Mary’s Fish Camp
64 Charles Street (646-486-2185)
Price: Market price; recently, $22.
Pros: “This is better than Pearl’s,” said a young aficionado, approximately 12 years old, as he tucked into the lobster roll here. He wore a pink polo, Burberry sweater, madras shorts, and Louis Vuitton sandals. Who are we to argue with a source like that? The recipe is simple—just some titanic hunks of supremely fresh lobster given the Hellmann’s treatment, with a fine dice of celery and a finger-twitch of chopped scallion, all shoved into a Pepperidge Farm top-loading bun. But the result is astonishing: The cool, sweet meat contrasts wondrously with the warm, buttery roll.
Cons: Shoestring fries. Even when they’re hot and crisp—as they are here—they’re more of a garnish than anything else.
The Mermaid Inn
96 Second Avenue (212-674-5870)
Price: Market price; recently, $22.
Pros: In a daring break from hot-dog-bun hegemony, this version is a neatnik anomaly served on a racy brioche hamburger bun, making it possible to eat without dribbling lobster salad all over your pink polo shirt. Accompanied by a bucket of addictively spicy Old Bay fries.
Cons: Inconsistency. On early visits, it was up there with standard-bearers Mary’s and Pearl’s. Lately, though, the lobster was drab—finely minced like cafeteria tuna salad when it should be fat and chunky. And we detected a major lobster-roll faux pas: the overpowering presence of chopped onions.
41 Murray Street (212-962-3750)
Pros: The menu reads 3.5 ounces of lobster. The waiter says 4.5. But—who knows?—it could be 5. The huge pieces of fresh claw and tail meat are judiciously slicked with a frugal amount of Hellmann’s. Homemade chips and a watercress salad on the side.
Cons: Lettuce stuffed between the bun and the meat is an annoying textural distraction.
Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia Street (212-691-8211)
Pros: In style, quality, and sheer, ecstatic lobster-roll delight, virtually identical to Mary’s Fish Camp (see above). Indeed, if you didn’t know the history—Pearl chef-owner Rebecca Charles and Mary’s Mary Redding were partners before Redding went off on her own—you might think there was some underground West Village kitchen turning out superb lobster rolls the way mulligatawny soup is said to be dispensed on 6th Street.
Cons: On our most recent visit, an uncharacteristic, disproportionately high ratio of stringy to chunky lobster—and a tepid bun.
116 Smith Street, Brooklyn (718-260-8900)
Pros: This newcomer isn’t the most luxurious lobster roll out there, but it’s got potential. It’s correctly served with potato chips and a sour pickle, it comes in a paper-lined plastic basket, and you can eat it in the lovely backyard beer garden under the stars.
Cons: Too many types of chopped veggies in excess amounts in the lobster salad and an incorrect (side-loading) hot-dog bun that seemed grill-toasted instead of butter-griddled.
Jasper White, chef-owner of Summer Shack in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and author of Lobster at Home, on what makes a real lobster roll.
1. A good amount of meat. A lobster roll should contain the meat from a one-pound lobster, about 3.5 ounces during the summer.
2. A flat-bottomed, or “top-loading,” hot-dog bun, butter-griddled like a grilled-cheese sandwich.
3. The right dressing. Hellmann’s is great, but mayo isn’t enough. Try a little mustard and a dice of cucumbers instead of celery.
4. On the side, some kind of pickle is important to add a little acidity; potato chips are nice.
5. Eat with your hands. You can get away with a knife and fork in a restaurant, but if you tried that while sitting around a picnic table anywhere in New England, the locals would probably beat you up.