As we first reported last year, Boothbay Lobster Company wanted to bring the “wicked fresh" Maine seafood shack experience down the coast to Harbor Point in Stamford. Fade out. Fade in. The evocative new restaurant has just opened. At a recent tasting for the media, CTBites had a chance to discover what has been gained and lost in translation.
For starters, we were curious about the Down East take on Connecticut’s indigenous warm, buttered lobster roll. Before crafting their version, co-owners David Galin and Willie Craig examined and tasted our local renditions. They sampled bread, garnishes, butter portions, even weighed the meat in every roll. At Fairway Market, Galin unexpectedly found a commercial potato bun (Martin’s) that enjoyed great taste and structure. However, it was side loaded, not top cut, like most Connecticut lobster rolls. “I know it’s not totally traditional,” Galin explained, “but a potato roll seemed perfect. In Maine, we love our spuds.”
Their final construction was a grilled roll that came to our table cuddling 4 ½ ounces of glistening tail, claw and knuckle meat, lightly dressed in butter and garnished with a chive and parsley mix. Originally, Boothbay intended to serve butter on the side so the diner could control her portion. They quickly learned that most people preferred their roll already sauced. However, for customers who prefer to dress it themselves, the restaurant is happy to serve the roll with butter on the side.
We don’t feel a lobster roll should serve as a delivery system for butter. Many restaurants drench the meat, overwhelming the subtle sweetness of the lobster and making a soggy mess of the bun. That said, my first impression was the roll was too lightly dressed. However, a few bites in (and a spritz of lemon later) I decided the ratio of butter, herbs, meat and bread was right on mark. The meat tasted lush and very fresh, having been baked and steamed over Maine seaweed in Boothbay’s special ovens (at 190 degrees so as not to boil the seawater inside the shell).
A delicious iteration, with a light Maine touch. However, I do have one minor quibble. The tail meat seemed to be over-portioned. The white flesh of the tail is usually more fibrous and chewy because of all its twisting and curling to propel the creature on the sea floor. Claws do less work, resulting in a meat that is sweeter, tenderer, and softer, features that I prefer inside a bread roll. (Granted, many people opt for the textural mix of both fiberous and smooth meat in a roll.) Since few Connecticut restaurants serve only claw and knuckle in a roll, this is hardly a Maine thing.
However, Boothbay’s chilled Light Lobster Roll is very much Maine style, which is a bit different than a New England roll. One of our readers complained that his lobster was served barely dressed with mayo and contained no celery, which he considered an absolute must in a salad roll. We asked Willie about this, who explained that he and his partners sampled many rolls across his home state and found a wide variation in prep. Some were swimming in mayo, most not. Some included ingredients like chopped celery. Some not.
“We decided to go the ‘lobster purist’ route,” he told us, which meant no vegetable “fillers” and only a light toss of mayo.
He quickly emphasized that they will cook to order, and thought the reader’s difficulty in getting additional mayo was likely due to opening night jitters and a unique ordering and serving system. Willie assured us that they were working hard to accommodate customer requests quickly and fully.
Boothbay also serves a third “spicy” roll … cold lobster coated with light mayo, which is spiced with a Sriracha-style chili sauce. Another reviewer agreed with me that the sauce needed a bit more kick.
We wondered which roll – warm or cold – received the most orders in early returns. “Connecticut, by far” our server told us. The warm roll earns our enthusiastic vote as well.
However, there was still one more lobster sandwich on the menu: “The BLC.” And it stole the show. Imagine this convergence: a lobster roll meets a grilled cheese meets a BLT. “Guilty Pleasure” writ large.
“BLC” is the acronym for Boothbay Lobster Company. It also stands for the three primary ingredients in this decadent delight. B – Bacon, Maine Smoke House. L – Lobster. C—Cheese, a pairing of Cheddar and Gruyere. This generous trifecta is ladled between two slices of thickly cut and Italian bread from Portland, butter grilled and served warm. The Cheddar/Gruyere melts and melds with the smoky bacon, sweet lobster, adhering to the crevices of the golden toast. Two word description: Out. Rageous.
The mash-up is totally original and has quickly become the house signature dish. The BLC was developed in the Boothbay Food Truck (which has made appearances around Stamford for almost a year.) That mobile kitchen is where the team also created another fabulous dish: Potato Tots.
They first shredded Maine spuds, then doused them with a binder of starch and vinegar. That mixture mixture is fried in sunflower oil, seasoned with sea salt, pepper and ground Maine Skinny Kelp from Bangs Island Mussels in Maine.
Bite in. First, there’s that deep fried crunch. Then the creamy sweetness of the interior. No need for a dipping sauce, the two flavors and textures play off of each other, chomp after chomp. (Caution: the BLC and the Tots should not be allowed in the same room. Unless it’s a cell on Death Row. They qualify as the ultimate Last Meal cuisine.)
The clam chowder was also a revelation. Maine chowder tends to be lighter than New England style. It is prepped slightly thickened or not thickened at all -- so as not to bury the clam texture and texture. Think of Boothbay’s version as a refreshing summer chowder: a somewhat clear broth, generously studded with chunks of clams from the Bangs Island folks. The gluten free base is started with smoked haddock instead of salted pork, lending a smoky flavor to the broth. Diced chef potatoes are added, along with finely cut sweet potatoes, onions and a touch of cream. Light but robust, this is a true briny clam chowder, not the overly-sweet cream and potato laden soup found in many shacks down shore
Rather than local Blue Points, Boothbay serves an array of Maine oysters. We tasted the Norembega, somewhat saline, yet mild, with a touch of tang. We were cautioned that for now the restaurant offers a limited selection of oysters and clams to keep inventory low and freshness level high.
Price points are on a par with most shacks in the region, but lower than Seafood emporia like Clam Shell across the channel at Harbor Point or Rowayton Seafood just up the coast. In contrast, Boothbay offers a decidedly more casual and affordable experience: a taste of Maine, Wicked Close to Home.
All that’s missing Willie Craig told us, are the Seagulls.
Sun-Wed 11am-11 pm Thurs-Sat 11am- 2am
14 Harbor Point Road 203 970-9565 www.boothbaylobster.com
This was a media event. Neither CTbites nor the author were compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.