When I eat lobster, I take no prisoners. All that’s identifiable in the carnage left behind are the eyes, antennae, swimmeretes (those feathery appendages on the underside of the body), and dismembered carcass. Finished, I’m literally dripping in lobster juice and goo.
The only place for such a messy operation is a classic lobster shack, a sometimes rough-and-tumble operation that’s usually within sight and scent of the ocean.
I favor the in-the-rough, order-at-the-counter, eat-out-on-a-picnic-table shacks. These are usually pet friendly and often come with free entertainment: You can watch lobstermen unload their catch and refuel and restock their boats. No need to dress up – better to dress down so you can skip the bib. Another plus: Most allow you to bring the go-withs, from cheese and crackers to salads and rolls to wine and beer.
And remember that while lobster prices reflect market conditions, the farther you travel from the trappings of civilization and the deeper you get into bona fide lobstering territory, the fewer frills and the less costly the goods.
My favorite lobster shacks from south to north:
Chauncey Creek, Kittery Point
While those are the two shacks I frequent, there are plenty of others along the coast. Another classic is Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier (16 Chauncey Creek Road, Kittery Point, 207-439-1030), which overlooks tidal Chauncey Creek (prettier at high tide). Like Muscongus, it has both deck and sheltered seating (heated), all at brightly colored picnic tables. The menu has choices for landlubbers – chicken dinner, hot dog – as well as mussels, oysters, cherrystones, tuna roll, and even shrimp, but lobster is why folks come. Be forewarned: It can be very crowded, parking is a nightmare, and bug spray is a must.
Cape Pier Chowder House, Cape Porpoise
The scenery is top notch at the Cape Pier Chowder House (79 Pier Road, Cape Porpoise, Kennebunkport, 207-967-0123), which tops a pier in a traditional lobstering village. The views (bring binoculars) extend to Goat Island Light House. There’s inside seating, so it’s weatherproof, which gives it a longer season than most; it opens in April and goes to November. The menu has a lot more than lobster, and it’s open for breakfast on weekends.
Lobster Shack, Cape Elizabeth
If you’ve had enough of quaint fishing village vistas, head to The Lobster Shack (222 Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth, 207-799-1677). It has everything: rocky ledges, tide pools, crashing surf, a broad menu, dive-bombing seagulls, big-ocean views, and a lighthouse (with foghorn – avoid on a foggy day or bring earplugs). It’s a classic with frills: dining inside and out and a menu that includes sandwiches and fried seafood.
Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster, S. Freeport
Take a break from power shopping L.L. Bean’s and the outlets and head to Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster (Main Street, Town Wharf, South Freeport, 207-865-4349), a popular spot on the working harbor. Not much fussiness here; picnic tables on pavement and a tiny dining room are the seating options. The menu, however, is pretty extensive for a lobster joint. You can decide for yourself whether fried clams are better battered or breaded. BE FOREWARNED: In 2011, Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster began charging customers for water, which is outrageous. On one visit, the chowder served was barely warm and tasted as if it came from a can. It can do better, and so can you; go elsewhere (such as nearby Day’s, on Route 1, with seating behind overlooking a tidal estuary).
Five Islands, Georgetown
Five Islands (1447 Five Islands Road, Georgetown, 207-371-2990) tops a lot of lists for favorite lobster shack, and for good reasons. The setting is idyllic. It tips a finger of bridge-connected islands. Sit on the wharf – that’s the only choice – and watch sailboats play hide-and-seek amid the spruce-topped islands in the harbor and lobster boats chug to and fro pulling traps. The headliner is lobster, but there are plenty of other options, from chowder and fish ’n’ chips (hand-breaded) to burgers and chicken tenders. It earns points for making its own tartar and mustard dill sauces and cilantro mayo. You get the idea: These folks are passionate about their products.
Round Pond Lobstermen’s Co-op, Round Pond
When given a choice, I opt for simplicity: If the joint does only one thing, there’s a better chance it’s doing it right. Take Round Pond Lobstermen’s Co-op (Round Pond Harbor, Bristol, Pemaquid Peninsula, 207-529-5725), a more-rustic-than-most spot overlooking a picture-postcard harbor. Buddy Poland serves lobster, steamers, corn-on-the-cob, and chips. Period. When he runs low on lobster, he saunters down the dock, climbs into his dingy, putt-putts out to a lobster car – that floating crate where the crustaceans are stored – and brings back reinforcements.
Muscongus Bay Lobster, Round Pond
For those who don’t like lobster, just steps away is Muscongus Bay Lobster (Round Pond Harbor, Bristol, Pemaquid Peninsula, 207-529-2251), a larger and wee bit fancier place with a bigger menu. I have friends who favor this spot not only because of the expanded choices – lobster and crab rolls, stews and chowders – but also because it has some sheltered tables, if the weather looks threatening. It also serves fresh Pemaquid oysters, which gives it points in my book. And it earns extra points for having a touch tank filled with all manner of slimy and spiky sea critters for the kids.
No less an authority than the James Beard Foundation gave Waterman’s Beach Lobster (343 Waterman’s Beach Road, South Thomaston, 207-596-7819) an award for being an “American Classic.’’ Order at the window, then grab a picnic table overlooking a working pier and island-studded Mussel Ridge Channel. It doesn’t get much better than that. But it is tiny, and given such a big reputation, expect to wait. And do save room for the homemade pie. ***Note: Waterman’s has announced it plans to close for good on Sept. 4, 2016.
Dreamy, spruce-fringed island views are alone worth the trip to this off-the-beaten-path shack, but McLoon’s also dishes out might fine lobster, lobster rolls, lobster stew, and house-made desserts. And yes, there are choices for any landlubbers traveling with you. This adorable, red, wharf-side shack has picnic tables both outside and under a tent.
Miller’s, Spruce Head
If the line’s too long, or you prefer something a bit more remote, segue over to nearby Miller’s Lobster Pound (Eagle Quarry Road, Spruce Head, 207-594-7406) on quiet Wheeler’s Bay. It’s on a working wharf, and if you time it right, you can watch lobster boats unload their catches. The emphasis is on lobster, but it serves other shellfish, hot dogs, and homemade pies, too. There is some sheltered seating. Beer and wine are served.
It doesn’t get much more in the rough than Fish House Fish: a fish shack on a beach on an island. Perfection! You can get boiled lobsters as well as lobster rolls, crab rolls, seafood stews and chowders, and even appetizers in the form of local smoked fish. Take it all to a picnic table on the beach, overlooking Monhegan’s lobsterboat-filled harbor, with Manana Island as a backdrop.
Young’s Lobster Pound, Belfast
Sure there’s seating upstairs, which comes in handy on an inclement day, but the best seats at Young’s Lobster Pound (2 Fairview St., Belfast, 207-338-1160) are on the picnic tables on the deck hanging over Belfast’s harbor. This barn of lobster shack is the real deal: Order at the counter, find a table, set up your spread (tablecloth, flowers, hors d’oeuvres, wine, whatever), and wait for your number to be called. Watch boats to-ing and fro-ing in the harbor while you wait — I watched a small cruise ship back into the harbor. Oh, and don’t miss the lobster roll–you can get it with mayo or plain, but either way, generous chunks of lobster overflow from the hamburger-style bun.
Perry Long’s Lobster Shack, Surry
Way, way off the radar screen (and the highway) is the Lobster Shack (1076 Newbury Neck Road, Surry, 207-667-1955), created by the late Perry Long. It’s true to its name, with just a handful of picnic tables on a pier. The menu is limited; it serves lobsters, mussels, corn-on-the-cob, lobster rolls (1/4 pound premium lobster meat on a fresh, chewy bun), crab rolls, and—for the kiddos—corn dogs. And the views? Over the ocean waters to Mount Desert Island.
Thurston’s, Bernard (Mt. Desert Island)
Everyone knows Thurston’s Lobster Pound (Steamboat Wharf Road, Bernard, 207-244-7600) is the best lobster spot on Mount Desert Island. The two-story, screened-in dining area is built on a wharf above lobster boat-clogged Bass Harbor in a classic fishing village. Because it caters not only to tourists but also to the island’s well-heeled summer residents, it’s quite a bit snazzier (perhaps pricier, too) than most lobster spots. Still, it’s an order-at-the-counter place – just be sure to read the rules before doing so. In 2014, Thurston’s added a full bar, with a fireplace, screened roll-up walls, and a deck. Great spot!
Lunt’s Dockside Deli, Frenchboro Island
For the real deal, take the Bass Harbor Cruises lunch cruise to tiny Frenchboro, on Long Island, eight miles off Mount Desert Island, in Blue Hill Bay, for lunch at Lunt’s Dockside Deli (207-334-2902). Lunt’s is built on a working wharf over a harbor that’s filled with working boats, not yachts. En route, Captain Kim Strauss, who has been navigating these waters for more than 55 years, not only shares lobster lore, but also will haul up a trap or two and explain the whole process. And that knowledge makes you appreciate the critters even more.
Wharf Gallery & Grill, Corea
A relative newcomer in the world of lobster shacks, Wharf Gallery & Grill (13 Gibbs Ln., 207/963-2633) began in a wharf-top fishing shack, where Joe Young displayed historical photographs of Corea, taken in the 1940s-60s by Louise Z. Young, born in Corea in 1919. Louise was a friend of painter Marsden Hartley, and snapped many candids of him around the area. A few years ago, Joe began serving lobsters, lobster rolls, and lobster-grilled-cheese sandwiches (delicious!). Every year, the menu expands a bit (now there are crab claws, baked beans, haddock chowder, and landlubber fare (hot dogs, sausage, steak’n’cheese) and the wharf-top seating gets a wee bit nicer. The views, however, never change. Corea is a very protected working harbor, edged with trap-lined wharves and filled with working boats. Perfect!
Quoddy Bay Lobster, Eastport
When the weather’s clear, there’s nothing finer than lobster at Quoddy Bay Lobster (7 Sea St., 207/853-6640), in way, way downeast Eastport. There’s inside seating, but outside, you can watch boats unload their catch, and the tide change, and simply soak in the views over Passamaquoddy Bay. Heaven!