If you eat a lobster roll indoors, does it taste better? I’m not entirely sure, but this is something I’m trying to figure out. It’s an idea that runs against proper lobster-roll consumption conventions. The buttery delight is definitely something that’s most often enjoyed outdoors, regardless if you’re dockside in Maine, curbside in the District with Red Hook Lobster Pound’s über-popular food truck, or on a bench outside the Pound’s brick-and-mortar location on Van Brunt Street in Brooklyn.
This past Saturday, I enjoyed a Red Hook Lobster Pound Maine-style lobster roll in a totally new environment: in the basement of Brooklyn’s Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower at a picnic table within view of some gigantic bank vault doors. The bank tower’s mosaic-ornamented lobby and basement are the cold-weather indoor home to Brooklyn Flea, a massive weekend marketplace for antiques, vintage clothing, cool accessories and random knick-knacks.
Red Hook Lobster Pound has been among the Flea’s stable of food vendors, who this weekend set up shop on makeshift tables in a congested corner of the basement, where the bank vault is located. On Saturday, I ordered what I’ve ordered before from the Red Hook’s D.C. truck and its brick-and-mortar location in Brooklyn: a Maine-style lobster roll, where the lobster meat is dressed with homemade mayo and topped off with chopped scallions, paprika, and a final brushing of melted butter atop the grilled folded bread. (A friend ordered the Connecticut style, served warm with melted butter.)
Red Hook’s fans in D.C. know the drill on Maine vs. Connecticut. I’ve had both and have enjoyed them. (And by the spring, I’ll be able to try them at a second lobster truck.) But for some reason, my lobster roll in the crowded bank basement last weekend tasted far better than the other times I’ve gotten one from the D.C. food truck or at the brick-and-mortar location.
Why? It was, I think, the enhanced visual and olfactory experience while I waited.
Plain and simple: I saw my lobster roll being made in plain view. I saw that the portable griddle to grill the bread was set at 400 degrees while the other griddle, for warming the lobster for the Connecticut-style rolls, was set at 375 degrees. You could smell the buttery goodness. You could see the large metallic bowl the lobster meat being used to mix in the mayo. It was a far better venue for sensory engagement. I was better connected to—and understood far better—what I was about to enjoy.
With the D.C. lobster truck, you simply stand in line; the sensory enjoyment is largely limited to seeing others eat the $15 worth of lobster, bread and melted butter. ($18 with chips and Maine Root soda.) And by the time it’s your turn to order (and you might have been queued up for a half hour, too) your understanding of how your lobster roll is produced is limited to a random peek or two of a roll being handled by a random human arm that momentarily comes into view behind the guy behind the truck’s cash-register window or through the pick-up window, which offers a better view on the trucks operation.
But it’s not as good as the view you get at Brooklyn Flea, where I was within easy reach of mixing the lobster and mayo in the metallic bowl on my own if the Red Hook crew would have let me.
So while Red Hook’s D.C. food truck operation is growing in popularity—and even got a two-star review from Tom Sietsema in The Washington Post‘s 2010 Fall Dining Guide—I’m going to be measuring my future lobster roll experiences against the great one I had last weekend. And it could be tough to top.
Young & Hungry file photos