorful shellfish and square potatoes.
Once again, I think the dish would benefit from heavier seasoning. A little salt and pepper at the table helps, but there’s nothing like a soup simmering in its own seasonings for long periods of time. It allows the flavors to develop more deeply, which also would benefit the lobster bisque—a creamy and tangy mixture. Though it tastes great, on this particular day, my bisque wasn’t very hot, which made the texture a bit wobbly. Excited for the “kicker,” the 4-ounce ramekin of lobster came cold, so the temperature of my soup dropped even more. I think a big stir in the soup warmer probably would solve the issue, as those pieces of equipment are known to keep the liquid at the bottom of the warmest.
The restaurant offers a 12-ounce portion of their coleslaw to go, which they decided to do after lots of positive feedback from customers. And I get it! I almost got one myself. It is simple but just so yummy: shredded green cabbage, mayonnaise and celery seeds. It provides a perfect crunch!
Northern natives will be happy to hear the restaurant also carries Moxie, the official soft drink of Maine. It is not a far cry from root beer, much to my chagrin and one of my friend’s delight. I’m not a root beer person and she is, so now she has a new favorite soda.
Once the weather warms up, I’d like to go back to Maine Lobster Roll Company and munch on a Stonington while I pick the brains of its owners about where to visit in Maine. Or maybe during the next cold snap, I’ll go for a grilled cheese and bowl of lobster bisque. Even if Maine lobster rolls aren’t for this Michigan girl, it’s clear lobster lovers find them wicked good. And who knows? Maybe I’ll become a convert yet.