Lobster is one of those foods that inspires strong reactions in people. They either don’t see what all of the fuss is about – “why on earth would you want to eat what is a basically a giant sea insect?” they ask, and insist that all anyone wants is the butter, anyway, and tell you that it all seems like an awful lot of work. On the other side of the debate are the people like my grandmother – true believers, people who will suck on increasingly tiny bits of lobster anatomy, just to get every bit of sweet meat. My grandmother was legendary in our family for her ability to clean every edible piece from a lobster. She would then would demonstrate a little magic trick with the remains by locating what she referred to as the lobster’s queen – actually the lobster’s stomach sac, but if you pull it out and clean it correctly, it does in fact resemble a queen sitting on a throne.
I fall rather firmly into the love camp, though perhaps not to quite the extent my grandma did. Sure, lobster is messy and hard to eat, but I’m surprised when anyone who isn’t allergic doesn’t think it’s worth it. The meat is tender and succulent, and tastes, even without butter, wonderfully sweet. Folks make a big deal about the tail, but I’m a big fan of the claws and even those fiddly little legs – sure, it’s a pain in the neck, but nothing else in the world tastes like that. For the longest time I believed lobster was an “at home” sort of food – not worth having in public, due to the mess.
And then I ate at Neptune.
Not the planet, mind you, but a lovely, albeit tiny oyster bar in the North End of Boston. I’d been hearing for years that it was great – a little expensive, a little cramped, but well worth both for the experience. However, I only recently started eating oysters, so had never had a really compelling reason to go, and even as a newly-fledged oyster lover, I’ve been perfectly content with my dollar treats at Marliave and Haymarket.
Until…I heard about the hot lobster roll.
As you probably all know, a traditional lobster roll is pulled lobster, chopped and mixed with mayonnaise and served cold on a hot dog bun – basically lobster salad. This has never, never appealed to me. Despite all of the boundaries I’ve broken down in terms of things I will eat, I tend to be a “hot things hot” person. I don’t want cold pizza for breakfast, the idea of chilled soup doesn’t thrill me, and I wasn’t really keen on the idea of cold lobster. Add to that a tendency to be particular about mayo – I’ll eat it, but not too much, I prefer certain kinds, etc. – and I just never thought the lobster roll was for me.
But it turns out that lobster rolls were not always made this way – the original recipe (and apparently still the way it’s done in Connecticut) calls for fresh lobster, served hot, in drawn butter, in a hot dog bun. And Neptune Oyster still serves them this way, if you like.
Count me in!
It still took me a while to make arrangements to get over to the North End. Luckily, my office mate Jess was a willing accomplice – who wants to eat lobster alone? (Mr. Menace is a member of the “Eh” lobster camp.)
When we arrived at Neptune the place was packed, yet through some keen eyes and some nudging by the bartender we managed to snag two seats at the bar. Happily perched on our stools, we pondered starting with some oysters (September has an r in it!) but decided to go with the Octopus Cocktail instead.
As you can see, this was a wise choice! This bowl was huge – it easily could have been an appetizer for three or four. The octopus was thinly sliced and tender, and was enhanced by the scallions, chilies and vinaigrette served with it. Not the most creative presentation in the world, but I still thought it was pretty – I think octopus, with its purple skin and pure white flesh, always looks good.
Look at that. All of the meat of a decent-sized lobster, including my precious claws, heaped into a roll. The butter was plentiful but not drowning the lobster meat, which was appropriately the real star of the meal. The fries were surprisingly good as well – very crisp, more in the style of frites than traditional french fries. Yet they still didn’t compare to all of that sweet, sweet lobster – perfectly cooked, hot and savory in that bun.
So, the next time I want to enjoy lobster without the mess, I will make haste down to the North End for a lobster roll at Neptune. Maybe next time I’ll get some oysters, as well. If only the bartender would hand me the queen!