TNT Diner

You don’t know lobster rolls, but these local chefs do

Chef Sean Sullivan’s lobster roll at The Fish Peddler in Tacoma.
Chef Sean Sullivan’s lobster roll at The Fish Peddler in Tacoma. toverman@theolympian.com

We’re starting to see an East Coast favorite land on more local menus.

Lobster rolls.

I get a lot of people asking me what those are. For you Maine-blivious folks, they’re sandwiches composed of buttered, toasted bread and chilled lobster salad and usually not much else.

They’re probably Maine’s most famous export other than whoopie pies and any phrase that includes “wicked good.”

Around here, you might catch a glimmer of a traditional New England-style lobster roll, but sorry Maine purists. Most of our presentations come with chef spins that stray from your East Coast formula.

Fish Peddler lobster roll 1
The lobster roll at The Fish Peddler is made with Atlantic lobster. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

THE FISH PEDDLER

Where: 1199 Dock St., Tacoma; 253-627-2158; fishpeddler-tacoma.com.

It was a complete fluke how lobster rolls wound up on the menu at the The Fish Peddler on the Foss Waterway. Chef and General Manager Sean Sullivan ordered too many lobster tails.

“I had 10 pounds of lobster tails and you can’t throw them away because they’re $20 a pound and you can’t refreeze them,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know what caused me to think to do a lobster roll, because I’m from here, not Maine, but I sold 18 of them on the first day. That’s more specials than I’d ever sold in any restaurant I’d ever been at.”

He played with the recipe last summer, but started researching the Maine way of making the sandwiches for when they returned to this year’s summer menu, which debuted in May

He uses a crusty French roll. What I like is that he slices the top off the bread so there’s more surface area when the buttered bread makes contact with the grill. A well-buttered, well-grilled bun is essential to a lobster roll and Sullivan gets the crunch of the bun just right.

Last year’s recipe had Old Bay and Tabasco, but he ditched those in favor of a more pure presentation this year.

The toasted, buttered bun was extra crunchy around the edges and topped with chilled Atlantic lobster tail mixed with a bit of lobster leg meat, plus mayonnaise, green onion and celery. That’s it. And it was perfect.

The one thing that might not be perfect is the price tag. At $21.95, it’s the most expensive of this tour, but it’s also the tastiest and came with the most lobster. Served with coleslaw on the side.

Bar Bistro lobster 2
The lobster sliders are built on sweet, toasted buns at Bar Bistro. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

BAR BISTRO

Where: 1718 99th St. E., Tacoma, 253-537-3655; barbistrotacoma.com.

The lobster sliders at Midland’s Bar Bistro are a mashup of owner Eric Poulin’s Maine upbringing and Chef Chris Lewis’ penchant for big flavors.

“I knew what would be expected from a traditional Maine lobster roll so we wanted to put a new American twist on them,” Poulin said. “We wanted some color to pop off the roll, instead of white lobster mix, contrasting on the banh mi bun, so the trial-and-error of using pesto came to mind.”

The trio of sliders were built with wild caught Atlantic lobster, with meat from the tail, claw and knuckle.

The lobster meat was served warm, mixed with a garlicky pesto-mayo on top of the most unusual buns. The glossy slider rolls came with a deep brown color, sweet malty richness and were well buttered and toasted.

They’re served on the appetizer menu ($13).

Jw lobster roll 1
The lobster roll at JW at the Boatyard. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

JW AT THE BOATYARD

Where: 3117 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor; 253-432-9991; jwgigharbor.com.

The sister food truck to JW Restaurant in Gig Harbor changed its lobster roll formula this year. Last year’s was warm lobster on a roll. This year, the sandwich is served cold from the converted trolley at the Gig Harbor Marina.

The dressing made me a huge fun of this sandwich, which is built on a substantial, crusty French roll. But first, a note about sandwich engineering. The bread cradled a leaf of green lettuce, which was a genius barrier that prevented the bread from turning soggy from that delicious, oozy sauce. The sauce was mayonnaise-based, but fancied up with tarragon and Tabasco, drizzled over chunks of warm-water Spanish lobster ($14). Chopped tomatoes and green onions on top. Served with chips.

Xanders lobster roll 1
The lobster roll was one offering from Xander's Incredible Sandwiches. Sue Kidd Staff file, 2017

XANDER’S INCREDIBLE SANDWICHES

Where: Find the food truck schedule at facebook.com/xandersfoodtruck.

Xander’s Incredible Sandwichesf is known for its tortas and tri-tip, but lobster rolls also are on the menu of the food truck, which launched in May. It’s a sister business to the Stacks burger truck and all it serves is sandwiches.

The “Almost Maine” was built on a French roll spread with garlic butter, toasted, then stacked with lobster meat— the meat is from warm water lobster —dressed with garlic aioli and a thick helping of coleslaw. It won for snappy crunch, but had the least amount of lobster on this tour ($15). Served with housemade tortilla chips.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO…

For those of you wondering about the Maine-themed restaurant Wicked Good Eats on the Key Peninsula, I don’t have good news. It closed in December. The restaurant was operated by Michele Key, who grew up in Gardiner, Maine. Her husband, Patrick Key, a naval officer, also ran the restaurant along with their children.

It was known for its lobster rolls, but also its haddock and fries, salt-and-vinegar fries, steak bomb sandwiches (that’s Maine’s version of a Philly sandwich) and whoopie pies they imported from Maine.

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