This year’s sojourn yielded the following “best” list. Our suggestions for where to stay and what to do in the surrounding areas will help you build your own vacation around this New England favorite.
No doubt about it Kelly’s Roast Beef is king here when it comes to lobster rolls. The original Kelly’s on Revere Beach has had long lines since the day it opened in 1951, serving up some of the most delicious “fast food” by the beach. From memorable fried clams to hot dogs and oversized roast beef sandwiches drowned in a tangy barbeque sauce, everyone loves Kelly’s. But, for us, the lobster roll is what brings us back again and again. Oversized, on a delicious buttered frankfurter roll, the lobster meat in this sandwich seems to come from at least two whole lobsters (probably not, but it is huge), and the pickles and chips served with it on the paper plate only add to the appeal. Kelly’s is an easy drive from Boston, or can be reached on the Revere Beach T stop on the blue line from Government Center. There’s also one on Route 1 in Saugus that has a drive-in window and indoor seating. The original Kelly’s is only a take-out window – you’ll have to sit on the benches across the street by the beach.
Stay at the Marriott Long Wharf or Fairmont Copley Plaza for well-located hotel choices in Boston. You’ll be near the waterfront, the Aquarium, the North End (Boston’s Little Italy), and Faneuil Hall if you stay at the Marriott. The Copley Plaza puts you on part of the Freedom Trail, just behind Trinity Church, near the great shops of Newbury Street, and the gorgeous architecture and boulevards of Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street, and Marlborough Street.
For a lobster roll at a relatively frugal price, try Derby Fish and Lobster in historic Salem. The lobster roll needs a bit of salt to bring out the taste, the price is better than most and you can have a choice of two sizes if you’re watching your pennies. There are two ways to dine here: you can order at the counter and serve yourself at the fish market-cum-restaurant or go for full sit-down service at the café. Either way, the prices are reasonable and the lobster roll or lobster salad (a lobster roll set on greens, essentially, without bread) are quite good.
You can walk here from the Salem Waterfront Hotel on Pickering Wharf. Just under two years old, the hotel adds much-needed rooms for tourists in this city known for its place in the annals of the infamous Witch Trials. There’s also the House of Seven Gables, birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the beautiful Peabody Essex Museum which features maritime and Native American exhibits among others and is home to Yin Yu Tang, a Chinese home moved to Salem piece by piece. Just across the street from Salem Common and the Witch Museum, the Hawthorne Hotel has rooms and an inviting tavern.
If Maine didn’t invent the lobster roll, it could easily lay claim to having done so. Maine lobster is the sweetest, most succulent in the country, and the lobster rolls here compete with each other in offering the “best of the best.”
The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport doesn’t look like much, but the lines in front will tell you that something special is going on here. The shack is set next to a fish store just across the bridge from the town center (you’ll know the town as the summer home of the Bushes). There’s a stand next door where they make homemade lemonade, step by step, and it’s the perfect complement to this sandwich. You can select to have your lobster roll plain, with butter, or with mayonnaise – others usually come with mayonnaise already mixed in – and it’s served right from the pot and is just a bit warm. Homemade dill pickles can be ordered to go with it. There are no seats but most people take the rolls and eat standing on the walkway around the corner while they watch the ducks and seagulls waiting for scraps of bread.
Two inns here provide contrasting luxury. The White Barn Inn, a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux group, offers gorgeous rooms, exquisite dining, a new spa, and high tea. The Captain Lord Mansion is a smaller property with each room decorated in period antiques and furnishings. After visiting the various shops in the center of town, travel East along Ocean Avenue, past the summer “cottages” and various inns to the point where you’ll see people gathered along the sidewalk or on the rocks looking out at the point. Everyone stops or slows down to gawk at the Bush compound, a sprawling home with an array of boats, three flags (Texas, US Presidency, USA), and lots of security.
You’d have a hard time missing Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, as the line in front stretches the length of the bridge. Another tiny shack that dishes out an amazing, meaty lobster roll this is a “destination” for lobster rolls – you really shouldn’t order anything else except their wonderful onion rings. Red’s fortunately has seating on an outdoor patio.
Nearby choices for traditional inn-style accommodations are the Victorian-style Blackberry Inn in Camden and the four-diamond Harraseeket Inn in Freeport. Stay in Camden and wander through one of Maine’s most scenic towns. There’s a nice selection of shops in town, and you can go out on a schooner for a day or sunset sail from the harbor. For the shopper in the group, Freeport is nirvana with its large selection of name outlets and the 24-hour L.L. Bean stores. The Harraseeket Inn also has an indoor pool and small gym to help you unwind from spending too much money.
We love Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. There is no shortage of “lobster in the rough” places in Downeast Maine, as it’s called, and each has its own twist on the lobster roll. Our favorite is the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound just before the bridge before you approach the island. We were surprised to get a lobster roll served on white bread, not a roll, but combined with the perfect mayonnaise and lettuce, the bread works beautifully and doesn’t camouflage the flavor of the lobster. This is lobster at its most basic, for sure, with the steam from the lobster boilers hitting you as you sit at the outdoor picnic tables. Freshly brewed ice tea and perfect blueberry pie finish your meal.
If you’re into hiking, biking, or just enjoying nature, Acadia National Park is perfection. You can climb Cadillac Mountain (or drive) to watch the picture-perfect sunsets, choose from any number of easy-to-difficult trails, or sunbathe at Echo Lake (warm water) or Sand Beach (freezing water) and see as many or as few people as you choose. Stay at either the Ullikana Bed & Breakfast or Yellow House, just off Main Street in Bar Harbor, for a dose of amazing hospitality and comfort. Both inns are owned by the same family and each room is furnished distinctively with brass beds, claw-footed bathtubs, and colorful wallpaper or hand paintings. Afternoon wine and cheese, a gourmet breakfast, and all-day tea are included. The owners will help you pick out a hike or bike route from their own many years of experience.
And, last, but certainly not least on our list is the wonderful Tubby’s in Wayne. A short drive inland from Augusta, this ice cream stand with its wide range of unusual flavors offers two sizes of lobster rolls, made fresh on a grilled hot dog bun. We’ve never chosen the smaller version because we’ll always be gluttons for this lobster roll, one that earns our praise for being the best in Maine. Soak up some true Maine atmosphere as you eat your lobster roll on a picnic table by Lake Androscoggin. This is a good side trip before heading south to either Freeport or Portland, a historic port city with lots of nightlife and lodging options.