Ohhhhhhhhh my goooooooooood. Is there anything in this world better than the king of proteins, the lobster? (Okay, maybe chocolate. And those are two things that definitely do not mix.) When I was a kid I hated shellfish of all kinds, but when I grew to be about ten, my tastes changed and I started embracin’ the crustacean. Now I love lobster in bisque, sandwiches, salads, and of course, the big behemoth, a whole lobster just to myself. I haven’t had one of those in a while! (Actually, I have dental surgery tomorrow morning, which means I’ll be eating oatmeal and pudding for the foreseeable future. I may have the boyfriend take me out to a lobster dinner for one last solid foods hurrah!)
Interestingly enough, the lobster wasn’t a high-class food product until the 19th century! The crustacean had been nearly unheard of in regions outside of New England, where the American Lobster lives, and even there, lobster was considered a “plebian” food, served only to servants and lower members of society. (Those lucky servants!) It wasn’t until the late 19th/early 20th centuries, and the technological advances of lobster fishing and food transport and refrigeration, that lobster became known as the luxury product it is today. Even as last as the 1920s, lobsters only sold for 10-14 cents per pound. Now, premium lobsters will easily set you back 10-14 dollars per pound!
There are a million and one ways to cook and serve lobster, from the po’boy to the Newburg, so I tried to narrow it down to my favorite kinds of lobster dishes (and one lobster dish that surprisingly has no lobster!) On very, very special occasions as a child my family bought fresh live lobsters from Jordan’s Lobster Dock in Sheepshead Bay, with a gigantic Gorton’s Fisherman outside the foul-smelling fish market. They’d sit, snapping claws and all, in the kitchen sink until we were ready to boil them in a big lobster pot. Add some butter and a celery cole slaw on the side and you are in business! Jordan’s isn’t the fish market it used to be, but there is a great place in Brooklyn you can still get super-fresh lobster, right off the truck from good ol’ Maine. Lots of people are discovering the culinary gold to be found in Red Hook, including the Red Hook Lobster Pound, an unassuming storefront that only sells one thing: lobster. Ralph Gorham and Susan Povich get shipments of live Maine lobsters right off the docks and driven directly to their store, so they’re as fresh as you’re ever going to get them in New York City. You can get freshly made lobster rolls here, with just the lightest dressing of mayo and/or clarified butter, or order your lobster whole by the pound. They’ll even steam the lobster for you. You can also eat a whole lobster dinner right outside of the Pound, served with cole slaw and corn on the cob, for only $25, but you’ll have to fight for the meager seating available. My advice? Buy the whole lobster pre-steamed, take it home, find your messiest t-shirt and nutcracker, and go to town. You don’t get a better or fresher lobster than from the Red Hook Lobster Pound, unless you drive to Maine yourself!
Red Hook Lobster Pound
284 Van Brunt St (between Verona St & Visitation Pl), Red Hook
“Mr. Gorham (above), who also makes tables from recycled wood, drives round-trip to Kittery, Me., on Thursdays to buy up to 1,000 pounds of fresh lobsters off the boats. He does not buy lobsters from pounds, where they may have been lolling in the water for days or weeks, shedding flavor and texture. His lobsters go on sale Friday at noon; by Sunday evening, when he and his wife close, they are usually all gone.”–The New York Times
“The lobster dinner is fairly standard. Steamed lobster, coleslaw, and steamed corn on cob. As your food was alive mere minutes ago, and steamed rapidly for your consumption, it’s as fresh as it gets. My lobster had a awfully hard shell, which made it a challenge, but the struggle and slight splatter was all worth it.”–Eat Big Apple
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“yeah yeah, they have lobster rolls and lobster mac-and-cheese — you know this already. but what people seem to overlook is the lobster *dinner*: for $25 you get a whole 1.5 lb lobster, plucked from the tanks moments after you’ve ordered, plus corn-on-the-cob, cole slaw, and some of the tastiest potato salad i’ve ever had. and sure, they don’t serve booze, but they don’t mind if you BYOB, so just bring some from home or go to the liquor store on the corner while they prepare your meal. then grab one of the picnic tables (indoors, no need to fret about the cold weather), and about 10 minutes later, they’ll bring your lobster feast to you.”–Lily T.
“We were finally able to get the lobster dinner and the lobster was DE-FREAKIN-LICIOUS ;D. it was fresh and sweet and just great. the corn was yummy as were the claw and potato salad but really the lobster was the WINNER!!! TOTALLY worth $25!!”–Red. J.
But while the Red Hook Lobster Pound sells some of the freshest, best whole lobsters in the city, they’re arguably not the best place in town to get a simple lobster roll. People get angry with you when you try to tell them where the best lobster roll in the city may be: Luke’s Lobster, Pearl Oyster Bar…the list goes on. They all make delectable lobster rolls, each with their own signature balance of mayonnaise, celery, lemon juice, and of course, the succulent lobster. But one of the most critically acclaimed lobster rolls comes from Mary’s Fish Camp in the West Village. Food And Wine Magazine highlighted it as one of the best in the city, and even the Food Network scion, Bobby Flay, showcased the Fish Camp on an episode of Boy Meets Grill. Owner Mary Redding does indeed grill the lobster roll: the Pepperidge Farm bun is greased and sauteed on each side to give it an extra crunch, as well as add to the buttery flavor of the lobster. And Mary’s is slightly more upscale than Luke’s or the Lobster Pound, so you can order other seafood delights like a wild striped sea bass filet, Ahi tuna melt, or a fresh sardine banh-mi. This is the best place for a date you want to impress with the atmosphere of a restaurant and not only the great lobster.
Mary’s Fish Camp
64 Charles St (between 4th St & Bleecker St)
“The recipe is simple—just some titanic hunks of supremely fresh lobster given the Hellmann’s treatment, with a fine dice of celery and a finger-twitch of chopped scallion, all shoved into a Pepperidge Farm top-loading bun. But the result is astonishing: The cool, sweet meat contrasts wondrously with the warm, buttery roll.”–New York Magazine
“Mary Redding, the chef/owner of Mary’s Fish Camp, keeps things super-minimal, using mayo, lemon juice, salt and pepper. “It should be all about the lobster,” says Redding. “Also, keep the pieces large versus mincing them into tuna fish.” Bun of choice: Pepperidge Farm’s top-loading buns. Redding sautés each side, caramelizing it like you would to make grilled cheese.”–Food & Wine Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Ok, so I’m all for hyped restaurants. But this place lives up to it in spades. The lobster roll is amazing. Amazing doesn’t even really cover it, and I know from lobster rolls, having spent most of the summers of my youth on Cape Cod. This is the real deal. Creamy, perfectly seasoned chunks of lobster in a crispy, butter soaked bun. It’s just…indescribable. You just have to have it. Luckily I came here for lunch so I didn’t have to be subjected to the dreaded waits – which I’m sure are excessive – the place is tiny, but charming and cozy, and a happy West Village dining destination.”–Sam P.
“Might as well start off with the main draw – the lobster roll. It lived up to the hype. A little more mayo than Pearl’s (from what I recall) but the mayo was nicely flavored and excellently complemented the lobster meat and buttery hot dog roll. The lobster was plentiful and rewarded each bite with a nice meaty chunk. While you’ll be tempted to wolf it down, resist the temptation and pace yourself.”–Scott R.
Full disclosure, though? While whole lobsters and lobster rolls were obviously on the docket for National Lobster Day, the first dish I thought of doesn’t contain any lobster at all. Most everyone who’s had Chinese-American food (not Chinese food, mind you, but the stuff you’ll only find here in the States!) knows the delicate flavors of Shrimp in Lobster Sauce, a popular dish made from meat stock instead of soy sauce (your ubiquitous “brown sauce” in Chinese cuisine). The translucent sauce (that sometimes has egg, peas, ginger, and even pieces of roast pork) has nothing to do with lobster, but some think that it comes from the family of sauces that are traditionally poured over stir-fried lobster. It was the first dish I thought of, however, and the moment the food popped into my head, I just had to have it.
And for an old-school Chinese American dish like Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, you have to get O.G. with your Chinese. You would think that Chinatown would have your fix, but the real king of Chinese-American kitsch is King Yum, out on the Utopia Turnpike in Queens. This place has been in the same family since 1953, and is the oldest operating Chinese restaurant in Queens. The owner/operator/manager/chef, Jimmy Eng, only died a few years ago, but this place has still kept its 1950s charm. A Polynesian Tiki motif makes you feel like you stepped right into the Chinese restaurant in A Christmas Story: delightfully kitschy and tacky. Back when King Yum opened, the neighborhood was overwhelmingly Jewish, and the style of easily accessibly Chinese-American cuisine still reflects that. I may have the lobster tonight, but for tomorrow, when my bandages prevent me from biting into a lobster roll and the cracks of a lobster claw give me sympathy pains? It’s shrimp with lobster sauce over lo mein noodles for me, most definitely!
King Yum Chinese and American Restaurant
18108 Union Tpke, Fresh Meadows
“This charmingly old-school Cantonese establishment dishes out classic Americanized Chinese food like your grandparents remember it—large, family-style portions of orange beef, egg rolls, spareribs, egg foo young, shrimp with lobster sauce and chow mein, served with Polynesian-themed drink specials in a dining room filled with tiki decor. And that’s not just retro styling: one of the first Chinese restaurants in Queens, King Yum opened in 1953 and has remained remarkably unchanged since.”–NYC GO
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“If you’re looking for trendy, authentic, or cutting edge Chinese food–this ain’t the place. If, however, you get a jones for the old-time Cantonese Americanized Chinese food you grew up with, you’ll find it here. Spare ribs. Shrimp & lobster sauce. Mu Shus. Egg Foo Young. Wonton soup. All the usual suspects are here and they’re all good. Portions are generous, the food is tasty, the prices are fair and the owners/family members running it are friendly and accommodating.”–Steve E.
“The waiters are very nice and very patient. Service is solid. The food is good. Nothing we had was bad and nothing was the best ever, but it was all enjoyable. This is jewish-american chinese food (shrimp w/lobster sauce, chicken w/broccoli, spare ribs) at reasonable prices. If you want something more authentic, Flushing is only minutes away.”–Ann S.
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