Monday, July 26, 2010

Flashback: The Lobster Landing & How I Learned to Love Butter

A Lobster Roll from The Lobster Landing in Clinton, CT
Lobster Roll Nirvana on earth.

Despite our immediate cosmic connection, there were several points on which Matt and I differed when we met, and even for years after we started dating, and got married. One of these points was butter. He loved it, cooked with it, smeared it on everything edible. I, on the other hand, grew up in a house of margarine and canola (
rapeseed) oil and found his use of butter nothing short of an open display of gluttony. "Might as well inject fat into your veins!" I would taunt. He always just shook his head and laughed.

On that note, this summer we
visited Connecticut. One of the things that is most appealing to me about New England is the coastal aspect of its culture. I am a seafood fiend and would eat it almost every single day if I could. Connecticut is where I first tried whole-bellied clams, maniacally ate "steamers" with my bare hands, where I discovered the beauty of a garlic and clam pizza pie, and where I was first introduced to the concept of a "Lobster Roll."

All of these experiences culminated in the utter demise of my butter snobbery and allowed me to discover a real hidden gem. Here's how and why, in list form.

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How I Learned to Love Butter & Lobster Rolls

The Lobster Landing, Clinton CT

4. A toast.

This has nothing to do with seafood, but I must admit it was on a piece of toasted bread that I first learned to appreciate what butter can do for a piece of food.

To this day, I cannot count buttering a piece of toast as one of my mother's many-splendid talents. When she does it, she leaves a giant clump of butter, half-smeared, in the middle of the toast. It never melts, and you end up biting into a blob of cold butter, which is unpleasant and, well, greasy. Sadly, I also took on that toast buttering style for most of my life, not knowing any better, and therefore avoided putting butter on bread at all costs - much less eating it.

Enter Matt. Enter paper-thin slivers of butter that instantly melt and are deftly scraped across the entire piece of bread the moment they touch the hot toast. Enter small, dainty pools of melted butter which swirl into the strawberry jam you put on top. Enter butter-loving Brenda.

3. Heavenly made and heavenly matched.

Clams and Butter: they go together "like a wink and a smile," in the melodic words of Harry Connick Jr.

I don't remember exactly when it happened - definitely before Matt and I were married - his dad came home with a giant bag of fresh "steamers." I had no idea what that meant, and I didn't really care either until fifteen minutes later when I saw the pot of freshly opened clams and an accompanying pot of "butter sauce" (read: melted butter) to go with them.

Now, these clams are interesting because they are anything but aesthetically pleasing to look at. They go by lots of names: soft-shells, longnecks, essex clams, and even, sadly, piss clams. They have a gigantic clam "foot" which you have to peel before dipping them into butter and eating them whole (minus the shell, of course).

While I still recall today feeling that the clams would have reached a level of sublimity had there been some lemon juice somewhere to compliment the butter, I do also remember that I, for one of the first times, appreciated having that melted butter to dip them in, and did not actually have to keep consciously telling myself it was ok that I was eating "melted fat" because it was de-li-cious.

2. "Tonight we eat!"
We took a pleasure cruise on the Hannah May this June in Connecticut. Matt's dad had a crazy twinkle in his eye, the kind you only get when you're out to catch something. On this particular day it was fish on Long Island sound. Matt and his father were armed with poles and they weren't coming back to shore empty-handed.

As luck would have it, within 5 minutes of dropping the hook into the water, Matt was reeling furiously with the weight of an unlucky but rather portly bluefish. And after a great exclamation of joy, much fiddling with a net and cutting the line, we know that night we'd have a mighty feast.

Matt's parents kept talking about this "great way" they always make bluefish. When the platter finally hit the dinner table that night, I realized they had used one of my newly found but also newly favorite recipes: beurre meuniere. It's a French butter sauce in which you toast the butter and mix it with shallots, sherry vinegar and lemon juice (here's my take). When I tasted that fish, it reaffirmed exactly why you could never use oil for a sauce like that, and why the butter was almost as important as the fish that night.

1. The Lobster Roll: Trial, Error and Nirvana.
The first lobster roll I ever had was at a forgettable place near Mystic, Connecticut almost 5 years ago. I can never recall the name of the place, but I recall with exactitude the way I felt after I bit into my lobster roll: The sun was beating down on us, the lobster meat was shredded on a stale hotdog bun which was soggy from all the butter that had been mixed into the meat. There was no salt, no lemon and the lobster tasted almost like shredded imitation crab. What a waste of time and lobster meat! Almost $20.00 the poorer, bitterness quickly set in.

Luckily, this past June Matt's dad off-handedly mentioned a place in Clinton run by an old Italian guy who is also a fisherman. His family runs this little "shack" right on the water and it had been claimed by the likes of unmentionable snobby celebrity chefs to be one of the best lobster rolls ever. Needless to say, a day later there we were.

Having just left the beach, we were hot and hungry. Roman camped out in his car seat with the doors open as we sat outside next to the car on a rickety but clean card table overlooking the water. The Lobster Landing is actually a little shack. It's old and quaint and outside of it is a giant bbq where the Bacci family mans the station where you can buy lobster rolls or hot dogs, accompanied by a bag of chips and canned soda or water. Inside the shack is the old Italian man himself, shucking clams, cleaning fish - doing his fisherman thing. No frills. No pomp. (pic: seating and ordering at The Lobster Landing)

When I got my lobster roll I noticed an immediate difference from the train wreck in Mystic: we're talking giant hunks of briny, fresh lobster meat, delicately placed over a fresh bun, oozing in butter. The bun was warm from having been toasted in the same bbq as the lobsters were cooking in, and it had been generously brushed with butter and lemon sauce before having the hulking portion of succulent lobster meat placed on it. The whole thing comes wrapped in foil to preserve the heat, though I doubt one has ever gotten cold. How could it? Mine was gone in under 2 minutes. (pic: Lobster Landing Menu and Prices)

The place doesn't look like much, but I would rate it among the top 10 seafood experiences of my life. And while I do give credit to the old Italian and his family, and even the lobster, even I have to admit, they just couldn't have done it without the butter. :)

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The Lobster Landing
152 Commerce St. & Grove Ave.
Clinton, Connecticut 06413

Tel: (860) 669-2005

The Bacci Family signed their sidewalk
outside The Lobster Landing.

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  1. I'm not sure which one I'm now craving more: a simple toasted piece of bread slathered in butter, or the whole kit-and-kaboodle lobster roll. No, let me amend that: I crave the lobster roll but may have to satisfy myself with the buttered toast until I can find a MN version of the first that's half as delicious as the one pictured here! 8-D

    So happy that you were butter-fied and are now a devotee. I will have to give your beurre meuniere a try!

  2. My keyboard is damp from the drool that this post has conjured... Oh, the Lobster Landing (AKA: the Shady Shack)... Such a delicious experience, it was like God Himself had expertly crafted the lobster roll and graced it upon us mere mortals...
    Fantastic post Brenda (I just may leave work early and head to a certain Clinton, CT pier...)!

  3. Tangled - you need to jump on the lobster roll bandwagon. But get it CT-style: those weirdos in Maine - from what I Hear anyway - like to put mayo on theirs and serve it cold. That's just wrong.

    Jim - I'm glad you were there to share nirvana. If I recall correctly, yours was also gone in under two minutes. Enjoy one more for me. :)

  4. I can't wait to go to Maine in 2 weeks and get one - they're delicious!

  5. Ed - different strokes for different folks. :) Enjoy your Maine-style Lobsterfest!