Since lobster rolls cost approximately three trillion dollars at the moment, if you’re going to eat one, you’d better eat it the way you want it. And people have strong feelings about the way they want it. It boils down to two vastly different styles: mayo vs. butter.
The first lobster roll I ever had was at The Lobster Roll restaurant in Amagansett, NY (which people just call “Lunch” and which was also, fun fact, featured on Showtime’s The Affair.) It was around 2006, the same year Pluto was downgraded to dwarf planet status and Twitter would irreparably ruin my brain by being invented. I don’t remember the exact menu from that fateful day, but on Lunch’s current menu, there are two types of lobster rolls.
There’s the “classic lobster salad roll,” which is “cold water lobster meat mixed with our proprietary mayonnaise dressed and just enough celery for texture.” I’d like to know more about the proprietary mayonnaise, but more importantly, note the word “classic” there. The second option on the menu is “Hot lobster roll: hot, tasty chunks of claw and knuckle meat served in drawn butter.”
Back in ’06, the butter option either wasn’t on the menu or I didn’t notice it. Since I was a total lobster roll newbie, it stands to reason that if I saw the word “classic,” I would have zeroed in on it and shirked all other options. I did, and it arrived cold, mayo-doused, and delicious. I filed it away in my mind as “what a lobster roll is.” Then a few years later I moved to Vermont and completely changed my thoughts on what a lobster roll can—and should—be.
In my part of the Green Mountain State, the default lobster roll is served hot with butter. My favorite lobster roll purveyor doesn’t even offer you an option of cold with mayo. Order a lobster roll here in Vermont and you’re going to get lumps of meat served hot, tossed in delightfully warm butter and served on a split-top, New England–style hot dog bun, which has been buttered and toasted on the outside. That’s all there is to it.
In the world of lobster rolls, there exists a great debate: cold with mayo or hot with butter? And from my first lobster roll in Vermont, I’d chosen a side. Then I was left wondering: Is this actually polarizing, or have the mayo people just not tried it the butter way yet?
The cold, mayo-based lobster roll is more formally referred to as the “Maine style” lobster roll. The buttery, hot, wonderful lobster roll is referred to as the “Connecticut style” lobster roll.
The Connecticut style is said to have originated in Milford, Connecticut, invented by Harry Perry, owner of a restaurant called Perry’s, which closed in the 1970s (and which, as far as I can tell, bears no relation to the ice cream brand by the same name).
It’s unclear how (or why) the lobster roll that would eventually come to be associated with Maine was invented, though chef Jasper White is credited with making it popular in Boston, and White’s restaurant credits Red Eats in Maine for paving the path for him to do so.
According to the Food Network, the Maine style has gained more ubiquity in the United States, in part because the lobster roll itself is a dish more closely associated with Maine (despite Maine snubbing the lobster roll as its official state sandwich). But is it actually the favorite? Or are there other people out there like me who can’t imagine why you’d ever pass up the opportunity to have the hot butter version?
According to Reddit, aka the window into the souls of humanity, I’m not alone. In a subreddit about the great lobster roll debate, Redditor salemblack said that when presented with a mayo-tossed lobster roll instead of a buttery one, their wife’s face “was like one of those videos where a kid thinks they are about to open a present and it’s instead filled with rocks.”
User DoctorMcAstronaut likened adding mayo to lobster to adding ketchup to steak. “I like ketchup and I like steak, just not together,” they wrote.
Another user, Bdy435, compared Maine lobster rolls to Manhattan clam chowder, adding, “Just don’t.”
Redditor mattyzucks called people who would deign to slather “beautiful lobster meat” in mayo and serve it cold “absolute lunatics.”
In an attempt to settle the debate, The Manual’s Taylor Tobin evaluated the two types of lobster rolls on the grounds of five different factors: flavor, variety, year-round availability, refreshment, and “tradition.” Though the Connecticut style fared better in the areas of flavor and year-round availability, the winner in that debate was the Maine style, even in the tradition category, despite Tobin’s acknowledgment that this wasn’t how the lobster roll was invented.
“The Maine version quickly became a hit throughout New England and ultimately spread to other regions of the United States, and most lobster-roll eaters now consider the Maine-style roll the sandwich’s Platonic ideal,” the article says.
Despite declaring Maine the winner, Tobin offered the wisdom that “at the end of the day, a lobster roll made with impeccable ingredients will taste tremendous, regardless of its specific preparation style.” I guess I agree, because that first, “classic” lobster roll I had at Lunch did indeed set me on a path of loving lobster rolls. But also… butter! You have to try one Connecticut-style this summer. You might be missing out on the best lobster roll you’ve ever tasted.