Is there really any such thing as a person who isn’t a butter lover? Of course, a bun soaked in butter before being grilled is always ideal, and an undisputed feature of a great lobster roll. That’s something we can all agree on. But debate rages among lobster roll fans about which style of lobster roll is better: The “Connecticut Style,” which fills that bun with hot lobster meat covered in butter, or the “Maine Style,” which features cool lobster meat tossed lightly with mayonnaise.
There are even places in Maine that have devised a happy compromise: Cold meat with melted butter. I suppose you could call this the “Connecticaine” or maybe “Maineticut” style. When I can’t decide, I like to go with both, and order “Maine Style” with melted butter on the side, then dip my cold mayoed lobster rolls in the hot butter to maximize deliciousness and fat content.
If you’re devoted to the “Connecticut Style” lobster rolls, here are some of my favorite options for buttery, mayonnaise-free goodness:
The Clam Shack
2 Western Ave, Kennebunk, ME 04043; (207) 967-2560; theclamshack.net
If there is a tastier lobster roll on this planet, I have yet to find it, and that’s not due to a lack of trying. The round bun is bakery fresh, from Reilly’s Bakery in Biddeford. The lobster meat is fresh, whole, uncut tail, claw and knuckle meat cooked in seawater for perfect texture and flavor. The meat is served cold, and you have a choice of butter drizzled on, mayo spread on the bun, or both, if you’re feeling dangerous. On a summer day, the warm buttery grilled bun and hot butter brings the meat to a cool, melt-in-your-mouth temperature. If I have one complaint about the Clam Shack lobster roll, it is that while this temperature combo works great in the summer, on a chilly fall day, or if you don’t eat it immediately, the butter can tend to harden up, giving it that coagulated texture that just isn’t good. But, even when that happens, I still think it’s one of the best lobster rolls I’ve ever encountered.
41 Water St, Wiscasset, ME 04578; (207) 882-6128
As you probably know if you’ve ever driven up Route 1 in the summer, this is easily the most famous and controversial lobster roll in Maine. Controversial because it’s pretty easy to hate on a place that makes you sit in traffic for hours, and/or wait in line for over an hour for a lobster roll. However, those issues aside, this really is one of the great lobster rolls in Maine. Even if they don’t cook or pick the meat themselves, it is prepared so flawlessly, and served fresh and uncut. Uncut meat can only be pulled off if it is cooked so that you can easily bite through the meat without pulling the whole thing out of the bun. They serve the naked meat with a side of melted butter poured straight from a tea kettle for dipping or drizzling.
894 Minot Ave, Auburn, ME 04210; (207) 777-5871; macsdowneastseafood.com
Mac’s gives you several options for your lobster roll: You can go with hot dog bun, or sub-sized bun. Your other choice is between lobster salad, which is claw and knuckle with mayo, or “clearmeat”, which apparently is fresh picked, tail, claw and knuckle meat, and obviously the way to go. You might want to ask for more butter on the side, as they tend to go pretty light for a butter lover like myself.
Bite Into Maine
Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth, ME; (207) 420-0294; biteintomaine.com
Part of me wishes this little trailer in the gorgeous Fort Williams Park wasn’t getting so popular, so that I could keep it all to myself. But, sharing is caring, I guess, and their popularity is richly deserved. Bite into Maine has quite a few adventurous options in lobster roll choices, including one with coleslaw, and another with wasabi. But, I haven’t actually tried any of those, because I don’t want to miss a chance to eat the butter option. This lobster roll is the one for those who prefer not to have tail meat included in their roll. The tender claw and knuckle meat is fresh picked and served unadorned and cool, not overly chilled, with a side of butter for your drizzling pleasure.
Portland Lobster Co.
180 Commercial St, Portland, ME 04101; (207) 775-2112; portlandlobstercompany.com
Right in the heart of the Old Port, this full-service restaurant serves up a lobster roll with huge, tasty chunks of fresh lobster, drizzled with melted butter. This is a great place to take your non-lobster-loving friend,s as it has a full menu and serves wine and beer at tables overlooking the port. The challenge with this lobster roll is that the meat is a little too chilled, so that the melted butter hardens up as soon as it hits the meat. Because of this, I suggest getting the butter on the side.
49 Atlantic Ave, Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538; (207) 633-7120; thelobsterdock.com
As far as I’m aware, or have eaten, this is the only truly traditional “Connecticut Style” lobster roll to be found in Maine. It has all the elements that define the form: Buttery grilled top split bun, fresh picked tail, knuckle and claw meat, served hot and coated in butter. Overall, this one doesn’t manage to be one of my favorite representatives of the hot lobster roll. But in fairness, that opinion could be colored by the fact that one of my very favorite lobster rolls, Boothbay Lobster Wharf, is right down the street.
Looking for more ideas? Also of note is Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, who serves a brown butter hot lobster roll option, which I have not had the pleasure of trying just yet. It won the “Editors Choice” at the Lobster Roll Rumble in NYC this year. Eventide’s lobster rolls are not for the traditionalist, but their cold version was so good it managed to completely change my mind about the concept of lobster roll creativity.