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!”