Lobster Pounds, or Lobster Shacks, Are All About the Lobster
When summer arrives in Maine, there seem to be more lobster pounds than Dunkin' Donuts shops. Some have been around forever, and some are new each year. They all look different. Some look like a shack. Some look like a restaurant. But what are they?
So, What Is a Lobster Pound?
The first time the term “lobster pound” was used was on Vinalhaven Island, Maine, in 1875 to describe a method of storing live lobster by running fresh seawater through their storage containers. It would only be a matter of time before the enterprising lobster pound owners would add outdoor kettles of seawater heated over wood fires to boil their lobsters to serve to tourists.
Lobster pounds, or lobster shacks, for me, are all about the lobster and the view. There is no better lobster than lobster right from the ocean. The salt air, the seagulls overhead, and the boats in the harbor help complete the experience. Everything else is secondary. If you have never been to a traditional lobster shack, you may be surprised by how much they differ from a seafood restaurant.
In Maine, the lobster is the lobstah. They are the same everywhere. It is the lobster shacks that are different.
What Do I Look For in a Lobster Pound?
When I think of a lobster shack, I picture:
- A modest building, often cedar-shingled, with a walk-up window for ordering
- Tanks of lobster, sorted by size and irrigated with fresh seawater
- Large outdoor kettles of seawater heated over a wood or gas fire
- Picnic tables with rolls of paper towels and buckets for shells
To me, a lobster pound should be located very close to the ocean. Aquariums in a grocery store or a chain restaurant do not qualify. If the lobster pound is close enough to the ocean to irrigate with fresh seawater, it is probably close enough to get their lobster directly off the boat. It would also be close enough to the ocean to have a great view.
What Is Served at a Lobster Pound?
- The Classic Meal: Whole lobster with melted butter, dinner roll, an ear of corn, and sometimes a scoop of coleslaw.
- Lobster or crabmeat rolls with chips or fries
- Steamed clams and mussels
- Chowder (clam, fish, or seafood)
- Homemade desserts (blueberry pie, ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, and cookies)
- Soft drinks, iced tea, lemonade, water, and maybe a limited selection of beers or wine. Some are BYOB.
- Wonderful views
The Dining Experience
At a lobster pound, you usually stand in line to order and then seat yourself at whatever table is available, sometimes sharing large tables with strangers. Occasionally, lobster pounds have waitresses to facilitate the process.
For me, a true lobster pound does not have cloth table coverings (paper tablecloths or even newspaper are fine), napkins (a roll of paper towels on the table is preferred), or silverware (crackers or a mallet and a small lobster fork is enough), and it may not even have a ceiling or windows (an umbrella over a picnic table is perfect).
When Does It Become a Restaurant?
The meal at a lobster pound includes, well, lobster. When the menu expands to include salmon, haddock, fried seafood baskets, salads, chicken, tacos, and sushi, it becomes a restaurant. Add cloth tablecloths, a wine list, and microbrews on draft, and it certainly is no longer a lobster pound.
Seafood restaurants often offer "lazy man's lobster" (lobster meat removed from the shell). At a lobster pound, this would be a lobster roll.
It Is Not as Simple as It Looks
While the menu may seem limited, eating at a lobster pound involves several decisions.
Whole Lobster or Lobster Roll?
- Whole lobster requires some effort on the diner's part to extract the delicious meat from the tail and claws of the crustacean. For me, this is the only way to eat lobster. But, it is not the neatest way. That is why they have bibs.
- Lobster rolls usually contain the meat of a small (1 to 1 1/4 pound) lobster with or without a little mayonnaise to hold the chunks of meat together. The classic lobster roll is served on a grilled hot dog roll, but bulky or kaiser rolls are not uncommon. If you don't want to be bothered with shelling a lobster, this is a great way to enjoy one without the mess.
Soft Shell (New Shell or Shedders) or Hard Shell Lobster?
As crustaceans with an exoskeleton, lobsters have to periodically shed their shells, or moult, to grow. After shedding a shell, the lobster makes a new shell with room to grow. Until the new shell hardens over the next few months, the shells are soft and fragile.
- New shell lobsters are sweeter and easier to shell but have less meat (and more water) than a comparable size hard shell lobster.
- Hard shell lobsters contain more meat, and the meat is firmer but harder to get out.
- Small or large, single or multiple lobsters?
- Clams, mussels, or both?
- And the most important decision of all: What are you going to have for dessert?
Lobster Pounds Offer an Authentic Maine Experience
You don't have to go to a lobster pound to enjoy Maine lobster. You can enjoy it even at home. For the most part, lobster is lobster, but when I want authenticity, tradition, a great view, and an experience, I head to a Maine lobster pound.
From Trash to Delicacy
My, how times change. In colonial days, lobster was so plentiful it was thought of as trash or poverty food, not the delicacy we think of today. It was fed to widows, orphans, prisoners, and indentured servants. Laws were even written to limit the number of times a week these poor souls would be forced to eat lobster. Today, we travel to Maine seeking lobster and enjoy the experiences that go with eating it.
In the end, it is all about the lobstah!
Everything You Could Ever Want to Know About Maine Lobster
- Gulf of Maine Research Institute: Lobsters
Learn All About Lobsters: History, boats, life cycle, even how to eat them!
© 2012 Mark Shulkosky