Listed at a “market price” that comes in around $26 these days, it’s obviously pretty spendy for what is, after all, just a sandwich. I’ll simply say, to justify the expense, that I’m a firm believer in indulging in small luxuries. I may not be able to afford a trip to Maine at the moment, but I can treat myself to a little taste of it here in New York.
And, in this case, you get what you pay for. This is not what you order when you’re feeling a tiny bit peckish.
The top-loading toasted and buttered bun literally overflows with flawlessly fresh, sweet lobster (the good meat, too, not the scraps), dressed (some would say overly so, to be honest) with mayonnaise and a smattering of chives. I award bonus points for the lack of crunchy bits, celery especially. (I’m unrepentantly biased against anything that crunches when the rest of the dish is creamy, smooth or chewy—i.e., deviled eggs, tuna salad, etc.—with the possible exceptions of scallions and dill pickles. It’s a texture thing.)
The roll is normally served with a messy tangle of shoestring fries (with vinegar and ketchup for me, please!), but I often opt for the greens you see in the photo in deference to the fried-oyster appetizer (above; $6). Served with a homemade tartar sauce studded with chunks of dill pickles, capers and red onions (I eat around the onions in accordance with my no-crunchy-bits rule), I can say with absolutely certainty that these are the best fried oysters I’ve ever eaten.
It would be hypocritical to claim that one place serves the ultimate lobster roll without sampling the city’s newest entry, though, so on Sunday (in the name of research, of course) I found my way to the Brooklyn Flea, where the Red Hook Lobster Pound has been generating some serious buzz for its offering.
At half the price ($13) and half the size of Pearl’s version (and way less than half the mayo), this one is a contender. The lobster was very similar—though not as copious, the flavor was just as prominent, thanks to the restraint shown with the dressing and the impeccable quality of the meat. The roll was even toastier, with more butter, and the celery on top was easily brushed aside. I nearly forgot that I was standing on black asphalt in the middle of Brooklyn. My appetite was whetted. I wanted another, preferably with a cold beer and ocean breezes on the side.
Unfortunately, I had to settle for this disappointing basket of crab claws ($10 for four) instead. Utterly flavorless, these weren’t worth the considerable time it took to crack the shells and extract the meat.
Full disclosure: I haven’t tried every single lobster roll in the city. I’ve declared Pearl as the favorite from my survey, over the years, of its rivals, all of which have historically left me craving the original. I still think that that one’s the best—after all, Rebecca Charles wrote the book on the subject—but I wasn’t unhappy with the Lobster Pound’s version, either.
There are times when you go for the real deal, and there are times when a reasonable substitute is good enough. I got my fix, felt health-conscious (please, let me keep my delusions) and thrifty while doing it, and left without the slightest hint of regret for trying out the newcomer.
That’s a win-win-win, if you ask me.
Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia Street
New York, NY