Reporting Jay Lloyd
There’s nothing that says culinary indulgence like the menacing claws of a live lobster, outstretched to exact vengeance before winding up bright red and inert on a plate. The hunt for that bit of gastronomic luxury continues after the creature is brought from its briny bed, but long before the obit is penned. We search for the freshest, the sweetest and — as a contradiction to extravagance — the most reasonably priced crustacean within reach. It must be live and lively. That means fairly recently caught and well kept. Sometimes, it’s necessary to go to the source. So, in search of that ideal lobster dinner, we’ll take a few geographic liberties and assume the seeker is willing to take a drive or flight. Here are some of my favorite spots, near and far, but within two hours of home. – Jay Lloyd
A modest two hour drive takes us to the LOBSTER HOUSE in Cape May, New Jersey. Nothing says “fresh” like the commercial fishing boats that line the docks at this long time mainstay of Cape May’s restaurant scene. Choose a harborside window table in winter or a dockside perch in spring, summer and fall to be served from kitchen or raw bar. The Lobster House steams or broils these succulent wonders as opposed to boiling. (Personally, I prefer the slower steaming method, but it is much debated.) The restaurant is part of a complex that includes an impressive retail seafood shop. For budget-minded visitors staying in accommodations with kitchen facilities, you can pick and cook your own at half the cost of the menu price. Just bring your own steamer or large boiling pot.
Living or having friends in the heart of a city has distinct advantages when planning an extravagant dinner and then a night on the town. Lobster is always on the menu, whether in Philadelphia or New York. There is one neighborhood in each city to go to for the best price: Chinatown.
A few weeks ago in Manhattan, the priciest piece of geography in the east, live lobster was going for a surprising $6.50 a pound. Pick up the main event, along with unique fin food extras, at TAI JIANG FA, located at 286 Grand Street — just west of Eldridge.
If you’re staying close to home in Philly, head for KING MARKET at 140 N. 10th Street next to the Imperial Restaurant, which incidentally, has its own live seafood tanks. Exotic Cantonese and Szechuan lobster is on the menu.
Sorry, neither seafood market nor the Imperial has a web page. Just go. You’ll be happy.
In the mood for a casual, impulse night-out with whole lobster on the table and a rock bottom bill when you’re sucking the last of the sweet meat from those tiny legs? Head for the TRAPPE TAVERN in Central Montgomery County. The hard shelled beauties are boiled up every Wednesday night. The tab is $16 and includes soup or salad, a baked potato and veggies. If you make it at happy hour, you’ll find domestic beers, house wines and well drinks check in at just two bucks. Trappe is populated by a local, friendly crowd that ranges from families to students at nearby Ursinus College. The Trappe Tavern is located at 416 W. Main Street, Trappe, PA 19426.
Okay. I promised a bit of travel here. A one-and-three-quarter hour direct flight from Philadelphia lands you in the El Dorado of lobster-rich locales, Nova Scotia. The place is bristling with the freshest seafood imaginable. I’ve watched lobster boats fishing close to shore at Pleasant Bay, and then stopped at the docks to meet them. You can’t get fresher than that. But you don’t have to cook it yourself. Part of the catch is going right down the road to several restaurants with spectacular views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and a lobster dinner boiled in water straight from the sea. For the view and the lobster — plus a commendable fish chowder — a favorite is the RUSTY ANCHOR (23197 Cabot Trail Rd, Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia, B05 2P0, Canada. 902-224-1313) on a hillside overlooking the Gulf. While cracking claws, you can even watch the whales sounding less than a mile from shore. Just be warned, the place doesn’t open for the season until May.
DO IT YOURSELF:
It’s simple. Plunge the live lobster into a pot of boiling salted water or sea water. A 1-1/4 lobster should be done in 12 minutes.
Or, using a steamer, put the live lobsters in the steamer basket for about 15 minutes. An interesting variation is steam them for 12 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut them in half, lengthwise — I use a sharp cleaver and mallet for an exact cut. Then, scrape out the green matter from cavities near the head, and either stuff it with crab meat or lobster claw meat, dot with butter, sprinkle with a little salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, then broil meat side-up for three minutes.