B&G Oysters; Boston
Credit: Photo © Justin Ide

What can truly ignite the passions of New Englanders? Right up there with the Sox and the Pats: lobster rolls. Should they be made with claw meat, tail meat or both? A sparing hand with the mayonnaise, or a little more? Can a restaurant lobster roll ever compare with eating one by the water? Are the best little shacks in Maine or Massachusetts?

Let’s start with the basics. A true lobster roll is an exercise in simplicity: Lobster is the star, thus it should be fresh, in ample portion and not obscured by other ingredients. A bit of mayonnaise to bind is the norm for cold lobster rolls; warm ones often forgo mayo for drawn butter. The classic bun is a side-split hot dog roll, with the white sides toasted in a bit of butter.

But so much else is up for debate. So we asked five Northeastern chefs for their favorites. Agree or disagree with their picks, one thing’s for sure: These folks know their lobster.

Tony Maws; Craigie on Main, Cambridge, MA: “I’ve been to countless shacks in Maine that are fantastic. Recently, I had a lobster roll at the Club Car in Nantucket, and it took me by surprise. It was piled high with lobster and mayo on a hot dog bun. It was the real deal, and pretty f-ing good.”

Michael Landgarten; Bob’s Clam Hut, Robert’s Maine Grill and Lil’s Café, Kittery, ME: “Waterman’s Beach Lobster, in South Thomaston, Maine. You can watch the women inside carefully shucking lobster meat as you order. Then you’re greeted by the sight of? neatly covered picnic tables, and an impossibly blue sea stretching in front of you. It’s heaven. I generally prefer a split-sided hot dog roll with my lobster rolls, but this hamburger-style bun is covered with cornmeal, which creates a delicious crunch. Lightly tossed with mayo, the lobster is the star and it’s basically all they do here, except for blueberry pie! And this simple place boasts a James Beard Award. Someone else gets it.”

Garrett Harker; Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks and The Hawthorne, Boston: “The hot-with-butter lobster roll from Neptune Oyster is hands-down one of the most iconic dishes of Boston. The delicious combination of butter, lemon, salt and lobster stuffed into a warm and toasty roll is a year-round staple in my book. I challenge anyone not to finish it.”

Ben Pollinger; Oceana, NYC: “Portland Lobster Company, in Portland, Maine. Simple and delicious—can’t get fresher than eating lobster right off the dock.”

Lydia Shire; Scampo, Boston: “The Dale Arnold lobster roll served on a grilled roll with a side of drawn butter from Maine Diner, in Wells, Maine (named for Dale Arnold, of WEEI sports radio in Boston who regularly orders this version of the Maine lobster roll); and the classic Summer Shack lobster roll with a touch of mayo and celery, served on a perfectly griddled bun, from Jasper White’s Summer Shack (locations throughout Massachusetts). They may differ in style but they’re similarly delicious and—like the version we make at Scampo—they let the lobster meat take center stage.”