The “best lobster roll” in any given Maine town is usually a matter of some debate, incorporating elements of flavor and ingredients, pricing and convenience. Some bristle at lettuce on the bun or don’t approve of the dusting of paprika. None of us want to pay tourist prices. Sorry Red’s, but we’ll let the folks from New Jersey stand in that line. And can we agree that any establishment featuring a banner proclaiming their lobster roll to be the best has the equivalent impact of holding garlic up in front of a vampire?
When I first moved back to Brunswick nearly five years ago, a friend from high school wrote to tell me to be sure not to miss the lobster rolls at Libby’s. “Best in town,” she wrote.
I eyed the variety store as I drove down Jordan Avenue on my way to the Brunswick athletic fields where my son plays soccer and baseball. I was dubious. It looked like a great place to get a ham Italian. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But my friend and I had been waitresses together; she knew lobster.
The first time I stopped for a lobster roll, I ran into another friend from high school waiting for her order. The second time I witnessed a highly entertaining prank involving a staged fight whereby one patron was thrown out by the proprietor while another (the person being pranked) stood bewildered, holding a bag of chips, trying to figure out what was going on. It’s that kind of a place, which is to say my kind of place.
I’ve lost count now of how many Libby’s lobster rolls I’ve eaten since. They are well packed, come on a grilled bun if you like it that way, with lettuce if you ask, and arrive wrapped in white paper, like their modest cousin the ham Italian. Libby’s makes lobster rolls for real Mainers; stuffed full, unassuming, without fuss or extraneous ingredients (fillers like celery bum me out) and seriously reliable.
The prices vary depending on the season, but last week when I joined the usual queue of post-Little League game parents, a hefty medium was going for $16.47. At home I mixed up a big salad, split the roll in half and served it to an out of town guest from Wyoming. I’d steamed lobster for her the night before, so she’d already had what I consider the Platonic ideal of lobster. She’d chewed the roll thoughtfully, giving the light ratio of mayo to meat the thumbs up and said the only disappointment was that it was a bit bland. To me that is true of virtually every lobster roll that hasn’t been made at home with leftovers from the night before (we’d had nothing left from our steamed feast). Libby’s lobster rolls are what I get when I have a hankering for the treat without the mess at home or a drive somewhere farther than a mile from my house.
While I’d waited at Libby’s, I’d watched an older couple stepped tentatively to the counter. “We heard you have lobster rolls?” the man asked, in the tone of a newcomer who thought it highly unlikely that what they’d heard about this utterly unpicturesque place could actually be true. The young woman waiting on them pointed to the display of shellacked rolls (empty) in small, medium and large, to let them know what the sizes were. Shellacked last September, they’d shrunk a little and perhaps did not make the best advertisement for deliciousness.
I thought about reassuring the couple but decided against it; let them make their own discovery. If the best lobster rolls are the ones we make at home, to the specifications peculiar to ourselves, the second best are the ones we find on our own, often in the least expected places.
42 Jordan Ave., Brunswick | 207-729-7277
WHEN: 3 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 3 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday, with last food orders at 4 p.m.
PARKING: Small lot, but readily available.
OUTDOOR SEATING: A few picnic tables; this is more of a to-go operation
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes