Lobster Rolls: Connecticut
Connecticut is the state farthest from Maine where lobster rolls are still relatively common—not like they are in coastal Maine, maybe, but not that rare either.
Interestingly, Connecticut has a unique idea of the perfect lobster roll, which differs significantly from that of the type found in Maine. To me, and (I would be willing to bet) everyone in the state of Maine, a “lobster roll” is chilled lobster or lobster salad on a grilled top-split hot dog roll. Not in Connecticut. A Connecticut “lobster roll” is filled not with lobster salad, but with hot lobster meat drenched in melted butter. What it shares with the Maine version is that it is served (usually) on the standard top-split hot-dog roll. Point being if you want a Maine-style lobster roll in Connecticut, be sure to ask for a lobster salad roll. In most places that will net you a fine Maine-style lobster roll. About the only difference is that the Connecticut variety invariably includes a leaf of lettuce under the salad, an addition that is rare in Maine.
The hot lobster roll seems unique to Connecticut (and not even available in Maine as far as I know; at least, I’ve never seen one there), and I get the impression that the hot lobster roll is what most people prefer. Not me, of course. Don’t get me wrong. I love hot lobster drenched in melted butter. Who wouldn’t? But not on a hot dog roll, thank you. Before you’re halfway through, you’re holding a soggy mess. I guess that’s part of the fun, but no thanks.
Below you’ll find details on the lobster rolls I’ve sampled in Connecticut over the years, starting with a list of my favorites.
In the past I have chosen a “best lobster roll,” but that’s a hopeless task that diverts attention away from many worthy places. Rather than choosing the one “best” lobster roll, I have decided to list all the places I have visited in Connecticut that serve an outstanding roll (see this page for my all-time favorites, most of which are in Maine). The list is based solely on the roll itself with no consideration given to service, amenities, ambience, or price. Note also that these are all cold lobster salad rolls, not hot lobster rolls that are so common in Connecticut. Here they are, in roughly geographical order from east to west:
- Cove Fish Market, Mystic
- Sea Swirl, Mystic
- Bill’s Seafood, Westbrook
I once tried the Sea Swirl’s lobster roll many years ago and remembered it being fine, but no match for the one at the Cove Fish Market right up the street. Because the Cove’s roll was so good, I had no reason to go back there until Elizabeth Bougerol profiled the Sea Swirl in her book, Seafood Shacks.
In 2007, I finally had a chance to return to the Sea Swirl, and Wow! It was outstanding. Theirs was the best roll of the six I had on my trip and was one of the best I’ve ever had anywhere. The salad had almost no mayo at all (you could barely call it “salad”) mixed with a few bits of celery. The lobster itself was the star of the sandwich, as it should be. It was nice and chunky and full of flavor. I did not see a hot lobster roll available.
Besides its great roll, the Sea Swirl is also a great place to stop for ice cream, and is worth the short detour from the other attractions of Mystic Seaport. If you have kids, I would make a point of stopping here. ($14.95 in May, 2007.) (map and directions)
The lobster roll at Sea Swirl in Mystic. Outstanding. (This photo was taken in May, 2007.)
Cove Fish Market
I originally discovered the Cove Fish Market by asking a local where to find the best lobster roll in Mystic. It’s a good thing I asked, because I never would have found the Cove by myself. It’s nowhere near Mystic Seaport where most of the other restaurants are located. I am forever indebted to this person, because the Cove has been quite a find.
Cove Fish Market. It really is a market, too, but all of the action is at the takeout window on the right.
The strength of the Cove’s roll has always been their salad. In years past, they would occasionally serve lobster salad that had a little too much mayo, but since 2002, the salad has been consistently excellent. Although the salad was always satisfying, the roll was only a toasted hamburger bun.
Before 2004, the Cove Fish Market served their lobster rolls on a toasted hamburger bun. (This photo was taken in 2001.)
Something happened in 2004, and they began serving their rolls on grilled hot dog buns. With that change, the Cove’s roll became not only the most authentic, but also my favorite lobster roll of any place I’ve tried outside of Maine.
Unfortunately, nothing stays the same forever. I got an email from someone who visited the Cove and was disappointed in both the roll and the service, so I returned in 2007 to check things out. I couldn’t find fault with the service (I mean, it’s just a takeout window), but the salad was more shredded and stringier than I remembered it, and just as was reported to me, one side of the roll was burnt. Even with these defects, the roll had great flavor and is still one of my favorites. In other changes at the Cove, they now offer a hot lobster roll, which I did not try. ($14.95 in May, 2007.) (map and directions)
The Cove’s lobster roll, circa 2004. At the time, it was the best lobster roll I ever had outside of Maine.
The lobster roll at Cove Fish Market in Mystic. Not the best any more, but defects and all, still very good. (This photo was taken in May, 2007.)
Sea View Snack Bar
I have driven by the Sea View Snack Bar many times over the years but never stopped there. The reason? The parking lot was always full! That’s always a good sign, so when I finally found myself in Mystic at around 11:00 in the morning, I thought I would finally have the chance to try the Sea View’s lobster roll. At that hour, there was still some room in the parking lot (which only holds about 20 cars). You order at a window and there are about 15 picnic tables available, most in shade, to enjoy your meal.
The Sea View’s roll is big, built on an oversize top-split bun, lightly grilled. The salad was dressed with light mayo and a little celery and seasoned with salt and pepper—you can actually taste the pepper which I normally never notice. The salad sits on a bed of shredded lettuce. The lobster itself wasn’t as firm in texture as the best I’ve had, but overall their roll is a solid middle-of-the-road effort. ($13.95 in September, 2007.)
The lobster roll at the Sea View Snack Bar in Mystic. (September, 2007)
Ten Clams is in Olde Mistick Village, the giant shopping center right off Exit 90 of I-95. Their gimmick is that everything on the menu is ten clams ($10) or less; their lobster roll was $9.95. Although the menu does not list it, both hot and cold lobster rolls are available. I had a cold one, and it was the probably the worst one I’ve had in Connecticut. The lobster was somewhat chopped and shredded with a little celery, but the flavor was bland, and worst of all, included several pieces of shell! I had never before found shell in any lobster salad. The roll itself was very buttery and good.
The lobster roll at Ten Clams in Mystic. (This photo was taken in May, 2007.)
Not far from Mystic is Noank, Connecticut, home to a pair of restaurants, one called Abbott’s and the other called, naturally, Costello’s. I went to Abbott’s in June, 2003 on the recommendation of a reader. Abbott’s bills themselves as “Lobster in the Rough,” but I’m not sure why. Sure, it’s informal, but there is nothing rough about it. Quite the contrary; Abbott’s is spacious, clean, and well-run. Even though they were quite busy when we visited, there was still room to park in the large lot. The very long line moved quickly and our order came up fast. When our order was ready, we took our food out to one of the numerous picnic tables overlooking the water.
The lobster roll at Abbotts’s in Noank, Connecticut. (This photo was taken in June, 2003.)
Their specialty is the hot lobster roll, which has been judged the Best of Connecticut by Connecticut Magazine, but on my first visit, I was there to try the cold version. It sure looked good (see picture above) with a buttery, grilled roll, and the lobster meat was of excellent quality, but the dressing was distractingly strong and sweet, like nothing I’ve tasted before, actually. Another more minor disappointment was that Abbott’s does not have a fryer, so orders come with a bag of chips instead of my beloved French fries. (The sister restaurant, Costello’s, serves fried specialties along with hot and cold lobster rolls, but I didn’t have time on that trip to stop there.)
In 2007, I returned to Abbott’s specifically to try the hot lobster roll. The first thing I noticed was that the lobster wasn’t very hot, but barely above room temperature. I didn’t see that as a problem since room temperature (or cooler) is ideal. The next thing I noticed is that the heart of their hot lobster roll consists of a disk of compressed lobster, much like a crab cake. Unlike most crab cakes, however, I couldn’t detect an ounce of filler. Because of the circular shape, the hot lobster roll is served on a hamburger bun unlike their lobster salad roll which is served on the conventional frankfurter roll.
Overall, I was very impressed with their hot lobster roll. There was just enough butter to enhance the flavor without drowning the meat (and creating a soggy mess), you get a lot of lobster, and the flavor was simply outstanding. ($12.95 with bag of chips in May, 2007.)
The hot lobster roll at Abbotts’s in Noank, Connecticut. (This photo was taken in May, 2007.)
Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock
One of the first lobster rolls I ever had (a long time ago in the previous century) was at Captain Scott’s. While waiting to take the ferry to Fishers Island from New London, we asked around for a place that sold lobster rolls, and Captain Scott’s was recommended as the only place around. All I remember from that visit was that the location was in a dismal spot near a lumber yard, and the lobster roll wasn’t either memorably good or bad. I was in no hurry to return, but the place often receives very favorable mentions.
Well, Captain Scott’s wasn’t quite the way I remembered it; I think it has grown a bit. It’s also a little difficult to find. When you come upon Hamilton Street (from Shaw Street), you won’t believe there’s a “lobster dock” anywhere in this neighborhood of warehouses and other industrial buildings. Follow Hamilton until it dead-ends at the train tracks where you will finally see a sign for Captain Scott’s and turn left. Despite being hemmed in by the AMTRAK tracks and rusting railroad equipment, Captain Scott’s is quite clean and cheerful—and it’s big! There’s a huge parking lot, 15 picnic tables outside and another 20 inside a large shed. Once you are there, the railroad tracks are easy to ignore, because Captain Scott’s is bordered on the opposite side by a picturesque marina. When you order, they take your name instead of assigning you a number; a nice touch.
This picture of the order window doesn’t do justice to the size of the place. Besides the picnic tables visible in the photo, there are many more under a huge shed behind where I was standing.
Their lobster roll is built on an oversize top-split bun, although the bun is only very lightly grilled with no butter flavor. The salad is made with light mayo, a few quarter-inch chunks of celery, and sits on a single leaf of lettuce. There is a noticeable amount of pepper on the salad; not a big problem, but a little unusual. The meat itself is very high quality, large chunks with a nice texture. I could have used more butter on the roll, but even with that, this is a fine roll. I have to mention the unusual fries, which feature a very crisp coating. ($12.95 with fries in September, 2007.)
The lobster roll at Captain Scott’s. (September, 2007)
I don’t have any notes from a visit to Johnny Ad’s in Old Saybrook in the mid nineties, but I do remember their cold lobster roll being rather ordinary, so when I finally returned there in 2007, I knew I had to try their hot roll. The roll itself is grilled lightly on the outside and the inside is buttered lavishly. That plus the butter on the lobster makes for a flimsy roll that turns into a mess by the time you finish. The meat was warm, but nowhere near “hot.” Despite the mess, the lobster itself was very good, and I had a lot of fun eating this roll. Speaking as a lobster salad fan, I had to admit this was great. ($14.95 in May, 2007.)
The hot lobster roll at Johnny Ad’s in Old Saybrook. (This photo was taken in May, 2007.)
Bill’s Seafood is a relatively new find for me, and after my first visit there in August, 2004, they shot right to the top of the charts. Bill’s is a big compound with a large indoor restaurant and bar flanked by an enormous deck featuring rows of picnic tables with umbrellas overlooking the Patchogue River.
The entrance to Bill’s. In nice weather, head straight to the deck to enjoy an excellent lobster roll. (This photo was taken in 2004.)
We ate outside on the deck. Forgetting myself for a second, I ordered a “lobster roll” and our waitress seemed momentarily excited that we were all set to enjoy a couple of hot rolls, until she realized we only wanted lobster salad rolls. (In Connecticut be careful to specify a lobster salad roll. If you just say “lobster roll,” you will probably get a hot one.)
Bill’s lobster salad roll as delivered. What’s with the tomato chapeau? Get that thing offa there! (This photo was taken in 2004.)
Bill’s lobster salad roll with tomato garnish removed. (This photo was taken in 2004.)
The top split roll was perfectly grilled and dressed with one leaf of lettuce at the bottom, surmounted by a nice heap of salad garnished with an artfully split and twisted tomato slice (see photo). An artistic touch, but I removed it immediately to eat later. Fries were very good, straight style. Lobster salad was kind of chopped; no large chunks, but possessed great flavor. Dressing incorporated a tiny bit of celery, some mayonnaise and strong lobster flavor. All-around an excellent roll. I’ve been back to Bill’s several times after my original visit and continue to be very impressed with their roll. I look forward to trying their hot lobster roll someday.
On our last visit, we stopped at Bill’s Etc next door, which serves Ashley’s Ice Cream, a highly-regarded local brand. We had some peach ice cream, a seasonal selection (in September, 2007). (map and directions)
Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale
I was led to try Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale based on Jane and Michael Stern’s recommendation. The Splendid Table web site features many of their picks on the “Where We Eat” page. Most interesting to me was their list of best lobster rolls on the eastern seaboard. It’s suspicious that only one restaurant is in Maine; it’s difficult to believe that three of the four “best lobster rolls” are found in Connecticut. Nevertheless, that’s what led me to try Lenny & Joe’s. As has happened to me any number of times with the Sterns’ recommendations, I find myself at odds with their conclusions. Admittedly, that page hasn’t been updated since 1997, so maybe Lenny & Joe’s has gone down since then. While their lobster roll was fine, it didn’t make my best-of list.
We went to the location in Westbrook on a Sunday morning. They offer outside seating, but they weren’t seating anyone outside this morning. Although their roll was one of the “worst” of any I’ve had in Connecticut, it was still perfectly fine. I had a few quibbles, however. The roll was not grilled, only toasted. The mayonnaise had a slight pickle flavor; it was probably Miracle Whip. The lobster meat itself was very good, which is what counts. The fries were excellent; crinkle cut style, crispy on the outside, tender inside. After polishing off an order of cold lobster rolls, the three of us split a hot lobster roll. One thing I can say for sure: it was very buttery. I can see why people like them, but none of us preferred it.
The lobster roll at Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale in Westbrook. (This photo was taken in 2004.)
There are a number of places in West Haven where lobster rolls are reportedly available. In 2006 I went through the Savin Rock area (the site along the coast of an old amusement park) where they are located. I tried going to Jimmies twice, but the wait was long (a half hour or more), and I was on a tight schedule. Some other time maybe. I did get to Chick’s...
Chick’s Seafood Restaurant
Chick’s is on Beach Street right across from the beach. With four registers and abundant seating inside and out, it looks big enough to handle a huge crowd, but there was only light traffic the day we were there in August. The “Blue Plate” includes fries and cole slaw. Their lobster roll contains hot buttered lobster, which is a style common in Connecticut. While I prefer the cold salad rolls, I must admit this was very tasty in part because the nice soft roll (a foot long and grilled on the inside) didn’t disintegrate. As you can see, they are a little stingy with the lobster, however. ($14.75 or $16.75 for “Blue Plate,” which includes fries and cole slaw in August, 2006)
The lobster roll at Chick’s Seafood Restaurant. (August, 2006)
Sono Seaport Seafood
I finally made it to South Norwalk (hence SoNo) with its Maritime Aquarium and beautiful seaport in September, 2007. Of course, there were some lobster rolls to try. We stopped first at Sono Seaport Seafood on Water Street. The restaurant features a large deck and a dining room that overlook Norwalk harbor. We arrived at a quiet time between lunch and dinner and there was almost no one there. Service was incredibly fast; our lobster rolls came out of the kitchen in about a minute.
The roll is served on a hamburger bun with lettuce and tomato, and the salad is chopped instead of chunky, but even though their roll is far from my ideal, the salad had wonderful flavor, and I enjoyed it very much. ($14.95 with chips in September, 2007.)
The lobster roll at Sono Seaport Seafood in South Norwalk. (September, 2007)
I was drawn to Sono Brewhouse by my interest in beer and—bonus—they serve a lobster roll. It’s a spacious, beautiful place and ooh, look, cloth napkins! That’s a big change from most of the seafood shacks I frequent. They no longer make beer on the premises, but they still have 16 taps and about 40 varieties of beer in bottles.
If you look at the picture, there is clear evidence of some imagination in the kitchen—just look at those artistic grill marks, and the fries are cut to match. The bread was delicious, but there was way too much of it and despite the golden color, you really couldn’t taste much butter. The lobster salad was made with mayo and a little celery. The texture was fine, but the flavor was pretty bland. Here’s a case where I would definitely return to Sono Brewhouse for a variety of reasons (great beer selection, good service, creative food), but I just wouldn’t order this lobster roll again.
The lobster roll at Sono Brewhouse in Norwalk. (September, 2007)
Hank’s Dairy Bar
A reader recommended I try this place in northeast Connecticut. Hank’s has a large menu that includes several other rolls besides lobster (clam, tuna, and scallop rolls), but I was here for the lobster roll, of course.
Hank’s is a really popular place, and it was crowded when I visited there with a long line and many patrons enjoying themselves at the picnic tables in back. There was even a guitar player entertaining the crowd. I was very impressed with the manner of the kids taking orders, etc. All in all a very pleasant experience.
Hank’s lobster roll exemplifies the term “lobster salad,” i.e., the lobster meat is fully mixed with mayo and filler rather than lightly dressed. Still, it was a pretty tasty roll. ($10.50 in May, 2007.)
The lobster roll at Hank’s Dairy Bar in Plainfield. (This photo was taken in May, 2007.)
Here’s my list of other places to try in Connecticut. Elizabeth Bougerol lists even more places in her book, Seafood Shacks.
In West Haven, Captain’s Galley, Jimmie’s, Turk’s, and Stowe’s.
In Branford, Lenny’s. I stopped by here in May, 2007, but it was so crowded I decided to skip it for now. Crowds are a good indicator, though.
In Mystic, places I found on the web include the Blue Door, Jamms, and the S&P Oyster Company. Doubtless there are many others.
In Old Saybrook, Liv’s Oyster Bar, 166 Main Street.
Near Lenny and Joe’s in Westbrook, I spotted two restaurants that might serve lobster rolls. Across Grove Street is Marty’s and just south on Route 1 is Westbrook Lobster Fish Market and Restaurant. I don’t know for a fact that either of these places sells lobster rolls.
Also in Noank is Abbott’s sister restaurant, Costello’s, for a lobster roll with French fries (because Abbott’s doesn’t have a frier).
In New Canaan, JP’s Country Cupboard.
In Hartford, Sally’s Fish Camp, 201 Ann Street.
In Berlin, The Blue Lobster.
In Manchester, Shady Glen (they have what look like amazing cheeseburgers, too).
In Rowayton, Rowayton Seafood and Brendan's 101.
In Milford, The Lazy Lobster.
See my list of resources for further ideas. You’re encouraged and welcome to recommend your favorite place to me. Send an email to the address at the bottom of this page. —Tony Green
Posts in “Connecticut”
Connecticut Lobster-Roll Page Updated [nanoblog]
I finished updating the Connecticut lobster-roll page with reviews of places I visited on a road trip in May: Sea Swirl and Ten Clams in Mystic, Abbott’s in Noank, Johnny Ad’s in Old Saybrook, Hank’s Diary Bar in Plainfield, and a quality-control visit to an old favorite, the Cove Fish Market in Mystic. I added a few more places in New York City to the Lobster Roll Finder as well. Of local interest is the news from one of my spies who reports that Bridgewater’s Pub has already cut the lobster roll sliders from the menu. It’s a shame; I’m glad I had a chance to try them.