Above photo: The grilled lobster on linguine at Street and Co. in the Old Port area proves that butter and garlic are lobster's best friends.
Story and photos by Susan Hegger
Susan worked for 20 years as an editorial writer and features editor. She is a world traveller and an avid photographer.
Chefs find innovative ways to prepare the state’s specialty.
When I hear the word “Maine,” I think “lobster.” The two are as inextricably linked as peanut butter and jelly or yin and yang. On a recent visit to Portland, I decided to go whole hog, so to speak, and eat lobster for every dinner.
But — here’s the wrinkle — I wanted inventive, contemporary and luscious riffs on the tried and true. In recent years, Portland has become quite the foodie destination, and I was certain that the humble lobster hadn’t escaped its chefs’ attention.
I was right.
Take the Maine lobster roll, for example. The classic roll consists of lobster chunks tossed in a mayonnaise-based dressing and served up in a hot dog-style bun. No question, it is simple and delicious, and that’s the reason for its enduring popularity.
It’s also the reason to shake it up a little.
The Highroller Lobster Co. (104 Exchange St., 207-536-1623) began as a food truck and is now a hip restaurant resembling a red-and-white diner. Part of me really wanted the lobster taco; the shell is made of crisp cheese — really. Lobster grilled cheese also had its charms. But I’d heard too much about Highroller’s lobster roll ($19) and the options for customizing it. The roll came with a generous serving of lobster on a toasted brioche bun. Of the nine sauces available, I selected the jalapeño mayo, which gave the lobster an appropriately saucy kick. The added avocado was icing on the cake.
Eventide Oyster Co. (86 Middle St., 207-774-8538) may specialize in oysters, but its lobster roll is to die for. The warm lobster is coated in brown butter sauce and served on a soft, steamed Chinese bao bun. It may not be the most attractive lobster roll in the world, but its rich flavour ranks among the very best. The Maine lobster stew was also too intriguing to pass up. Instead of the usual cream and sherry base, this “stew” was more of a soup with chunks of lobster and sweet potato in a mild but flavourful coconut, green curry broth. But it was the lobster roll that pulled us back a second time.
Perhaps our most unusual lobster dish was at the Asian-inspired Honey Paw (78 Middle St., 207-774-8538). The lobster toast is a smooth, subtle mousse of lobster and scallop topped with crunchy radish slivers and a tarragon emulsion. We also sampled the delicate lobster wontons and regretted that the lobster laksa, a kind of curry, wasn’t currently on the menu. Honey Paw also gets props for its excellent vegetable dishes, including our side of wok-charred Broccolini.
We originally put Street and Co. (33 Wharf St., 207-775-0887) on our list for its lobster diavolo for two: lobster with mussels, clams and calamari over linguini in a mildly spicy red sauce. But even though the two of us had come with healthy appetites, that sounded like a dish fit for a regiment. So we switched gears and split one order of the grilled lobster on linguini in butter and (lots of) garlic— a happy reminder that butter and garlic are lobsters’ best friends (and pasta goes with everything).
My personal favourite, though, was Five Fifty-Five (555 Congress St., 207-553-7044). The best word to describe its truffled lobster mac and cheese has to be “sublime.” Maybe it’s the butter-poached lobster or the white truffle oil or the black truffles scattered throughout. This dish was so rich that we were glad to split it. That also gave us the opportunity to split the phenomenal grilled Caesar (with white anchovies) and Maine fiddlehead ferns. No surprise, we returned for an encore. And I would have happily returned yet again, except for the pesky matter of a flight home the next day.
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