For the Love of Lobster

Innumerable and ubiquitous are the comments that disparage the lobster. From the simple and non-descript “it’s overrated” to conceit regarding it’s supposed lack of flavor and “rubbery” (translation: poorly cooked) texture. How many times have I heard folks comparing it to its crustaceous relatives; the ever elevated crab and ginormous Gulf shrimp, degrading a dish I have forever considered a delicacy.

I’m not sure at what age my love affair with lobster began, but I vividly remember being a pre-teen girl who’s direst birthday wish was to devour a whole Maine lobster. My parents relented and took me to The Fish Market, a local seafood restaurant which opened its first location in Palo Alto in 1976. I couldn’t believe my parents were willing to drop $20 so I could enjoy an entire lobster to myself, but they did and I enjoyed every clarified-butter-drenched minute. My only sides were a cup of creamy, New England clam chowder and sliced, San Francisco sourdough with cold, sweet cream butter.

Oh the lobster-laden tales (or tails?) I could regale you with! As I’m writing, more and more memories come to the forefront. Have I ever told you about how every year during our summer vacations in Lake Tahoe we would make an appearance at Harvey’s Casino’s Friday night seafood buffet where my goal was to single-handedly wipe out the restaurants supply of baby lobster tails? Or how about the time my neighbor returned home from a vacation in Maine where her paramour lavished many gifts, including an insulated cooler full of live lobster? She gifted one to me and my then-boyfriend Aaron, and after she overheard us fretting about killing it, came over and unceremoniously dropped it in the pot.

Since I moved to New Orleans almost 20 years ago, I’ve had very little lobster in my life to speak of. In fact, I can only think of one occasion; an enjoyable late afternoon devouring a deep-fried lobster po-boy at Fat Boy Pantry. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great passion for Louisiana shellfish; brown and white shrimp, blue crab, crawfish, oysters . . . oh my! But I didn’t realize how much I missed lobster until I started hearing about a pop-up called Joel’s Lobster Rolls. Like so many transplants, Connecticut-born Joel Griffin was a college student (at Tulane University’s School of Business), who discovered a profitable niche in the local food scene because he was desperately craving a comfort-food dish from his hometown; the lobster roll.

Just looking at this picture makes my mouth water!

Yes, Joel and his New England-style rolls have been popping up all over town, with great success I might add, for a year now, but last night I finally had the means and the opportunity to get a taste.

Seeing as it was his first-ever Westbank appearance, I had a feeling I should head over early as people in the Point are ever-anxious for anything new on the neighborhood menu. Joel’s was scheduled to pop-up at the Crown & Anchor Pub starting at 5pm, so I left my house to slog three whole blocks at around 4:30pm. As I neared their stand on Pelican Avenue, I thought to myself, “Hey! I can just walk right up!” Then I made the corner only to realize there was already a hefty line stretching half the block back towards the river on Bouny Street!

After standing in a line that didn’t start moving for at least 20 minutes, I was regretting my decision to forgo a cold cocktail before cueing up. Enviously, I watched my neighbors chat as they sipped cold beers or icy Pimm’s Cups while the line crawled forward. Almost an hour after I left home, I finally made it to the front of the line and, after a bit of sticker shock ($23 per roll!), I persevered, ordered and walked home with a bag that seemed a little too small for the stack of cash it required.

The smell of butter and toasted bread permeated the air while I was standing in line, and when I opened the bag at home so John and I could dig in to dinner, the same scent filled the room. Never in my life have I devoured lobster Connecticut-style, so deceptively simple — warm lobster and clarified butter on a hot-dog shaped bun — but I will most definitely be seeking it out again. The sweet, buttery claw meat (1/4 lb. on one roll!) was the star of the show, and not outdone, which can so often happen with mild-flavored lobster, by the soft, toasted, well-buttered and slightly sweet bun. I also picked up a half-pint of Joel’s New England clam chowder and when I put the first creamy, potato-y, spoonful to my lips, I was transported back to birthdays at The Fish Market in my hometown. In fact, all apologies to my sometimes over-powering nostalgia, I believe this clam chowder was infinitely better.

I’d like to say thank you, Joel. If I had the wherewithal, you would definitely have had yet another devoted groupie.

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