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Dec 17, 2012 09:20 AM

The New Belle Isle

Only seen a couple of posts since Belle Isle moved across the bridge from East Boston to Winthrop, so I thought I'd make a handy thread for discussion on the new location as we went there yesterday afternoon for the first time since the move.

Been to the old location probably 50 times, and since we live south of Boston and outside 128, you know that we must love Belle Isle to go that far that often.

First impressions:

Building is much more substantial

Plenty of parking (although if the place fills up, I wonder if this might change), and nice not to be on the street or in the rutted back lot.

BATHROOMS! And even with some nice decoration (check out the seaglass inspired trim on the walls)! Big step up from the gallon sized jar of generic Purel!

Big counter, new menu boards (a bit further away than the old ones, I'll bring my glasses in next time!), more people behind the counter (and, it appeared, in the kitchen), Pepsi dispensing machine (instead of the 20 ounce bottles), little red buzzing lobsters to let you know when your food is ready, 2 big screen TVs, and BEER AND WINE!

Seating area is huge, probably can seat 100 people inside, and it looked like there might be outside seating as well. Windows facing the old location and across the harbor, looked like they will open nicely in warm weather. Seating is mostly large picnic bench style, with fixed benches. Easily can fit 8 at a table. Also two traditional tables with chairs with backs in the middle of the floor, and a couple booths on the wall furthest from the windows.

For 3PM on a rainy, cold Sunday afternoon, the place was busy! Must have been 25 people eating or waiting for food when we got there. Considering the old place was crowded with 15 people, this bodes well for Belle Isle.

We always get the same thing: Me, a lobster roll with fries, her, a lobster roll with onion rings. But now there was an option! The traditional roll is still $19.99, but you can get a Tail Only roll for $27.99. Tempting, but not tempting enough for us to bite.

Comments: With all the new staff to take care of the customers, I fear we may lose a little of the familiar touch. I've always been recognized at the counter and my wife and my regular order has always been known. I have no problem placing my order, but that was a nice, homey touch that I fear I will miss.

Sign warned that food was taking 10-15 minutes, but our lobster rolls were ready in about 5-7 minutes -- our little electric lobster buzzed and we picked up our late lunch. I did see the staff bringing food to some customers which was nice.

The food. So you know, we rank Red's Eats as 100 on the Lobster Roll scale. Belle Isle has always been a 99 for us, with nothing else consistently over 95 (and we've taken a few "Lobster Roll Quests", where we drive ridiculous distances and eat way too many lobster rolls). We opened the carefully folded paper and this is what we noticed (note: This is based on a single sample and may not be indicative of anything):

1) Sandwich was piled high, and the lobster was falling off the sides of the roll, but it seemed smalled, end to end
2) There appeared to be more lettuce underneath the meat than before (3 leaves vs. 1)
3) The ratio of tail to claw/knuckle meat seemed to be lower than in the past. Could this be because of the "tail only" alternative? I don't know.

Conclusion: The lobster roll was delicious, but we give it a 97, instead of a 99. Still the best option south of Wiscasset, and maybe we just caught it on a bad day (for them). Not gonna stop us from stopping in and gorging ourselves, but will keep an eye out on quality.

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  1. Thanks for this report. Like you, Belle Isle is one place that we frequent (it's my favorite Saturday lunch) but with schedules we haven't been to the new location.

    Looking forward to trying it!

    1. Great review. I'm not worried about losing the personal touch as I found the old staff unaccommodating to downright abrasive at times. If there is less lobster in the roll that sucks, but it wouldn't be shocking given the higher overhead. We will get over to try it soon.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Gabatta

        Have to agree with the abarsive 'tude of the old staff, think the wait staff aproach will be better. As for the roll size, if the customers don't like the roll, the sales will identify that to the owners qiuckly. Finally, I don't have to eat in the car where I use to pop a beer!

        1. re: Gabatta

          I just visited the new location a week ago and had the lobster meat roll instead of the tail only roll. I don't think the amount of meat has changed at all, but I do agree that the lobster meat roll has less tail than before. I think you end up with more knuckle mostly and maybe a bit more claw.

          It certainly loses the grungy character of the old location, but the new location is definitely an upgrade in my book.

        2. As soon as you mentioned the tail only lobster roll, I knew what was ahead. Unless they are serving lobster claw stew or lobster claws with drawn butter, the regular roll is going to suffer a deficit ratio. That's why my favourite lobster roll is the one I shuck and make myself.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bellachefa

            There is one other alternative: They might be selling "fresh lobster meat" as well as "fresh lobster tails" (I think Marden's does this), in which case they could sell the "extra" non-tail meat loose like that.

            I forgot to mention in my review that due to the weather, we also got a cup of their clam chowder. Never had gotten any soup at the old location (did they even have it?) and it was very good. Perfect temperature, lots of clams, and the right amount of potatoes.

            1. re: trufflehound

              I'm with you. Maybe this means a cheaper "claw meat only" roll!

            2. Was the roll grilled with butter?

              11 Replies
              1. re: catsmeow

                But of course!

                And big pumps with ketchup (for the fries!), instead of having to open up a half dozen of those little packets, getting ketchup on your thumb with every one.

                1. re: L2k

                  Who knew ketchup pumps would be a cause for celebration! Thanks for the smile!

                2. re: catsmeow

                  It was grilled but not with butter. Even after I asked twice if that's what they do. I'm sorry but the Belle Isle lobster roll just hasn't been great in my small sampling (once at the old place and once at the new). The time at the old place it didn't taste so fresh. The meat this time was fine and plentiful but it needed salt or lemon or something to perk it up. The basic lobster roll is $20.99 with one side. It overflowed the overcharred unbuttered bun which I guess is good but personally, I'd prefer to spend $4-6 less and have a properly grilled bun that you can pick up and eat with a nice amount of meat. In addition, the onion ring batter tasted kind of raw for lack of a better word. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but most of the rings weren't great.

                  The kids working the registers were mostly morose, the space is like a warehouse which is fine but I think it's a drag they make you use waitress service to eat outside. And not taking credit cards is always a pain. I need to give the fried seafood a shot but as of now, I wouldn't send people out of their way which it is for 90% of the population.

                  1. re: total13

                    Yeah, sadly I have the same experience (albeit in the same very small sample space) as you do. Ditto on the morose customer service experience; the last time, my roll came with about 2 tablespoons of lobster meat with nary a morsel of tail to be had. After waiting 45 minutes for this storied lobster roll, I was let down to say the least. I felt robbed. When taking a road trip (the ride to Eastie takes 25 minutes when all is said and done - Ipswich takes 45 minutes) for a lobster roll is the objective, then my money is on the Choate Bridge in Ipswich every time. Value, quantity, freshness, service with a smile, cold beer. $15.99.

                    1. re: Small Plates

                      'my roll came with about 2 tablespoons of lobster meat ' Yes, the servers taking orders can be rude but, it's pretty clear that you haven't been to BI when you make a statement like that.

                      1. re: treb

                        Wow - that's not fair. I waited for 45 minutes last summer in disgusting humidity in the cramped old space with a big fan blowing the hot air around and when my lobster roll came, it was indeed puny. I have been there, and I had a terrible experience. I'm sorry it doesn't match yours. I am reluctant to go back because of it. My experience was a total rip off. End of.

                        1. re: Small Plates

                          It's OK to be disgruntled about an establishment, BI weights out 8 oz lobster meat for each roll. Hardly 2 tablespoons! Be fair!

                          1. re: treb

                            I don't know how to convince you that my experience was not your experience. I may go to 3 T to appease you. This is my last word on the subject. I do not like being called a liar when I am very fair in my appraisals of my dining experiences. It is insulting. Read some of my other posts. I am often generous in the face of not-so-great experiences. My experience at Bell Isle is one of the worst disappointments foodwise that I have had. And we eat out every day.

                            1. re: Small Plates

                              Example; If I received a 2 tblspn lobster roll for $20.00 anywhere, I would have not accepted it, nor would most people. I challenge you to go into the CH archives and read posts about BI and see if you find one about a 'skimpy' lobster roll. You will find posts about the nasty help, additional charges for tartar sauce, cleanliness etc. So IMO, your post about BI's lobster roll is eyebrow raising.

                      2. re: Small Plates

                        On my own visits to Belle Isle for lobster rolls (the most recent of which predates the move to Winthrop), I've never gotten one that didn't have about two generous fistfuls of lobster meat.

                        Anecdotally speaking, your experience would have to be considered an anomaly.


                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          I most definitely agree it was an anomaly. I have described it as such in the two other places I have written about it. I am a fair and objective reporter of my food experiences. This was a bummer to the nth degree, and one which I have consistently characterized as disappointing. How I wish I was treated to the abundance that others describe. I went there for that purpose. If one refers to my original post about this experience, one would get a more detailed description of what exactly was in this roll. I had to go search for it a few minutes ago to apply the BS sniffer to my claim (on the off chance I was remembering completely incorrectly). And sure enough I found the account of a soggy bun saturated by milky mayonnaise and filling that consisted of three small claw pieces. Yes, this was an anomaly. I drew the short straw of Belle Isle lob roll experiences. It s*cked. But, I am sticking up for my right to describe it as it was. It is too bad my reality makes true believers uncomfortable. It is what it is. (OR, it was what it was). :) OH - and the reason I did not send it back is because we were all the way to the end of Winthrop Beach by the time we unwrapped the brown paper to see what was inside.