The Problem With Dallas' Lobster Rolls
The lobster roll has been fetishized in Dallas. What started as an obscure menu option offered most notably at Sea Breeze, Rex's and Cafe Pacific is becoming a full blown trend in Dallas. See Also: Lobster Roll Smack Down: Rex's Versus Sea Breeze Rex's Friday Lobster Rolls: They're Good, and They're Way Cheaper Than a Plane Ticket
East Hampton Sandwich Company and TJ's Seafood Market both opened recently with Connecticut style sandwich, which is typically served warm and dressed in butter, compared to the New England style which is cool and lightly dressed in mayo. I've yet to try the monster at the recently opened TJ's on Oak Lawn, but I did get into East Hampton recently, and there are some problems with the way they roll.
The first issue is the meat they use. While it's nice they're using claw, knuckle and tail meat (essentially every part of the lobster) it should be noted they aren't using whole lobsters. The tails come in fresh and are steamed, while the knuckle and claw meat is purchased frozen, before it's thawed and added to the fresh lobster.
When a customer orders a roll, the cold meat is placed in a freshly toasted Empire bun, and then drizzled with warm butter. That's the second problem. Warm butter on cold lobster thickens up pretty quickly. On some of the meat in my roll it had actually started to congeal. It wasn't pretty.
While a "butter drizzle" sounds sexy this sandwich would be better if the meat was lightly warmed in a sauce pan with a little butter and then dumped into the sandwich. If they used whole fresh lobster the sandwich would be a really show stopper. It would also cost more.
TJ's Seafood steams whole, live lobsters every morning, but nobody rolls in Dallas like they do up north. Order a lobster roll in rural New England, and a cook will throw a lobster in a pot that second. Minutes later, some poor chap with thick rubber gloves pries the meat out of the shell, and minutes after that it's warm and glistening on a bun. The whole thing costs less than $10.
East Hampton's roll costs $16; TJ's charges $22.
The prices are fair for what you get, but they illuminate an attractive reason to embrace locavorism: the cost. A few hours away, the gulf teems with delicious shrimp. Why aren't we embracing shrimp rolls instead?
Maybe I'll start a pop-up shrimp roll cart. I'll cook whole, fresh shrimp in a court-bouillon until they're perfectly done and then chill them down and peel them. I'll make shrimp bisque with the heads and serve it in Styrofoam cups with oyster crackers.
I'll toss the shrimp in pan of warm salted butter for each order. No ginger, no zest, no micro-greens, just perfectly cooked, super-fresh shrimp and butter, finished with some freshly squeezed lemon juice. There would be a line around the block.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.