An Ode to Lobster Rolls

Lobster roll, lobster roll, wherefore art thou my obsession, lobster roll? (Don’t you dare grimace at the allusion — If anything on this stale, flat, unprofitable earth is worthy of Shakespearean praise, it’s Boston’s euphoric take on the culinary masterpiece that is the lobster roll).

If you’re a reluctant child of the landlocked midwest like me, you probably have no idea what a lobster roll even is. Of course, you can imagine one: a perfectly crisp french roll with cold mayonnaise-slathered lobster tucked comfortably between the dough’s yeasty folds. (Excuse me, you get your mind out of the gutter, you Freudian, you!). And tragically, unless you find yourself squarely planted in the Northeast’s gastronomic promised land, imagination is the only tool you have at your disposal with which to seek lobster-induced nirvana.

Boston is to lobster rolls as Forrest Gump is to shrimp.

But we’re in Boston, baby! Where else besides Maine — damn you, Maine — is the lobster this good? Ab-sol-ute-ly-no-where. Boston is to lobster rolls as Forrest Gump is to shrimp. We’ve got cold rolls, hot rolls, plain rolls, butter rolls, fresh rolls, week-old rolls (for an extra surprise), Italian style rolls, American rolls, long rolls, short rolls, and even spicy rolls, all just waiting for you to roll through. As for my personal favorites, which, let’s be honest, are really the objective bests of Boston: You’ve got the hot roll at The Mare in Little Italy and the cold roll at James Hook & Co. near The Seaport District. If you leave Boston without trying at least one of these rolls, can you even say you ever visited?

Let’s reiterate: I’m from Oklahoma. I was raised on the manly man’s bleeding red meat: all the barbecued pork and beef my cholesterol-clogged young heart could tolerate. Vegetables? Seafood? Fruits? Salads? Only if you’re a plebeian content with eating the refuse of the red-blooded America. I was verbose in the carnivore’s vocabulary, and by my mid-teens I was ready to expand my mind and touch fingers with God.

Luke Williams | Lets Go It was love at first bite.

More specifically, I was 16 when I first came to Boston and tried the James Hook & Co. lobster roll. Suffice to say, it changed my life. Statistics tells me that correlation doesn’t imply causation, but here’s some causation for you anyway: Within weeks of inhaling more Boston lobster rolls than I’m proud of and making my sorry way back to Oklahoma, I began eating *gasp* salad. And seafood, or at least what passes as seafood in Oklahoma. And fruits, and vegetables, pad thai, curry, tikka masala, bibimbap, and, god-forbid, tofu. Dean Khurana likes to tell us at Harvard that our academic journey will be a transformative experience — I will be the first to say you can buy one of those at 440 Atlantic Ave., Boston, MA for $25, relatively cheap, you know, compared to my $250,000 odd academic journey. Hell, you don’t even have to bother with going to that address, James Hook & Co. delivers to different states. (Yes, I may have had one birthday celebration where lobster rolls were bestowed gloriously upon me in the midst of Oklahoma’s barren wasteland).

Upon arriving at Boston for my freshman year of college, I affected another stark change: I had been vegan for almost an entire year before college, and the lobster played an instrumental part in reintroducing seafood and chicken into my diet. Maybe this change wasn’t for the best, or maybe it was, but on the very reliable basis of my anecdotal evidence I proclaim to you, to any visitor of Boston, that the lobster roll is an icon, a legend, a transcendent object to be missed only at your own peril. After all, to quote The Bard one last time, there is no darkness like ignorance.

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