Monday, July 11, 2011


So what happens when you take a Carolina girl as far north as you can go before you're out of the country, and as far east as the Atlantic allows?
You get comments like "Those look like crab pots." Or "We've got fish shacks like that." "Wonder how many up here have tasted Shrimp Burgers?"
We were in the Land of the Lobster Roll, traveling the coast of Maine, where a daily intake of lobster is required - not a hard regimen to follow at all. I can probably tell you where you can get the bestest and freshest, although with hundreds of lobster boats around, and floats marking lobster pots dotting the bays like flakes in one of those shake-up snow globes, fresh lobster is not an issue.
And why would I leave our Carolina beaches? Every summer when the temperatures soar, the heat really gets on my nerves, quite literally, since I have lived with MS now for over 30 years. So I was looking to escape the heat for a while. I just loved the cooler temperatures, and even the fog.
But I couldn't help but make comparisons to our NC coast.

So-named because Lobster Rolls use only the claw meat, not the succulent tail, a real win-win (except for the lobster!) in that the tail meat can be used in fancied-up dishes and the claw meat doesn't go to waste. It's usually just moistened with a bit of mayonnaise, and sometimes a tiny amount of celery and onion are added.
The roll itself is important. It's like a hot dog bun that's sliced vertically, rather than horizontally. It's usually toasted, the best with butter. And the best are also, not surprisingly, homemade.
They're served in a one-ended cardboard slide, usually with chips, and go down fine with one of Maine's many local micro brews.


A Crab Roll and a cold local brew in Camden, ME

Another version, the Crab Roll, is made from Joshua crab, a big, fat old crab found in colder waters. We found that crabmeat not as flavorful as our luscious Carolina blue crabs.

Thurston's Lobster Pound near Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island, ME

Most of the eateries serving mainly lobster are called "lobster pounds," like the entrapments used to house the many lobsters when the boats bring them in. Most are very casual places, many times a drive-in, with picnic tables available where you can watch the ten to twenty foot tides come in and out, and not have to worry about the inevitable mess that comes from eating whole lobsters!

The boilers for Trenton Lobster Pound on the causeway to Mount Desert Island
Most use a wood-fired outdoor stove to boil water in huge cauldrons in which they place the lobsters encased in a mesh sack. The one above is at the Trenton Lobster Pound, just before you drive over to the Acadia National Park, one of the most gorgeous places on earth. We took lobster rolls from here, along with a bottle of chilled Prosecco, to the top of Cadillace Mountain on Mount Desert Island, where we had a 360-degree view of the sunset. Spectacular!


A Shrimp Burger from Big Oak Drive-In, Salter Path. Note the sandy beach.

I gotta gimme a shrimp burger whenever I hit The Beach here in North Carolina.
When I'm headed to or from Morehead City, I stop at El’s, on HWY 70 between the railroad crossing and the hospital. El’s has been an institution in Morehead City since 1959, and it’s like driving into yesteryear. I love pulling into the parking lot, and vie for a shady spot under the spread of the live oak trees. It’s not long before one of the waitresses rushes out to the car, and asks through the window, “What’ll you have, shug?” Their shrimp burgers are always right on the mark with freshly fried shrimp, coleslaw that’s made daily, and ketchup.

Down in Salter Path, drive up to the Big Oak Drive-In. Coastal Living named the Big Oak as one of their top Seafood Dives a few years ago, and it's one of ours, too. Park, go place your order, then chat with others in line while you wait for them to call your name at the pick-up window. Then drive back up the island just a half mile to the beach public access and parking lot, and take your shrimp burger and big iced tea up the boardwalk and perch on the deck overlooking the beach. Can’t beat the view nor the burger.
Kill Devil Grill & Diner serves a fantastic shrimpburger, too, as well as a daily fish sandwich. Along the same lines as a shrimp burger are the fish or shrimp tacos served at The Bad Bean Taqueria way up in Timbuck II shopping center in Corolla.
The Wilmington area must have great shrimp or fish burgers, but I haven't been in a while. Why don't you send me some recommendations?
Although I absolutely love shrimp burgers, one of my very favorite sandwiches from the sea is a Buster's Hideout, a pita pocket stuffed with a fried soft shell crab, lettuce and tomato that's served at The Spouter Inn in Beaufort.

Crab pots waiting out the winter at Wanchese, NC

Lobster pots waiting for their turn near Bass Harbor, ME

Lobster pots are a bit bigger than our crab pots, but are similar in design. There's a place for bait to lure 'em in. A one-way funnel to get in. Distinctive floats that denote who the pot belongs to.
The lobster men and women haul in the pots in a very similar way, looping the line around a mechanical pulley, sorting the haul into baskets according to size, and baiting with fish. Lobsters have larger pinchers, but, they get wrestled into rubber bands. Crabs fling their pinchers about, all too eager to grab a finger.

At Round Pond near the Pemaquid Lighthouse, a young guy slung his jacket and lunch bag over his shoulder as he walked up the gangway from the docked lobster boat he'd been on since 4 a.m. "Got a good haul today?" we asked. "Pretty good," he replied, then laughed with us and answered a bunch of questions.
"What about soft shell lobsters? Are they any good?" We were curious because they were listed on the menus at a much cheaper price.
"My favorite." The meat is sweeter, he said. Juicer. "Just know they aren't as full," he said.
What he didn't say was that they would be full of water. And taste salty. And succulent and sweet. We were glad we were sitting outside on the balcony of our hotel room eating, where we could break each section of the lobster out over the ground, because the water literally gushed out of the shells.
Same concept as our soft shell crabs, but way different, too. The sea beast breaks free of its old shell, then retreats and hides while growing the new one. Those soft shell lobsters reminded me of the new but getting hard "paper shells" I've had on the Outer Banks.

I was so honored to find the SOFT SHELL BLT in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK on the menu down at O'Neal's Seafood Market in Wanchese, in their new facility which now included a cafe´.
This is a fantastic sandwich, one of my very favorites.

SOFT SHELL BLT (c) from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK: Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2008.
This is a delightful play on the classic Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. Pancetta is an Italian bacon made from the belly of the pig, salt-cured but not smoked.
You choose whether you grill, fry or saute the soft shells. A gas grill is the easiest and less messy for cleanup. Also choose either a savory mayonnaise or a spicier version.
4 thin slices pancetta or thickly sliced bacon
4 jumbo soft shell crabs, cleaned
4 round, soft sandwich rolls
3/4 cup Creole Sauce (recipe follows)
4 to 8 romaine lettuce leaves or mesclun
4 large slices very ripe tomato
Place the pancetta in a skillet and turn heat medium high. Fry until almost crispy, then drain on paper towels.
Prepare soft shells by either grilling , frying or sautéing.
Meanwhile, place inner sides of sandwich rolls on the grill on under a broiler to toast lightly. Slather with your choice of sauce.
Layer the lettuce, tomato and warm pancetta on each roll. Top with cooked, hot crab, add another dollop of sauce. Serve immediately.


With just a bit of a kick, this sauce adds a sassy finishing touch to crabs, shrimp or grilled fish, and it couldn’t be easier to make.

½ cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons drained capers, chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped chives

2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish

1 generous tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

¼ teaspoon salt

several grinds black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small serving bowl. Taste for seasonings and adjust.