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A lobster roll is a bun filled with lobster meat – customarily a long bun, like for hot dogs, but occasionally a circular one.
Eating a whole lobster demands work: picking, cracking, sucking. In 1929 Harry Perry, proprietor of a seafood shack in Milford, Connecticut, came up with an easier way to enjoy homarus Americanus: the lobster roll. He filled a roll with nothing but warm lobster meat and butter. The E-Z-eat creation became what Connecticut Magazine editor Charles Monagan once called “Connecticut’s greatest contribution to the world of regional cuisine.” Perry’s invention enjoyed such success that it inspired a boom in shoreline lobster shacks. His restaurant soon sported a sign boasting that it was Home of the Famous Lobster Roll.
Farther Downeast, a cool version got popular. Sometimes called a lobster salad roll, it binds the meat in mayonnaise with bits of celery and herbs. Stuff them all into a bun, maybe on a bed of lettuce. Whereas hot lobster rolls demand large pieces of knuckle and claw, more mayonnaise can allow cool ones to get by with smaller, shredded pieces. That lowers the cost.
Both kinds endure, the cool one more popular beyond southern New England, the hot one a Connecticut signature. The Maine Diner in Wells, Maine, offers both kinds.
Where is the best lobster roll? It remains a mostly Yankee dish because it demands fresh lobster meat. One notable outlier is a restaurant called 167 Raw in Charleston, South Carolina. Its version earns kudos not only for a plethora of big pieces of meat, but for a toasted bun so buttery that it crunches as if deep-fried.
Do not underestimate the role of the roll, especially in a hot one. Early on, as lobster rolls got popular, seafood shacks started using hot dog buns. Tradition says it should be the split-top Yankee type. Cooks toast it to golden crisp on the outside, soft and absorbent inside where the meat sits. Excess butter soaks into it along with sweet marine juice. The mingling of lobster juice and butter transforms a relatively plain piece of bread into a flavor-packed delight on its own.