Category Archives: Massachusetts

Holy Rollers: Grace Church

I didn’t believe the hype.

My friend first brought the hype to my attention in early July: Yankee Magazine had christened the Friday night lobster rolls at Grace Church the best in New England. I was curious but skeptical: were the nice church people getting a charity vote? Was the editor’s great-auntie on the church lobster roll committee?

Off we headed to Vineyard Haven on a Friday night: my friend, her mother, my husband, and I. We expected a long line, but there was none. It felt strange approaching a church for a dinner several calibers above “spaghetti supper” or “pancake breakfast.”

Looks like a pretty normal church, right? Except for the shingles.

...But it holds a secret!

For fifteen dollars, Grace Church will give you a lobster roll, chips, and a drink—iced tea or lemonade. Pie’ll cost you extra. Into the parish house you go…

…And a friendly volunteer will present you with a lobster roll.

Apron: "Have you hugged an Episcopalian today?"

The air was hot and stuffy in the dining room, so we crammed ourselves onto a bench outside. After we set down the tray, we sized up our supper. The lobster rolls were of a generous size, with fresh pink meat spilling over the top of the bun.

Yum.

Could the quality match the quantity? We chewed. The lobster meat was sweet, firm, and fresh, perfectly seasoned with salt and white pepper. (Really—I wrote “firm, sweet” on my notes in three different places without realizing it.) A little mayo held the sandwich together. No fillers, simple hot dog bun. Grace Church had given us both incredible quality and generous quantity: This was the Holy Grail of lobster rolls, for the low price of fifteen dollars.

Everyone said “Alleluia.” Angels sang. My friend was converted. Formerly not a lobster roll eater, she went back to buy a second for the next day’s lunch.

After eating this glorious lobster roll, I believe the tee shirt one parishioner was wearing. Jesus was an Episcopalian.

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Hot damn! The Menemsha Fish Market

Martha’s Vineyard offers a treasure trove of delights to visitors: endless shoreline, nature walks, alpacas, one Eurasian eagle owl, sunsets, and lobster rolls. For the latter two pleasures, one is hard-pressed to beat the joys of Menemsha.

Menemsha, a fishing village on the west side of the island, is the home of the aptly-named Menemsha Fish Market. To get there for supper, one must compete with throngs of tourists and locals for parking. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: It gets vicious. There are lots of New Yorkers, well-known to be the most competitive people in the Americas. Also, Menemsha smells pretty bad if you’re downwind of all the bait.

But, oh, the reward! Once you place your order at the fish market—and I strongly recommend a couple of local oysters and the hot lobster roll with a cup of clam chowder—you can visit Lobsterzilla, the biggest darn lobster you ever did see, who lives in the tanks of the fish market. He has barnacles!

We had planned to take our meal and eat it on the beach, so it was a little awkward when I was handed three slippery oysters on a paper plate. (I ordered two—thanks, Menemsha Fish Market!) I slurped ’em down right there in the crowded store. They were tiny, and the sweetest, briniest, freshest oysters I ever did eat. I was crazy for those oysters. Gaga. Head over heels.

Soon after, our lobster roll was ready and we shlepped to the beach to join our friends. We weren’t sure what to expect, although the chalkboard menu had promised it would be “unforgettable.” The preparation was disarmingly simple: a small hotdog bun filled with warm, plump lobster meat, and a side of melted butter.

Artsy photo, eh?

The menu hadn’t lied. This lobster roll was transcendent. The meat was sweet and firm; the butter was, well, buttery; the humble hot dog bun complemented and did not overwhelm the supremely fresh, delicate lobster. The chowder was also delicious—not too thick and generous with clams.

(We visited the Menemsha Fish Market again for the regular lobster roll. It was fresh, but not unforgettable. Forget it and get the hot roll.)

After we finished our seafood feast, we sat back and enjoyed the sunset.

We weren't the only ones taking pictures.

The Great Raw Bar Controversy

Since I began writing this blog, many readers have recommended their favorite lobster roll places. One fish joint comes up again and again. The people of  southeastern Massachusetts—land of my youth—are gaga for the The Raw Bar.

The Raw Bar has two locations, Mashpee and Hyannis. I was underwhelmed by the lobster roll when I visited the Mashpee restaurant a couple years ago. However, I was not an official amateur lobster roll blogger at that time, so who knows what I was thinking.

As my husband and I awaited the Hy-Line ferry for our recent trip to Martha’s Vineyard, our tummies began rumbling the lunchtime hour song. Lo and behold, Fate had brought us to the Hyannis Raw Bar location. We hauled our luggage upstairs and snagged a table on the breezy deck.

Nice view! Buena vista!

The order was easy: one $25 lobster roll to share. Our sandwich arrived promptly. It was pleasantly frill-less, no fries, no sides, just a giant mound of mayo-coated lobster on a roll. Would this be The One? The lobster roll to end all lobster rolls? The reason to pack up my blog and cease the quest for lobster roll perfection?

Ginormous Sandwich

Alas, no. The sandwich was generous in quantity but a mite stingy in quality. Although it offered some nice chunks of claw, these were filled out with too many lobster shreds. I’d prefer a smaller lobster roll made entirely of chunks. Just give me the good stuff.

The chunks varied in freshness, and some were overcooked and rubbery.  On the plus side, the mayonnaise was applied sparingly, adding a nice texture while remaining unobtrusive.  It tasted like the lobster had not been seasoned, so we added salt and pepper at the table.

My husband rated this roll higher than I did, enjoying its simple preparation and freshness. Perhaps my better half got the better half of the sandwich.

As for me, my quest continues…

Vacation in My Own Backyard

Here’s a riddle for you: Where can you enjoy the best of Maine, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and a sports pub all in one place? The answer: The Sunset Tiki Bar. This outdoor restaurant is conveniently located at the Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, Mass.

The Sunset Tiki Bar is an insta-vakay, a place so mellow and atmospheric that it condenses a week of lounging into a couple of hours. Witness the tables on the beach facing the sweet little pond framed by pine trees, the live music, the stage festooned with both a beach mural and the Jolly Roger, the Polynesian grass framing the wide-screen TVs, the strong Caribbean cocktails. I dare your cares to follow you.

Note the carved posts.

As you may have inferred, the Sunset Tiki Bar serves a lobster roll. No celery or other intruders muck up this sandwich. Mayonnaise subtly coats firm chunks of lobster meat—heavy on the claw. The bun has a little too much bread for my taste, but it’s nicely toasted with a touch of garlic butter, and a thin layer of Boston lettuce adds color contrast. Sides are simple: Potato salad or pasta salad. I prefer the pasta, but they’re both solid choices. Is this the sweetest, freshest lobster roll in New England? No, but it’s pretty damn good.

Note the giant Dark and Stormy in the background.

If you visit the Sunset Tiki Bar, please call me first so that I can tag along. I’ll remind you that they’re open only for dinner starting at 5:30 PM, and that you must bring ID to enter. Your kids are welcome until 9 PM and then they must skeedaddle.  We’ll splash on our insect repellent (the citronella candles aren’t terribly helpful) and head off for our vacation.

Note the lingering after dinner.

Best Lobster Roll Writing

The mission of On a Lobster Roll is twofold. First, I am going to eat as many lobster rolls as possible as a service to you, dear reader, so that you might eat only the best and brightest. Secondly, I’m going to bring you the best and brightest lobster roll writing from only the most impassioned critics. Joey C over at Good Morning Gloucester has strong feelings on lobster rolls. I dig it.

The Tavern at Wrentham

Today I caught up with my sister and mom over lunch at The Tavern at Wrentham. The Tavern is a modest, clean, and spacious watering hole and dining room, complete with big-screen TVs and Keno cards on every table. It was quiet at 1 PM on a weekday, but you know it’s gotta be hopping on a Friday night.

In the interest of scientific inquiry, we ordered clam cakes and three lobster rolls.

Although this is a blog about lobster rolls, I must pause to give the clam cakes their proper due: They were delicious. Crispy and golden outside, soft and briny inside, with generous chunks of succulent clam. The Tavern serves their cakes with tartar sauce and lemon slices. They were, in short, little round pillows of New England heaven.

The lobster rolls arrived on plates with ‘slaw, fries, and a pickle. The fries were only fair, tasting mushy and processed. The coleslaw was fresh and had a nice mayo-to-cabbage ratio. It seemed to be seasoned with mustard. Although my mom liked it a lot, I found the ‘slaw to taste a little bitter and thought the cabbage could be shredded finer. The pickle was a pleasantly crispy half-sour.

The lobster roll had a couple good chunks of meat, but mostly consisted of shredded bits of lobster rounded out with excessive celery bits. The mayo tasted a little tangy, like Miracle Whip. This is incorrect. The mayo should have no distinct taste of its own-–it lives to serve the lobster, supporting the star’s briny, sweet succulence. Moreover, mayonnaise–-and I am speaking now to all mayonnaise everywhere-–should be Cains or homemade. That’s it. No other options. (Yes, I have strong feelings about this. Would I write a blog devoted to lobster rolls otherwise?) The roll itself, however, was perfect: A simple hotdog bun elevated by thorough grilling on a hot, buttery griddle. It was yellow with saturated fat, crispy on the outside, and totally delicious. That said, the lobster should take central stage in the lobster roll sandwich–-not the roll.

If you decide to visit The Tavern, note that there is a giant, empty field across the road. Your GPS might think that the restaurant is actually in the field, in which case you might wonder-–as did I–-whether The Tavern is a Brigadoon-like place cursed to invisibility under normal circumstances. In fact, it’s just across the street.