In the 1980s, six women on an island off the coast of Massachusetts began selling lobster rolls as a church fundraiser. Today, people travel by car, boat, and plane just to taste these hallowed summer treats. This week, one of those people is Dan. He travels to Martha’s Vineyard to uncover Grace Church's secret recipe. Plus, Daniel Gritzer from Serious Eats breaks down the science of why frozen lobster might be better than fresh.
On Saturday, June 3, Dan will be moderating a panel at a food festival on Martha’s Vineyard called Martha’s Vineyard Flavors. It’s a weekend of talks, demonstrations, and delicious meals. You can buy tickets to part of the event or the whole thing here.
This episode originally aired on June 17, 2019, and was produced by Dan Pashman, Anne Saini, and Ngofeen Mputubwele, with editing by Peter Clowney. The Sporkful production team now includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Jared O'Connell, and Nora Ritchie.
Interstitial music in this episode from Black Label Music:
- "Stay For The Summer" by Will Van De Crommert
- "Comin' for a Change" by Stephen Clinton Sullivan
- "Summer Getaway" by Stephen Clinton Sullivan
- "Intrepid Stratagem" by Stephen Clinton Sullivan
Photo: Courtesy of Dan Pashman.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Where are we today? What's going on here?
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): Where are we? We are at Grace Church on the island of Martha's Vineyard and we are preparing to do our weekly Friday night lobster roll extravaganza.
Dan Pashman: Every Friday night in the summer, this small episcopal church, on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, sells lobster rolls in their parish hall. But this is not your typical church fundraiser.
Sandy Pratt: Last week we sold 1400 lobster rolls ...
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Sandy Pratt: Out of this kitchen
Dan Pashman: Wow.
Dan Pashman: I grew up coming to Martha's Vineyard every summer with my family. And we’ve been eating these lobster rolls for years. Now in case you’re not familiar, at its essence, a lobster roll is chunks of lobster meat with mayo, on a hot dog bun. Let me tell you, the ones at Grace Church are special.
Captain Ralph Joseph: Look at it. It’s nothing but giant chunks of lobster with maybe enough mayonnaise to make the chunks stick together. You sink your teeth in it. It’s so fresh you can actually taste the brine. Have you had one?
Dan Pashman: Oh, absolutely.
Captain Ralph Joseph: [LAUGHS] Then why are you asking me?
Dan Pashman: The lobster rolls at Grace Church draw people from all walks of life on the Vineyard — not just the faithful members of Grace Church:
Bob: Don’t tell our rabbi ...
Cheryl: Don't tell our rabbi ...
Bob: Where we go on Friday nights …
Speaker 1: You haven’t been to the Vineyard unless you’ve been to Grace Church on Fridays.
Susan Eibner: This became more than just a fundraiser. Churches have fundraisers, but what I saw was a community building. And anything that’s a community builder is a ministry.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. This week as we kick off summertime, I’m traveling to New England, where a lobster roll is the perfect treat to grab on your way to or from the beach.
Dan Pashman: Now, my mom’s whole side of the family is from the Boston area. I went to college and lived there for 6 years, so hold my can of Narragansett Lager while I stand up on my soapbox shaped like a lobster trap …
Dan Pashman: A lobster roll is the best way to eat lobster. It’s also the most cost effective, as I’ll explain. But the superior taste, I think, comes from two facts.
Dan Pashman: Number 1: lobster is better when it’s cool. That makes the meat meatier, and its thin skin snaps just a bit.
Dan Pashman: Number 2: Mayo, it's a little acidic. It's got more going on. Butter turns lobster meat slimy. Lobster goes better with mayo than butter. There I said it.
Dan Pashman: As I mentioned, to be a lobster roll it has to have lobster and mayo on a hot dog bun. Anything more is optional. Of course, if it’s going to be remotely respectable, the bun must be a New England style top sliced hot dog bun, which has exposed bread on the sides, instead of crust all around.
Dan Pashman: In 1988, a group of six congregants at Grace Episcopal Church started selling lobster rolls on Friday evenings as a fundraiser. It was a small affair. But word of these lobster rolls started spreading, and spreading. Today, they’ve been voted best on Martha’s Vineyard for 15 straight years.
Dan Pashman: One summer, a few years back, I was on Martha’s Vineyard with my family, visiting my parents, who live there year round now. I went over to Grace Church on a Friday, a couple of hours before the lobster rolls would go on sale to talk with the folks who make them …
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): How many lobster rolls do you eat each summer?
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): In an average summer? One.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): You’re kidding.
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): No. No. My girlfriend and I the night of the fireworks, after working here, we sit on her porch and drink champagne and eat lobster rolls, and then fall asleep on the porch.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): [LAUGHS]
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): Last week we were here for 9 hours, so, yeah, a lobster roll and a bottle of champagne is in order after that.
Dan Pashman: This is Sandy Pratt. She joined the Lobster Roll Committee 25 years ago.
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): My next door neighbor was one of the original lobster roll ladies. And she got me roped into helping her on Friday nights, so every Friday night in the summertime this is what I do.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): So you’re not one of the original 6 who was here the very first year.
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): The very first year.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): But you’re an early adopter.
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): The very first year ... The very first year the first woman who came up with the idea, because she had a friend that did it at her's, was a woman named Mary Tucker. She is now, I wanna say 100, but I don’t think she’s quite 100. So she doesn’t come in and make lobster rolls anymore, but ...
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Look, if I see her around I’ll tell her you said she was 100.
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): Yeah, you can do that. She’d probably be pleased.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): But, so what were those early years like?
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): One — when I first started it, there were two couples who used to come in. He was a coach at the high school and his wife. And the other was an ex-FBI guy and his wife. And they would come with a cooler full of cocktails. So at those points, that was nice. We were only doing 100 maybe, 150 lobster rolls.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): [LAUGHS] But you were having a lot of fun.
CLIP (SANDY PRATT): We were having a great time.
Dan Pashman: I didn’t see any cocktails in the kitchen the night I was there. But one thing that hasn’t changed?
Roger McGarry: The recipe is lobster ...
Dan Pashman: Right.
Roger McGarry: Mayonnaise.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Roger McGarry: And white pepper and tender loving care.
Dan Pashman: This is Roger McGarry, another volunteer. As we spoke, he was mixing several pounds of lobster meat with mayo in a huge bowl ...
Dan Pashman: And what are the ratios of lobster meat to mayo to white pepper?
Roger McGarry: You… it’s a shake of the pepper. Mix up the lobster, shake a little more, mix it up some more, and then you put mayo just to make it squish. That’s the formula. Make it squish. Once it squishes, you know you have enough mayo.
Dan Pashman: Is there a sound you listen for?
Roger McGarry: Absolutely.
Dan Pashman: I wanna ... I’m gonna put my microphone close. I wanna hear the sound.
Roger McGarry: You won't be able to — I don’t know if you’ll hear it. Let's try it.
Dan Pashman: I’m cranking up the volume. All right let’s hear it.
Dan Pashman: That’s the squish.
Roger McGarry: That’s the squish.
Dan Pashman: What does the wrong squish sound like?
Roger McGarry: The wrong squish is you don’t get the squish, it’s very light. Or it’s just too wet because you’ve put too much mayo in.
Dan Pashman: So too much mayo, it's gonna sound — I would think it’s gonna sound maybe heavy and gloopy.
Roger McGarry: Yeah, yeah. Yes.
Dan Pashman: So there’s literally no official recipe written on paper somewhere?
Roger McGarry: No.
Dan Pashman: You just have to listen for the squish.
Roger McGarry: Yes.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Roger McGarry: And one of the old timers that taught me how to mix ...
Dan Pashman: Yeah?
Roger McGarry: Said, "When it it squishes, you got enough mayo."
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Roger McGarry: And that’s been my formula.
Dan Pashman: So that’s Roger, or as I like to think of him, the Keeper of The Squish.
Dan Pashman: The Grace Church recipe is most notable for what’s NOT in it: No tarragon or dill, no scallions or paprika, like the fancy places like to use. Not even any celery. And I’m actually okay with celery in a lobster roll, as long as it’s chopped very small. I like the zesty crunch. Most importantly though, at Grace Church, no lettuce.
Dan Pashman: A lot of places use lettuce in lobster rolls to deceive you. The lobster roll arrives with the meat piled high, over the top of the bun, and you look at it and think, “Wow, that’s a lot of lobster.” Then you bite into it and find out that hidden under all that meat is a bunch of lettuce, filling up the bun like packing peanuts. At Grace Church, it’s all lobster.
Dan Pashman: While Roger mixed, other folks were portioning the lobster meat into 8-ounce containers. And this is another thoughtful element of the operation. They don’t combine the meat and buns until the last second. And if you order it to go, they give them to you separately. This keeps the buns from getting soggy.
Dan Pashman: In my family we take them home so we can griddle the buns in butter. That’s a pretty crucial part of an ideal lobster roll. Grace Church doesn’t have the staff or the kitchen to individually griddle 1400 buns to order.
Dan Pashman: As Roger, Sandy, and several other crew members move around the kitchen, one man quietly keeps an eye on everything …
Beau Picard: Everybody knows me as Beau Picard …
Dan Pashman: Beau Picard is originally from Worcester Mass. He moved to the island 20 years ago. When we meet, he’s wearing a hat made out of a giant plush lobster.
Dan Pashman: Beau runs his own business repairing propane gas lines and appliances. He's almost always on call for his customers. But for him, lobster roll nights are sacred.
Beau Picard: I don’t do my business on Fridays during the summer during the summer. My Fridays are here. You got a problem, unless it’s an extreme emergency, you can wait until tomorrow.
Dan Pashman: Beau started volunteering at the lobster roll dinners in 2014. He liked it so much that he and his wife decided to join Grace Church. When the founding lobster roll ladies retired a few years ago, Beau took over as chair of the lobster roll committee. The money raised each summer goes towards the church’s ministries and mission projects, including local and overseas organizations.
Beau Picard: Last year we got a late start, we cleared 48, 8.
Dan Pashman: $48,000.
Beau Picard: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Still that's — I’m sure that makes a difference.
Beau Picard: Yeah. And this year we’ve topped that this year already and we’re not done yet, so ...
Dan Pashman: What’s the all-time record for most lobster rolls in one night.
Beau Picard: Is it 15? I’ve got the old chart.
Dan Pashman: Oh you got a chart? Let's see the chart. Show me the chart. Oh, look at this, lobster roll sales. Wow, 2015. There was a stretch in July and August 2015. What was happening then? 1200, 1300, 1400. You had three weeks in a row of over 1400 lobster rolls.
Beau Picard: People were still on the island and they like to come for lobster meat.
Dan Pashman: As Beau reels off these numbers, I’m looking at these huge mixing bowls filled with chunks of lobster, and I’m starting to wonder where does all this lobster come from? I mean, I just always assumed the church had some set up with one of the fish markets on the island to get fresh local lobster. But it started to hit me … half a pound of lobster per roll, 1400 rolls in a night, that’s 700 pounds of lobster meat sold in one evening. There are not many small local fish markets anywhere that can get you 700 pounds of fresh lobster meat all on the same day.
Dan Pashman: I was nervous to ask Beau about it. I was afraid maybe I was digging into some closely guarded secret. But he just told me.
Beau Picard: I get it from Sysco.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Beau Picard: And it all comes from Canada, I think.
Dan Pashman: Wherever. Okay.
Dan Pashman: In case you didn’t catch that, Beau said he gets the lobster from Sysco. That’s the same huge food service company that supplies restaurants all over the country, as well as school cafeterias and hospitals. You’ve probably seen their trucks on the highway. The lobster meat comes frozen, in two-pound bags. This blew my mind.
Dan Pashman: For as long as I can remember, it’s been drilled into my head that if seafood is gonna be any good, it's gotta to be fresh, not frozen. I waited tables at a popular seafood restaurant in Boston and that’s all they talked about. So how is it possible that the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had in my life are made with frozen lobster meat?
Dan Pashman: I had come in search of lobster rolls but it would appear I had stumbled into a mystery.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, the search for answers. Then later, the church doors open, and lobster roll night begins. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Last week on the show, we talked about the other thing that goes in a hot dog bun: hot dogs! And comedian Jamie Loftus knows what she wants when it comes to a hot dog bun.
CLIP (JAMIE LOFTUS): I prefer toasted. I like steamed, but you can't do nothing. You can't do what my dad did and shake it out raw and then slap in a boiled hotdog and be like, this is how I express love.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): [LAUGHING]
Dan Pashman: Jamie went on a cross-country road trip, when sampling some of the finest dogs America has to offer, and she shares her findings with us. Plus, we look at the dark history of the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, and we discuss what makes hot dogs so American. That one's up now, check it out. Now, back to the show.
Dan Pashman: When we left off, our heart-warming story about Grace Church’s lobster roll night had turned into a mystery. Conventional wisdom says fresh seafood is always better than frozen. So how is it possible that the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had in my life are made with frozen lobster meat?
Dan Pashman: As soon as Beau told me the lobster was frozen, I told him, I said, "Beau, you gotta walk me through the whole process, all right? Tell me exactly what they do with it." He said it arrives on a Monday, and he thaws it out slowly, over the course of the week.
Beau Picard: We drain the lobster meat, let it drain naturally. We fill up containers— we have special containers that are used that are like a square colander.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Beau Picard: And we put the lobster meat in that, in th packages, and it drains down onto a regular plastic pan below that. We do that on Wednesday, we do that again on Thursday, and then on Friday down to here.
Dan Pashman: Wait, so what’s the liquid that’s being drained from them?
Beau Picard: The natural water that comes from the lobster.
Dan Pashman: That’s interesting because one of the things I’ve noticed about other lobster rolls that were less good, is that they’re kind of watery. The meat tastes a little watery, and I guess that must be because they’re not draining the meat as much.
Beau Picard: That’s very possible. Yeah, no. We just let it drain naturally.
Dan Pashman: So Beau basically made special giant strainers for thawing and draining the lobster meat. Lobsters are especially wet creatures, so this process naturally removes a lot of water from the meat. Beau comes in every day throughout the week to empty the water from the trays. So what does that do exactly?
Dan Pashman: I reached out to my friend Daniel Gritzer, he’s the senior Culinary Director at Serious Eats, and when I talk to him, he had just gotten back from Maine, so he’d been eating a lot of lobster rolls. First thing to know?
Daniel Gritzer: I think the success of a lobster roll largely hinges on the texture of the lobster meat. And in particular the tail, because the tail meat can become very chewy very quickly. And if you think of your ideal sandwich, and putting aside whether we consider a lobster roll a sandwich type situation, [LAUGHS] we never want when we’re eating any kind of sandwich to take a bite and you pull the sandwich away that you somehow accidentally pull the sandwich contents out with it.
Dan Pashman: Bottom line: If the tail meat is tough, you can’t bite all the way through it and you end up pulling it out in one big chunk. So does freezing do?
Daniel Gritzer: Any type of seafood that has a tendency towards toughness can sometimes be better after freezing because the freezing itself can act as a tenderizing process. Sort of like how some people like to beat their octopus before they cook it to tenderize it. The ice crystals kind of do the same thing. When you freeze the meat, ice crystals form in that meat and those ice crystals can puncture and break open the cells that the meat itself is built out of. By cutting through the cells and cutting through the tissue, you’ve go this tenderizing effect. And maybe the tail meat of the lobster benefits from that.
Dan Pashman: But what about the idea I’ve heard that frozen seafood isn’t as good? Daniel says there is some merit to that. He says typically, those ice crystals hurt a lobster’s more delicate claw meat. They tear up the cells and leave tiny holes, making the claw meat spongy — not so good. But that’s where the Grace Church draining process comes to the rescue.
Daniel Gritzer: Maybe the prolonged draining allows that to collapse down on itself a little bit, so that you’re not only getting a concentration of flavor but maybe you’re also sort of fixing some of those textural issues that the claw can really suffer from.
Dan Pashman: Daniel says this all seems very plausible to him, but he adds that to be sure, we’d have to do a proper study. Guess we’re gonna have to eat more lobster rolls.
Dan Pashman: There is one more bit of science that I have to reference that I think helps explain why these lobster rolls are so good. There’s a researcher at Oxford named Charles Spence, we’ve had him here on the podcast before, and he has shown that the setting for a meal influences how the food tastes to us.
Dan Pashman: Spence’s work inspired chef Heston Blumenthal to serve a seafood dish with headphones at his restaurant in London. As you eat your seafood, you hear sounds of the ocean and seagulls. Research shows that actually makes us think the fish tastes fresher, better.
Dan Pashman: At Grace Church, you don’t need headphones. You can smell the salt water from the front door.
Susan Eibner: It does taste better when you’re sitting near the ocean.
Dan Pashman: 100%. The only other lobster rolls that I’ve ever heard that I’ve enjoyed nearly as much as the Grace Church ones come from Kelly’s on Revere Beach.
Susan Eibner: Oh, okay.
Dan Pashman: Just north of Boston ...
Dan Pashman: This is Susan Eibner, the interim priest at Grace Church.
Dan Pashman: I believe they put little bits of celery in it. How do you feel about that?
Susan Eibner: No, no celery.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Susan Eibner: That’s too bad.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Susan Eibner: No.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, but wait. When I find the ones nowadays that have like, tarragon, dill — or they want to put ...
Susan Eibner: Or they fill it. They do the filler with the lettuce?
Dan Pashman: Ugh!
Susan Eibner: No ...
Dan Pashman: Unacceptable!
Susan Eibner: Yeah, we literally… did they show you how they weigh out every single container or lobster roll gets the same amount.
Dan Pashman: Absolutely.
Together: 8 ounces.
Dan Pashman: Which is a lot.
Susan Eibner: It is.
Dan Pashman: You know, it’s interesting to me, Susan, because I think a lot of people perceive lobster rolls as expensive because they're on a menu, they’re often in the sandwich section.
Susan Eibner: Right.
Dan Pashman: And so if you’re looking at a roast beef sandwich $8, turkey sandwich, $8, and then you see a lobster roll $20 ... you're like, whoa, that’s an expensive sandwich.
Susan Eibner: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: But I don’t think that’s the right economic way to about it.
Susan Eibner: That's right.
Dan Pashman: Because 8 ounces of lobster meat, I actually researched this today before coming here because I was curious, on average a 1lb loster in the shell yields 3 to 3.5 oz.
Susan Eibner: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: So youre doing 8 oz. That means that it is more meat than you would get from a 2 lb lobster, which is big.
Susan Eibner: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: If you were to go into a nice restaurant and order a 2 lb lobster with drawn butter and all that, the whole big lobster on the plate, it would cost way more than $20.
Susan Eibner: Yes, yes. It would. You’re absolutely right. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Susan clearly knows her way around a lobster roll. She was born and raised in Maine. And she’s seen her share of church fundraisers. She’s been a pastor all over the country. In fact, that’s her job. She works with churches when they’re in between priests. Sometimes she stays a few months, sometimes a few years. She’s been at Grace Church since 2016.
Susan Eibner: I got the job here because I have dealt with community grief and their last priest died and they were heartbroken. And so this has been a time of helping them come back to their own.
Dan Pashman: Susan says these lobster roll dinners at Grace Church are the most ambitious church fundraiser she has ever encountered. But they're special in another way, too.
Susan Eibner: People come in and it’s like old home week. It’s like everybody comes in and they’re glad to see each other and they’ve seen each other summers. And people meet people here and remember people here, and go sit at tables together that they only do here on Friday nights. And anything that becomes a community builder in this day and age is a ministry.
Dan Pashman: Another thing that brings new people into Grace Church? The stained glass windows that depict two Black priests, who were early leaders in the Episcopal Church. Those windows are part of Martha’s Vineyard’s African American Heritage Trail.
Susan Eibner: People are coming in and going so where are the windows?
Dan Pashman: Do you mind? Can we take a quick look?
Susan Eibner: Yeah. Yup.
Dan Pashman: We left the parish hall and went into the church sanctuary …
Susan Eibner: So this is the window for the first African American episcopal priest, Absalom Jones ...
Dan Pashman: Reverend Jones is depicted in a black robe, holding a communion cup and wafer. The other window features The Right Reverend John M. Burgess, the first African American die-OH-seh-zun Bishop. He's in a white robe, holding a candlelighter and bible.
Susan Eibner: Seeing people come in and seeing those windows, one woman said to me, "There’s only one other church in my entire life that I ever saw an African American, depicted, somebody who looked like me, in a stained glass window." And it was just one of those moments where as a white woman of privilege, I think, is the way I would describe myself, I was stunned by that. I had never — I had thought about the fact that Jesus wasn’t white, thank you very much, but he was never depicted that way the way he really was. He’s usually depicted as a white man. And but I’d never really thought about the fact that African Americans didn’t see stained glass windows where the faces of people looked like them. And so there was learning for me and there was pride in the people who go in and look at the two windows.
Dan Pashman: After getting a good look at the stained glass windows, Susan and I returned to the parish hall, where the doors were just about to open for lobster roll night. Everyone was moving around faster now. There was less joking around. People had their game faces on. It was time to ask Pastor Susan one more question.
Dan Pashman: How do you like your lobster roll?
Susan Eibner: They pretty much have it. I grew up in downeast Maine.
Dan Pashman: Oh.
Susan Eibner: Oh, yes.
Dan Pashman: So you’re like New England to the core?
Susan Eibner: I am, yeah. And lobster roll to the core. You don’t mess with lobster. I’m a purist.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Susan Eibner: I fit in here
Dan Pashman: I love that you describe yourself as a purist in terms of lobster rolls because you’re like, Jesus wasn’t white, but don’t you dare put tarragon on my lobster roll.
Susan Eibner: That's good. That's right. You know? That’s the Episcopal church in a nutshell
Dan Pashman: We're gonna take one more quick break but coming up after the break, Grace Church opens its doors to the Martha’s Vineyard masses and my mom reveals her tricks for assembling the perfect lobster roll. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. And today, I’m at Grace Church on Martha’s Vineyard, where it's lobster roll night.
Dan Pashman: Sandy, can I check in with you?
Sandy Pratt: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: It’s just a few minutes before 4. Update me, where do things stand?
Sandy Pratt: Where do things stand? Well, we are ready. We’ve got all our stations manned. The pie table is full of pies, and we're ready. Hopefully, we can move them in and move them out.
Dan Pashman: And what are the emotions like over the course of the day of Friday, building up to this moment when the doors open?
Roger McGarry: Let there be a long line!
Sandy Pratt: Yeah. There you go, that’s it. That’s the one. Let it be a good night. Let it be a good night and let nobody yell at anyone in the kitchen. Sometimes it gets a little tense in the kitchen. These guys will get backed up and we won’t have enough containers for them and we’ll be trying to make them as fast as we can, and they’re standing there going, "I need three more!"
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Sandy Pratt: And we say, you know, "You’ll get them when we’re ready."
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: At 4 o' clock, the doors open. Ten minutes later they had sold a hundred lobster rolls, and there was a line out the door. The hall is a pretty typical church function room. Wood ceilings, simple decorations. It has 3 or 4 big round tables, with red and white checkered table cloths. The tables are communal, so different groups end up sitting together.
Dan Pashman: There was the college student here working for the summer, having her first Grace Church experience …
College Student: I think the amount of lobster that came on the roll was a little shocking when it first came out.
Dan Pashman: The husband and wife pilots who are on the island for the season ...
Bob: We know people that fly in from Connecticut on Fridays to come here. Because first of all, the lobster rolls are delicious and secondly, the charity is wonderful.
Dan Pashman: And a woman who’s been coming to Martha’s Vineyard for 40 years since she was a baby
Speaker 2: The lobster is big and juicy. I mean, they have the biggest lobster pieces that I’ve seen, the chunks. So and it’s nice and sweet. And it just tastes really good and everybody's friendly so I guess that makes it special too.
Dan Pashman: Then there was this guy ...
Dan Pashman: Can you tell me your name please?
Captain Ralph Joseph: I’m Captain Ralph Joseph.
Dan Pashman: Hey, Captain. Oh, here’s your business card. Okay.
Captain Ralph Joseph: I advertise lobster roll charters … You guys are my biggest draw out of New Bedford.
Dan Pashman: All right.
Captain Ralph Joseph: And people stand in line at the docks to come out here and have these lobster rolls.
Dan Pashman: Wait, seriously?
Captain Ralph Joseph: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Lobster roll charters?
Captain Ralph Joseph: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: In New Bedford, MA.
Captain Ralph Joseph: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: People hire you to take them in a boat from New Bedford to MV just to eat these lobster rolls?
Captain Ralph Joseph: I mean, I talk them into it. They do some shopping, they mingle with the locals, they — I mean, they enjoy the island but the highlight that I advertise is the lobster rolls.
Dan Pashman: These lobster rolls?
Captain Ralph Joseph: Absolutely.
Dan Pashman: I spotted Beau in the corner of the kitchen surveying the scene. His plush lobster hat had gotten turned a bit crooked in all the craziness.
Dan Pashman: All right Beau, you look like you’re taking a minute to yourself. How are things going? How’s the night proceeding so far?
Beau Picard: Good. Really good.
Dan Pashman: Can you tell at this point, we’re about 30 minutes in now, can you tell how big of a night it’s gonna be?
Beau Picard: Nope, no way.
Dan Pashman: So in ten minutes, 1000 people could show up?
Beau Picard: Or in 10 it could stop dead.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Beau Picard: No clue.
Dan Pashman: Right, right.
Beau Picard: I’m hoping for at least 1000
Dan Pashman: All right. That’s a good goal.
Beau Picard: Good goal.
Dan Pashman: At this point, I was starving. It was time to place my order …
Dan Pashman: All right. Well, Louise, I would like 4 lobster rolls please.
Louise: You would like 4 lobster rolls ...
Dan Pashman: As they put my order together, I chatted with Simone Pratt. She’s been coming to Martha’s Vineyard every summer for more than 20 years — since she was in college.
Simone: I’m kind of a traditionalist. I like tradition, I like passing on traditions in my family. So I think also the mystique of coming here and doing this — I only come once a year here so I think it adds to the fandom.
Dan Pashman: You don’t seem to be eating a lobster roll.
Simone: Because I have it in a container because I’m going out to watch the sunset in Menemsha. So I’m gonna eat it while I’m watching the sunset.
Dan Pashman: So lobster rolls and sunsets for you tonight?
Simone: Yeah, yeah. Lobster roll and sunset. It’s kinda perfect, yeah.
Dan Pashman: I took my family's lobster rolls — meat and buns still separate – back to my parents’ house. After Janie and I put the kids to bed, my mom and I griddled up the buns in butter. Remember these are New England style hot dog buns, so picture a slice of white bread folded in half, so you have open bread on the sides, bread that you can butter, and griddle. My mom’s got it down to a science …
Linda: Oh, look at them. It smells so good. The smell of butter?
Dan Pashman: It smells very buttery right now.
Linda: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I brush melted butter — salted melted butter on each side of the roll, and then I put it in the skillet and they get really crispy and buttery and warm, and you stuff the lobster meat in until the roll almost splits. If the roll splits you’ve not done it correctly.
Dan Pashman: Hmm.
Linda: The roll has to be warm and the lobster has to be cold so you have that contrast of warm and not ice cold but cool. That’s what it’s about.
Dan Pashman: I agree.
Dan Pashman: But I ...
Linda: Oh, we agree about something, Dan. That’s really good.
Dan Pashman: I didn’t record the actual eating of the lobster rolls because I was on vacation and I just wanted to enjoy my food. Suffice it to say, they were as amazing as always. The claws tender and plump, the tail meat meaty but not tough, and then like my mom said, that contrast with the warm buttery bun — I mean, that is all you need.
Dan Pashman: A few final notes. First, I am aware of the Connecticut lobster roll, which is warm lobster meat in butter on a bun, but that is an abomination which is why it was omitted from this episode. Moving on ...
Dan Pashman: Remember, Beau said he was hoping to sell a thousand lobster rolls that night I was there? They ended up selling 852. Solid showing. Also, Grace Church now has a permanent rector, to replace interim priest Susan Eibner. His name is Stephen Harding and like Susan, he’s a New England native. So I think Grace Church’s lobster rolls will be safe under his leadership. He’s not gonna try to sneak any lettuce in there.
Dan Pashman: My thanks to Beau, Sandy, Susan, Roger, and to Karen Huff of the Grace Church lobster roll committee, for being part of this episode. For pictures of the lobster rolls and other stuff on eating, please follow me on Instagram, @TheSporkful.
Dan Pashman: Finally, some related Martha’s Vineyard news: I’m going to be on a panel at a food history symposium called Martha’s Vineyard Flavors. It’s happening this weekend. The first weekend in June at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. The panel I’m moderating will feature author Joan Nathan, restaurateur Hugh Taylor, chef Austin Racine of Mo’s Lunch, and Rebeccca Miller of North Tabor Farm. And is part of a weekend of festivities: Demonstrations, talks, and delicious meals. You can get a ticket for the whole weekend or you can get tickets for just part of the weekend. So you get Saturday afternoon, June 3rd, that will include the event I'm moderating. Hope to see you there. Get more info and tickets at MVMuseum.org. We’ll also put a link in the show notes.
Dan Pashman: Next week, ahead of the Top Chef finale, I talk with Gail Simmons about her 20 seasons as a judge on the show. The latest season was filmed in London, so she tells me about her favorite chocolate bars across the pond. Plus, we hear why she resented that her mother was a food writer and cooking teacher.
Dan Pashman: While you wait for that one, check out my conversation with Jamie Loftus about hot dogs and much more. That’s available now.