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Apr 26, 2014 03:24 PM

Lobster Rolls, why jazz them up? [Moved from New York State board]

The last few years, I visit places where I'm told, oh this is the best lobster roll ever! You'll be amazed! Only to find, a ciabatta or other hard roll, lobster chunks big enough to choke a horse, little or no mayo, and so on. What happened to a good, old fashioned, lobster salad on a buttered hot dog bun (which is what I consider "normal")?

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  1. Actually I had a great lobster roll in Truckee, CA, about 15 miles from Lake Tahoe. Right down to the split-top bun that he orders from back east cause he can't source them from ANY usual sources.

    1 Reply
    1. re: c oliver

      Here's the menu:

      We might try the CA version next time. Or not :)

    2. In CT, where I am from, a lobster roll is lobster sautéed in butter in a split top. That's all. Jazz would be noise.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Veggo


        In the 1960s a Lobster roll was just chunks on a bun with mayo. Kinda bland but good (I was a beardless youth at the time). If you ran up the Post

        1. re: hazelhurst

          Except in CT, that's a proper lobster roll.

          1. re: c oliver

            True, just like at the old Singing Bridge.

            I like Gypsy's new picture. I just got to play with a neighbor's superannuated A-dale so I'm in Dog Heaven

            1. re: hazelhurst

              Fresh from the beauty parlor aka torture chamber.

              We were in heaven a few years ago spending a week on Cape Cod. Lobsters and rolls galore.

        2. re: Veggo


          Up to Post Road to, say, Guilford, you got a roll with relish(bottled) added. I once had one in New Haven (!) with german mustard. And, in New Britain, I got a great one with (obviously) a Polish accent.

          But the old, plain one is is a clambake.

          1. re: hazelhurst

            The Glenwood in Hamden has done the CT version for over 50 years, and will never change. Thankfully.

          2. I've read that originally (as long ago as the 1920s) the "lobster roll" contained lobster chunks tossed with butter; the lobster _salad_ roll, with mayo etc., is what's now often called a "lobster roll."

            If so, the latter is actually the jazzed-up version -- even though it is your fond memory.

            (Kind of like the Chow "Feature" recipe for what it called "classic" fettuccine Alfredo -- based on a cream sauce, presumably all the author knew about -- traditionalists jumped all over that one. Or the recent comment in the "wrongly named food" thread saying proper spaghetti carbonara has to have guanciale, while I'm reading multiple Italian authors who say its original creation used American bacon from occupation GIs, when Italian meat was all but unavailable in Rome.)

            32 Replies
            1. re: eatzalot

              I first posted this under New York, where lobster roll is always mayo based. I know there is a small contigent a bit north of us that likes the melted butter style, but I don't think they are in the majority.

              1. re: coll

                Agree. I know Maine is definitely mayo not butter. And certainly MA. I also believe CT is the only holdout. I find lobster 'rich' so adding butter just doesn't sing to me.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Butter melted on the toasted bun is my only concession. But without mayo, it's not a lobster roll to me.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Maine is split between melted butter and toasted bun or mayo. I lived there a few 2007-2009 and saw both all over. The mayo/salad version was more prevalent in supermarkets and places where they were pre-made. Melted butter ones were mostly in restaurants. Red's provides whichever one you want on the side, but the butter is the big seller.


                    1. re: JMF

                      I was relying on old info from Passadumkeg :)

                    2. re: c oliver

                      Bingo. Agree wholeheartedly with c oliver - lobster is rich enough, the butter just seems extraneous to me (other than some schmeared on a toasted split-top bun). I prefer my lobster roll mixed with just a smidge of mayo, a smidge of salt/pepper, and that's it.

                      But if it's gloppy with mayo? I'll pass.

                    3. re: coll

                      My point earlier, in case it was unclear, was to add some larger context -- at least as much temporal as geographical. I hear coincidentally, these days, from people and modern restaurants even well outside the US Northeast about reviving non-mayo versions as the original "lobster rolls," and there are historical references here and there.

                      So it is something to be aware of -- like the bacon in spaghetti carbonara, or that Alfredo di Lellio never used a "sauce" in his fettuccine -- even though that's not how one first heard about the specialty. I too first encountered the rolls with mayo.

                      1. re: coll

                        If you order a whole lobster in a restaurant, will they serve it with mayo or melted butter? Why is a lobster roll any different?

                        1. re: mucho gordo

                          I guess coll and many others first heard of the lobster-salad version, so to them, it's the norm.

                          Just as some Americans nowadays first heard the words "macaron," "macaroon," or "beignet" in particular, narrow meanings, and don't realize these aren't how everyone understands, or has long used, the same words. Or first encountered fettuccine Alfredo with a cream sauce, etc. Could be a topic for a whole thread, and probably has been, many times.

                            1. re: mucho gordo

                              I still prefer warm with butter to chilled with mayo. I think lobster is more flavorful when it's warm.

                            2. re: eatzalot

                              Not that I had "heard" of it, rather that is what it was. Fine if you want to make it in a more "modern; or "different" way, but hey, make up a new name too at the same time.

                              A whole lobster has nothing to do with a lobster roll, by the way.

                              1. re: coll

                                coll, you seem to have mis-read my other postings in this thread: please re-read them.

                                There is plenty of evidence that lobster rolls were _originally_ made with lobster (no mayo), rather than lobster salad, and that this is the version being revived in some places now -- a truly classic, not a "new," form.

                                That explanation does not conflict with your personal experience of them using mayo (which is also mine), it just means such experience is specific to certain times and places and is not the whole or original story of the US "lobster roll."

                                People naturally assume the version of something they grew up with is the "original." Just as many young Americans today don't realize that the colorful Gerbet sandwich "macaron" is not the classic or standard French meaning of that word at all, any more than coconut "macaroons" are the classic US meaning. But this is clear enough if you look seriously into it.

                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  Lobster with butter does not compute, sorry. In my experience, always mayo. At least since the 50s or 60s. But now, from Chowhound, I find that a small subset of people grew up with meltedbutter in Connecticut: That is fine, but don't say that is the only, correct way. Not by a long shot.

                                  1. re: coll

                                    Again please reread. I have never said it is the only or correct way. Only that your own experience "since the 50s or 60s" isn't the whole story of the US lobster roll either; why imply that it is??

                                    I have nothing to do with Connecticut, also. Just a student of US food and its history.

                                    There are young people today prepared to argue that "macaron" fundamentally means a colorful sandwich cookie -- because that happens to be the only version they know. They don't realize that few people ever used the word that way until recent years.

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      I guess because a customer of mine famously claims to have invented lobster roll back in the 1950s/1960s; whether true or not, I happened to be there in the kitchen once when he was instructing a newbie on what to do....and I felt like I was privy to something sacred. So that's what I go on.

                                      I will not pass on the secret, but lobster roll is what it is where I live, and although I know there are other ways developed since then, the mayo version is the only version I have ever seen in my lifetime. Just getting that simple version perfect is a miracle. If your experience is otherwise, I do not fault you in the least. Enjoy!! How can eating lobster in any form be bad?

                                      1. re: coll

                                        Agreed. And again, my own experience is not otherwise -- I only personally have had versions with mayo etc.

                                        FWIW, here's Evan Jones in "American Food" (revised ed., 1981). This seems to cover a lot of ground. (Incidentally for anyone who doesn't recognize these names, Evan Jones the US food historian was husband of Judith Jones, the Knopf editor who originally published Julia Child.)

                                        "... the buttery, uniquely American bread roll stuffed with unadulterated lobster meat was invented at Palisades Park at West Haven, Connecticut. 'Served warm, with a side order of onion rings, it is the undisputed top-of-the-line of carry-out food' [reads one description.] Grilled sandwiches filled with variable lobster stuffings can be found on New England's coast as far north as Maine, and many versions are produced in private kitchens. (Slowly toasted frankfurter rolls, fastidiously buttered, are filled with cooked, finely chopped lobster meat [mixed with] minced celery, lemon juice, mayonnaise, grated onion; shredded lettuce is strewn over all.)"

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          So from all this, I surmising that the hot, buttery lobster roll was invented in Connecticut sometime before the 1980s; while the the cold mayo version was being served everywhere else since the 1950s. Good to know. I'm wondering however why he insinuates, as an after thought, that mayo lobster rolls are mostly served in private kitchens. Here's guessing that Evan Jones is from Connecticut ;-)

                                          I'll say this: I am glad to have all this information. In case I'm ever travelling through Connecticut, I will know not to order a lobster roll until I cross state lines. Who would've thunk?

                                            1. re: JMF

                                              Hopefully everyone noticed I originally posted this on the NY State board, where lobster roll is always mayo. The mods told me that people from out of state were responding so they moved it to where it is now, which is attracting attention from the butter contingent. Not saying good or bad, but just saying.

                                            2. re: coll

                                              Being from Milford, CT there is evidence of the butter version from 1934. I like both but the butter seems to be slightly older if coll witnessed the birth of the mayo version in the 1950s.


                                              1. re: melpy

                                                I couldn't have witnessed it before since I was born in 1954!

                                            3. re: eatzalot

                                              I think Evan Jones was confusing Palisades Park in NJ with the late Savin Rock amusment park in West Haven CT, which was signficantly affected by the Great Eastern Seaboard Hurricane of 1938 and closed for good in the mid-1960s.

                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                Yeah, I was scratching my head on a Palisades Park in CT, having lived here my whole life...just because it's written on the Internet, certainly doesn't make it true. More on Savin Rock here. I only ever knew it as Jimmie's of Savin Rock and haven't been in more years than I can recall.

                                                Here's a neat clip from Savin Rock in better days:


                                        2. re: coll

                                          "Lobster with butter does not compute..."

                                          Are you kidding? EVERY single time I have ordered lobster in a restaurant it has arrived at my table with melted butter.

                                          1. re: John E.

                                            I'm talking lobster rolls here, not whole lobster.

                                      2. re: coll

                                        coll, here's from my favorite 'authority' on the subject, Passadumkeg:


                                  2. re: coll

                                    "Majority"? Why is that significant of anything?

                                    Food is a personal thing, the majority have nothing to do with it. Ketchup on hotdogs is not an abomination. It is more closely related to STFU. I apologize for the vulgarity of the initialism.

                                    1. re: John E.

                                      Majority rules, last I heard!

                                      Ha, ketchup on hot dogs is an abomination in these here parts! I've spent lots of time helping out on hot dog wagons, and the only ones that receive a pass on that are little kids.

                                      Vulgarity is a quite acceptable however.

                                    2. re: coll

                                      <I first posted this under New York, where lobster roll is always mayo based.>

                                      Not always. Two places to get a CT style roll in NYC (and I'm sure there are more):


                                      1. re: small h

                                        Thanks for warning me! Although I see Red Hook offers Maine (mayo) style first off and calls it "the authentic", and CT style is listed last. Ditto to a lesser extent with the other, no way they could serve only butter style.

                                  3. We have several lobster roll options here in Austin, including (at least) two trailers. One, Dock and Roll, has nice squishy New England hot buns. The other, Garbo's, has some designer buns made by Sweetish Hill, a local bakery. Dock and Roll offers a traditional Maine roll I love. They also offer a CT style (butter) and an ATX style (with jalapeños). I always get Maine style on the squishy toll, because it is an important part of preserving the world as it is supposed to be.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: tim irvine

                                      Nice to have a choice, that's pretty cool.

                                    2. When I read your title about "jazz them up"I thought oh no. Not chopped onion, thyme and everything but the kitchen sink:-)

                                      My favorite is chopped with a bit of mayo on a buttered Martin's potato roll. Everything cold. With potato chips :-)

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: miss_belle

                                        OK here it is. Hunks of lobster, a bit of celery, a bit of mayo, salt and pepper. One place I know does some dill weed and I sort of like that. Martins potato roll, toasted, preferably with some butter. That's all folks!

                                        1. re: coll

                                          That's it! Screw the dill weed or else the celery doesn't come through. Celery must be chopped fine and the lobster not. Bodacious mayo is OK. A shake of celery seed is in order if desired. But none of this frou-frou fried poblano with pesto and chopped sea weed on mine. Its a lobstah roll. And, yes, split top roll with butter and toasted.