Jane Stern: LobsterCraft doesn’t need condiments, gimmicks or even a water view

My first memories of eating a lobster roll are a mix of food plus beautiful views.

The appreciation of the lobster rolls of my younger days were not only based on the freshness and clarity of the lobster meat, but were married to the thrill of sitting at a picnic table, somewhere along the New England coast, staring at a charming lighthouse and hearing waves crash like cymbals.

I wondered what it would be like to search for a great lobster roll with no scenic view added to the equation. My search took me to LobsterCraft, which is possibly the least scenic location around.

LobsterCraft is across from Rawleys hot dog stand in Fairfield and tucked away behind a travel agency. You park your car in a lot shared with other small businesses. Then to enter LobsterCraft (by what should be the front door) you obey a sign that tells you to use the side door. The side door is a tarp-covered patio with picnic tables. It is a rag-tag place, no salt air, no waves at all. If there is a word for the opposite of scenic, please insert here.


1891 Post Road, Fairfield

Yet LobsterCraft is the place to head to for one of the area’s finest rolls. From the start I have loved the simplicity of the Connecticut lobster roll, which consists of hunks of claw and tail meat in a toasted hot dog bun. The only addition is lots of drawn butter. It is a study in simple perfection. I once watched Gordon Ramsey on the Food Network mucking around with a hot lobster roll. He added an array of spices and condiments. I think I screamed at the him on the TV to stop ruining it. He didn’t hear me, because he kept on adding things.

Needless to say, a true Connecticut lobster roll depends 98 percent on the quality of the lobster meat, not spices or add ons. About a year back in this column I reviewed a place that charged $25 for a lobster roll. I ordered one and the counter lady asked me to come back in a few hours when the frozen lobster meat had thawed. I never went back. How this place remains in business in lobster-savvy Connecticut I have no idea.

LobsterCraft is the real deal. It was started by Captain William Michael Harden, or as he is known to his friends, “Captain Mike.” This is not a silly title that he has given himself. Harden is a captain in the Coast Guard and a licensed lobster fisherman. He keeps his 38-foot lobster boat, the Jennifer Lynn, in Groton. The lobsters that he catches are in deep water, trapped east of Montauk in the heart of the chilly Atlantic Ocean. Lobster men will tell you “the colder the water, the sweeter the meat.” This does not apply to frozen thawed lobster.

Before LobsterCraft had a brick-and-mortar home, Captain Mike sold lobsters from a food truck. He catered private parties and sold lobster rolls to street trade. LobsterCraft gained a solid reputation, showing up on the Food Network and winning prizes in local seafood festivals.

When I entered LobsterCraft, I was amazed at the tiny space it occupied. There was a small counter, a soda machine and an adorable newly graduated college girl taking orders. This was not the view I was used to it, but I warmed to it quickly.

There are six types of lobster roll on the menu, and a few entrees like lobster mac and cheese. There are also some chowders, such the award-winning lobster bisque and a great clam chowder. I love how basic the menu was, and being me I ordered the simplest lobster roll on the menu, the Coastal. It is zen in its simplicity. A toasted hot dog bun filled with knuckle and claw meat, and a tiny cup of drawn butter for you to add as much or little as you like. It was so good I ordered another one. The reason I chose the Coastal is because there was nowhere for sub-standard ingredients to hide. Bare naked lobster meat, unsullied by spices, mayo, wasabi soy sauce, serrano and habanero-infused butter, or garden tomatoes, cukes and lettuce. Gorden Ramsey would not “get it.”

If you like these exotic add ons please order the Heat Wave (spicy), the California Roll (Asian vegetables and soy sauce), the Surf and Turf (lobster plus marinated steak and a garlic aioli) or the Dirty Maynard (cold Maine-style lobster salad with onions, celery and carrots) on a toasted roll.

I did get the lobster bisque, which won honors at the Chowdafest in 2014. It is so thick with lobster you almost could tip the bowl over. To gild the lily, LobsterCraft adds an extra treat: a small cup of cooked lobster meat to make it even more delicious.

I do plan on eating the more exotic items from the menu, but I have to clear the hurdle of making sure my lobster roll is of unadulterated quality.

I do not know how long it will take me to move on to the Dirty Maynard or Surf and Turf. I am estimating that possibility in five years I will get adventurous. In the meantime, I am blissed out with nothing more then melted butter dripping down my chin.

Jane Stern is co-author of the Roadfood series.