USA Weekend’s May 18-20, 2007 issue threw down the gauntlet! By June, Husband and I grabbed it up and flew to Maine. The magazine’s page 7 article titled, “Top 10 Places to Eat Classic American Chow,” put Red’s Eats, of Wiscasset, Maine, at the top of the list. We were headed to Maine anyway, so the challenge was on! Determined to test USA Weekend’s Lobster Roll Highway theory, we set out to answer the question: “Was Red’s Eats truly the lobster roll king of Maine’s coastal Route 1?”
But before we could begin the quest, we had to learn the lingo of New England lobster eating. Like any good student of food, we studied. This is what we learned:
A lobster roll is nothing like a Chinese egg roll, Sicilian meat roll, or even a cinnamon roll. A lobster roll is basically lobster meat heaped into a hot dog bun that’s had it’s sides slightly sliced off to make them flatter, then grilled. Some folks mix-in a little mayonnaise to hold the lobster chunks together, and other folks add their own little special surprises. The lobster roll is a cold sandwich available seasonally, so the lines can be long in the Maine summertime. Everyone anticipates the opening of the walk-up trailers, shacks, and all the rest who throw their secret lobster roll recipes into the stiff competition along Maine’s Route 1, affectionately known as the Lobster Roll Highway.
After a flight into Boston, Massachusetts, our road trip began. We drove by Red’s Eats at noon, and their line was really long. They had a few picnic tables and an outhouse by the railroad tracks. We were not impressed at the visual.
Onward to play tourist at Owl’s Head lighthouse. After a nice hike and gorgeous view, we were back on Route 1, into Rockland, Maine. Starving by then, our virgin lobster roll experience took place at The Brass Compass Cafe . There, I had my first speech lesson in many a year, as I ordered my lobster roll.
“It’s lobstah, not lobster,” the grinning server nodded toward the menu board with l-o-b-s-t-a-h scrawled across it in red chalk.
“And a lobstah roll here is the best, right?!” I grinned back, taking a long sip of wickedly good iced tea.
“Of course!” She smiled and turned away to place our order. She seemed to appear in seconds with generous luncheon platters of lobster rolls with homemade fries and slaw for us both.
The only thing heard between Husband and I were periodic yummy sounds, until, of course, I broke the silence. He would say, and I admit, I am always the one to break the silence. “I will never eat lobstah any other way again. This beats all! The touch of mayonnaise is even good. I usually don’t like mayo. Most places overdo it in most any sandwich.”
Husband agreed. “I thought I knew my lobstah, but I see why people might stand in line! I’m glad The Brass Compass Cafe offers table service, and real plates and tableware. The lobstah chunks held together well, and tasted great. The added value of the fries and slaw is a nice surprise too. I’d stop here again.”
Back in the car, we made up excuses to say, “lobstah,” as our journey took us by many little lobster pounds and lobster roll shacks along the way. People stood in lines at most of them. Many sites didn’t even have picnic tables for their patrons to enjoy their $14.99 cold lobster roll. We soon realized that The Brass Compass Cafe was indeed a real treasure of a find in the Lobster Roll Highway in the summer of Maine’s coastal world. We not only sat at a table, but we were waited on by a friendly server inside a cozy cafe. Many folks had to stand by the side of the road to eat their expensive rolls, or hope to find a picnic table at the little roadside stands, like Red’s Eats. We were beginning to think we didn’t need to try them
Our northernmost point along the Maine coast was Bar Harbor. West St. Cafe Seaside Grill served our second lobster roll taste-testing. Since we already experienced our first lobster roll, anticipation mounted as we sipped Portland, Maine’s own blueberry soda pop . Our $13.95 lobster rolls arrived with no additional side dishes, which we learned was not uncommon. Sadly, these lobster rolls were more like lobster salad sandwiches, having too much mayonnaise mixed with too little lobster meat. However, we’d be back for their heavenly beer steamed mussels and blueberry pop!
After exploring Bar Harbor, whale and bird watching, and hiking about Acadia National Park, we headed back toward Wiscasset and Red’s Eats. A week before, we drove by Red’s little camper trailer next to the Sheepscot River, the noon lunch line had at least twenty folks patiently salivating. This time, lady luck shined on us. Only three people stood ahead of us in the early lunch line at eleven. Our Maine adventure quickly ending, we knew Red’s Eats was our last chance at a lobster roll for a very long time. They didn’t have servers or an indoor bathroom, but USA Weekend magazine’s story did introduce us to the world of lobster rolls this summer, and to Red’s. Upon closer inspection, most everyone in line were locals on their work lunch break, and we had an obligation to finish our quest.
Cold sandwich didn’t begin to describe our Red’s Eats lobster rolls.Glancing at the menu, the $15.99 price seems extravagant, particularly since sides are extra. But we quickly forgot about the cost with our first look at the guy’s lobster roll in line ahead of us. Perfectly pulled select meats were heaped onto the flat, grilled hot dog bun. Each easily weighed a generous pound. These were, by far, the biggest lobster rolls offered by the three places where we’d eaten.
Our USA Weekend magazine’s lobster roll challenge came to a tasty end. Indeed, Red’s Eats floated to the top of the lobster pot! Judging on the lobster roll itself, Red’s Eats was our king of the Lobster Roll Highway in our small comparison opportunity. Heaping mound of lobster meat, coupled with quality taste, and the fact that they put all condiments on the side put the crown on Red’s. They did offer mayonnaise, butter, and other toppings on the side. The other two lobster roll sites we visited seemed compelled to join the ranks of those who cement the lobster pieces together in the bun with some sort of condiment, whether you want it or not. Tasty? Yes, but how much more we enjoyed Red’s full-up lobster roll! We’d saved the best for last, and didn’t even know it!
Most importantly, we learned to say “lobstah!”
Before you settle on your trip to the United Kingdom, you will need to do your research about where you will be going to and what your plans will involve once you get there. Start by shopping around for cheap flights. I usually opt for http://www.expedia.com or http://www.expedia.co.uk You may find a better deal. Prices vary considerably from month to month. If you plan on visiting between June-September flights will be at the most expensive, as this is the peak tourist season. August will be about the most expensive time to travel, so bear this in mind when you are making your plans.
I looked at one airline just to see how much it would cost for a family of two to travel from Sacramento to London-Gatwick in August and it came out to $3057 per person, including the hotel, which is ridiculous! You can get a much better deal than that. Just shop around. A good time to travel to the UK is during September-early December or in January. If you fly during Christmas and Easter these periods are also very expensive times.
When you travel anywhere in the UK, do not assume that everywhere you go will be “England”. You are right to assume that there is an England in the United Kingdom, but it is only one small part of the whole country. The UK stands for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. See why we abbreviate it to the UK or Britain? It is a bit of a mouthful! The UK comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you are not talking about Northern Ireland you can call the country Britain, as this is what the mainland, minus Northern Ireland is known as.
While you are in England, you can say you are in England. But if you travel further west into Wales or up north into Scotland, then please be aware of the cultural sensitivity of many people who will not appreciate it if you call them English! Some people will be able to laugh it off. Others may take real offence at what you have said. So be careful. If in doubt, just refer to the inhabitants you come across as British, rather than trying to decipher their heritage.
When people learn I am British, I am almost always asked what part of London I am from. I am not from London and many people you come across will tell you the same thing. I have yet to discover why tourists believe people are all from London. London is a large city, of about 620 square miles. The population was over 7 million in 2001 and it keeps on growing rapidly each year, making it the largest city within the European Union and also one of the largest cities in the world. But this does not mean that every person in the UK is from London. The total British population is close to 60 million, so it would be hard for everyone to live in one city! The city is crowded enough as it is.
The British are “stuck up”
Many tourists are led to believe that the British are stuck up and that all they care about is class distinction. This could not be further from the truth! Of course, there are a small proportion of the population that are part of the ruling aristocracy, and the rich landed gentry. But this does not mean that everyone is a “Lord” or “Lady”. The royal family are rich landowners, but not everyone can afford a castle or palace to live in! You will be surprised to see how relaxed the British can be, especially if you visit a pub, have a Sunday lunch and a beer or two. Tourists are often warmly welcomed to the UK. Pubs are an ideal place to meet new people and learn more about the local village, town or city.
It is cold and it rains all the time
This is not true. Every Hollywood film I have seen that has featured the UK has always subscribed to the idea that it rains and is cold a lot of the time. I don’t know why! Actually, if you want to experience four seasons then you will do just that in the UK. Winter runs from about November to March, Spring is from March to June, Summer from June to September and autumn from September to November. This is approximate, because seasons change quite quickly and some blend into others. For example, last year the summer ran from May to the beginning of November.
So there is no telling if there will be a short or long summer. It does rain and it can get cold, but the weather is not like that all the time. The sun does shine, although, not as much as it does in California! Your best bet is to make sure you pack for all four seasons, just in case. We get used to wearing layers, so that if the weather warms up later in the day (as it usually does) you can take off a layer and still feel comfortable. The further north you go, the cooler it will get. So bear this in mind.
The food is bad
On a television show a few months ago, a question was posed about people’s perceptions of the UK. One result was the fact that the food is no good. I couldn’t believe it! It is simply not true. Modern British food is a stylish, eclectic blend of flavours that incorporate many different ingredients and taste sensations. Traditional foods have been given a modern twist, thanks in part to chefs like Jamie Oliver. Then there are strong influences from Indian, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek and many other cuisines that have helped transform the reputation of British food from mediocre to truly delightful. The result is a great selection of food options that will satisfy any picky tourist. If you can’t find any food that will tempt you, then you are obviously not looking hard enough or you are too picky for your own good!
The British are hooligans
I have heard this said to me before. If you have heard of football (soccer) events and the eruption of violence that has accompanied such events you would be forgiven for feeling this way. Such an incident actually occurred in the town I used to live in. But such incidents are isolated to a minority of people who decide to turn their enthusiasm for the sport into violence. Thankfully this is not a problem that involves every sports fan in the UK. It is just a shame that a few hooligans end up giving everyone else a bad name.
I hope that I have been able to dispel some myths that tourists have about the UK. It is easy to allow the media to portray us in a negative fashion. But if you have not seen what the country is like first hand, it can be easy to believe what you hear. The UK is a beautiful, culturally diverse country, that will delight your senses. Enjoy your trip!
After a confining 10 hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean, I arrived on the royal grounds of the United Kingdom, in the Heathrow airport. As I walked through the exiting tunnel of the plane, I became very excited and alert not wanting to miss a moment of this experience.
As I was moving through the airport it seemed as if my ears became hyper-sensitive as I somehow simultaneously tuned into several conversations going on around me; all spoken in that unmistakable British accent. I began to smile as I was very amused by this and found it quite interesting. I’m sure I maintained that smile through my whole journey through the airport.
Fortunately I was traveling with a couple of companions, which was a blessing as I was having a very hard time focusing due too the mesmerizing conversations around me.
Eventually we made it through customs and found a currency exchange center. I handed over approximately 2000 American dollars to the nice lady behind the counter, and she promptly handed me back, approximately 1000 British pounds. At this moment, despite my new found euphoria I think my broad smile had wavered as it never occurred to me the significant difference in the exchange rate.
The loss of my thousand dollars in one micro second soon faded as we found our way to a car rental business which was beside the airport proper. We were soon fitted with their best economy model. I had assumed the entire time one of my two friend would take to the driving of our fine rental car; however I quickly received to adamant “no thank you” from my peers.
Little did I know, within a very few minutes my euphoria would be transformed into stressful terror. With the drivers seat on the right hand side of the car, and having rented a manual shift model, the gear shifter must be operated with the left hand. Of course I understood I would have to drive on the opposite side of the road, but I had no idea the combination of all these opposite attributes would defy every instinct I had, of how I had learned to drive.
After the most terrifying 2 hour drive of my life, and going around one round-a-bout the wrong direction, we eventually arrived at our motel; where I promptly found the interior pub to which I had my first pint of British Ale.