While the American lobster is found all along the east coast of North America, from Newfoundland to North Carolina, it is most commonly associated with Maine, where the crustacean is abundant and devoured in a number of dishes and numerous restaurants.
Maine's lobster industry contributes more than $1 billion to the state's economy – 2014 saw an epic haul of more than 120 million pounds. The lobsters are 100 percent hand-harvested by more than 5600 lobstermen who use small day boats to retrieve one trap at a time, the better to protect their quality and the marine habitat.
Visitors to the state can enjoy lobsters in any number of ways; the state's most creative chefs apply the protein into wickedly inventive concoctions, while dozens of rustic lobster pounds offer a classic, straightforward experience that hasn't changed for decades. Here's a look at the best places to enjoy Maine's most famous food.
Those who have never experienced a proper lobster pound should head straight to quiet Belfast, where Young's Lobster Pound offers a quintessential experience. Visitors peruse giant tanks and have a variety of lobster sizes to choose from. Once their lobster is steamed-to-order, guests grab a seat on a picnic bench and enjoy water views.
One of Maine’s most famous lobster rolls can be found in the tiny town of Wiscasset, where Red's Eats – a family-run business that has been nestled at the riverfront since 1938 – lures a steady stream of foodies in search of lobster heaven. Each roll is stuffed with the meat of more than one whole lobster; whole claws are placed at each end of the roll and an entire split lobster tail rests on top. Each roll comes with hot drawn butter and/or mayonnaise on the side.
Operated by a pair of Dutchmen, the Camden Harbour Inn resides in the idyllic town of Camden. Guests of this decorated, Relais & Chateaux property stay in-house to enjoy the lauded restaurant Natalie's. The kitchen puts the classic lobster roll on its head by offering offbeat varieties such as a tempura lobster roll with miso aioli and a traditional option with tart citrus aioli. Natalie's offers perhaps the state's standout lobster experience: a four-course lobster tasting menu.
The Black Point Inn has been an institution in quiet Scarborough since the late 1800s. The inn offers a pair of dining options: the casual Chart Room and the classy Point Restaurant. When guests are able to tear themselves away from the dramatic views of the Atlantic ocean, they can enjoy classic preparations of fresh local lobster.
Situated along the shores of Casco Bay, the Chebeague Island Inn can only be reached by ferry. The inn puts an earthy twist on a traditional lobster roll by using seaweed-infused butter. Guests looking for a more immersive lobster experience can opt for the “Lucky Lobstering” package. The two-hour excursion around the bay allows visitors to catch their own lobster and then enjoy the fresh catch back at the hotel with all the fixings and wine pairings.
Portland – the state's biggest city and culinary hub – offers a dizzying array of dining options for lobster lovers. Those looking to get the most out of the city, which has often been named the American small city with the best dining scene, can stay at the the Autograph Collection’s Press Hotel, which is housed in the city's old newspaper building. The in-house Union Restaurant offers a stylish spot in which to enjoy local lobster. Executive chef Josh Berry serves an upscale lobster roll featuring house-made lemon mayo and “snipped” chives.
In the scenic town of Rockland, Cafe Miranda lures foodies looking for an unparalleled lobster experience. Chef/owner Kerry Altiero is a big fan of Maine Lobster, incorporating it in unique dishes throughout the year. Altiero's standout “Vacation in your Mouth” dish puts a spicy spin on mild, sweet lobster meat by adding chilli peppers, scallions, lime, Thai fish sauce, cilantro, kimchi flakes, black sesame seeds and more.
One of the state’s most decorated restaurants, Hugo’s has been a mainstay of the Portland dining scene since 1988. Guests enjoy inventive lobster preparations such as a lobster sashimi, which comes to life thanks to sea beans, ginger, scallions and fried garlic.
Two of the state's most famous chefs, Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, have won plaudits for their creative lobster dishes at MC Perkins Cove in the popular tourist town of Ogunquit. The chefs surprise diners with inventive creations such as lobster shortcake with rum vanilla sauce, and lobster in a "paper bag" with fresh green curry, lime, and coconut.
In Portland, the trendy Eventide Oyster Co. wins raves for its lobster roll, prepared with a choice of hollandaise, homemade mayo, or the crowd favourite, brown butter vinaigrette. The fresh Maine lobster meat is served on a Chinese-style steamed bun.
In Cape Elizabeth's popular Fort Williams Park, Bite into Maine is a “Maine-centric mobile eatery.” Parked in the shadow of one of the state's most famous lighthouses, the Portland Head Light, the food truck offers three styles of lobster rolls: “Maine” with light mayonnaise and fresh chives, “Connecticut” with hot butter, and “picnic” with coleslaw, hot butter, celery salt, wasabi, curry and chipotle.
Located in the shopping haven of Kittery, Bob’s Clam Hut has been offering a classic seafood shack experience since 1956. The friendly restaurant serves up award-winning lobster rolls packed with fresh local lobster. Those looking for a more refined experience can cross the street, where Robert’s Maine Grill offers a welcoming environment for enjoying locally-caught lobster meat and views of picturesque Spruce Creek.
In the coastal town of Kennebunk, the White Barn Inn provides out-of-towners with an upscale home-away-from-home. The classy, timber-frame barn wows guests with its eponymous, in-house restaurant, where smoked lobster is served with paprika butter sauce on corn puree. The key to this dish is the presentation; the plate is covered and filled with applewood smoke, which is then released at the table in front of the guest to enliven the senses.
Lobster fans not content with a dining experience can seek out one of the many lobster-centric community gatherings and festivals held throughout the year. The biggest of them all, the Maine Lobster Festival, is held in Rockland every year in late July/early August. This year's festival, the 68th annual gathering, will see some 20,000 pounds of lobster consumed, plus lots of fun events such as a lobster crate race, lobster cooking contest, and the coronation of the Maine Sea Goddess.
Top image: Maine lobster roll © Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock