The chowders, bisques, clambakes and lobster rolls of summer
While I’ve spent most of my life as an inlander, my parents’ origins were along the New England coast. With their ties to the Boston area, we often traveled east to family gatherings where seafood was a focal point of meals and special occasions.
Summer visits to Nauset Beach on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod usually included a lunchtime stop at what resembled an outdoor fast-food venue. But instead of the typical hot dog or cheeseburger you’d expect to read on the menu, visualize an array of seafood-roll options. For those who’ve never tried one, the seafood roll is a buttered and toasted roll filled with lobster, deep-fried shrimp, fish, clams or scallops covered in a creamy dressing.
You can sit down at a picnic table with your favorite cousin, a strong blast of New England air in your face, and be handed a food basket brimming with your seafood of choice and sizzling-hot fries. With that first savory mouthful, you forget the beach sand between your toes and the stinging heat from a newly acquired sunburn. All that deliciousness can be washed down with a thick chocolate or strawberry frappe (milkshake), or a scoop of vanilla ice cream rolled in jimmies (chocolate sprinkles). What a blast!
Lobster Rolls for Utahns
Recalling those memories, you can imagine my joy at discovering local purveyor for lobbie-lovers Freshie’s Lobster Co. (1897 Prospector Ave., Park City, 435-631-9861, FreshiesLobsterCo.com). Matching the flavor and the freshness of the best of New England restaurants, Freshie’s founders Lorin and Ben Smaha got their start as food vendors at the Park Silly Farmers Market.
With Lorin’s unique adaptations to the lobster-roll recipe, they launched a food truck and a “New England meets Park City” Freshie’s restaurant in 2016.
In 2017, while visiting family in New England, the Smahas entered the Down East Lobster Roll Festival competition in Portland, Maine, and clinched the title of World’s Best Lobster Roll, beating out 11 contenders. With Freshie’s hailing from Utah, the East Coast press—including the Boston Globe—went crazy over it.
Lorin Smaha, the culinary creator behind these most flavorful rolls, claims that most of her training came from a strong love of good food and, being a native from New Hampshire, she gets “cranky from lack of having a good meal.”
Freshness and quality come first. An insatiable desire to deliver that to customers “is a daily practice,” Lorin says. Their lobsters are sourced from the Maine coastline and immediately prepped, sealed and packed on ice. They’re then shipped the same day to Boston and flown to Salt Lake City.
You’ll see why critics called it a “well-balanced roll” when you taste the fresh bits of tender lobster morsels combined with mayo and Lorin’s secret spice blend, all packed inside a crunchy toasted bun, drizzled with browned clarified butter. I gulped down my first order of this sweet and tender “Mainah” lobster roll so quickly, I wanted more. My advice: Do yourself the favor, splurge and get the XL.
You might say the Smahas are on a roll. In July 2018, they will open a second Freshie’s location at 356 E. 900 South, SLC, so that citizens off the coast of the Great Salt Lake can experience a tasty and true lobster roll, too.
The New England Clambake
Driving along the Maine coastline—always on point as an affordable seafood dinner destination—roadside signs lead to local clambakes served up picnic-style, right next to large steaming kettles of boiled lobsters and fresh bi-colored sweet corn. Visiting with family during the summer months on the Cape, one can also expect a traditional clambake.
The New England clambake is a labor of love that involves planning and effort. It entails an early morning trip to the fish market and an afternoon of food preparation that includes setting the table with bibs, nutcrackers and buckets for discarded shells, and, of course, whipping fresh cream for dessert.
“The name is a little misleading because clams are only a small part,” says my uncle, Bill McWilliams, just a little shy of 85 and still cooking strong with Auntie Ann. He renders his seafood smarts on how to create a New England-style clambake as only a native can. According to Uncle Bill, an authentic clambake should include “steamed soft-shelled clams, clam chowder, lobsters, sweet corn on the cob, coleslaw or potato salad.”
Shopping for fresh seafood should be done early in the morning at an oceanside fish market that smells strongly of salt and brine as the wind whips through the doors. Careful, those floors might be wet, and the room is filled with large tanks teeming with lobbies, mussels, fish and other fresh catch.
You’ll need to ask someone to grab a lively fidgeting lobster to weigh and price out on a scale. Shopping advice from Uncle Bill (who’s an older version of Matt Damon, only better): “The harder the shell, the fuller it is of meat, and that’s the name of the game.” Clams should be bought from markets that immerse them in seawater for over 24 hours, because, as Uncle Bill warns, “There is nothing worse than chomping down on a clam filled with sand.”
At suppertime, the family table resonates with sounds of shell crackers, followed by the picking of and sucking out lobster meat from their 8 little legs. There’s smacking lips, finger licks and a pile of napkins for messy hands. Like many families, we are casual at the table, so expect loud conversation among siblings—perhaps one heated about politics or the Red Sox. But afterward, you’ll find nothing but full and happy bellies.