Prisoners in 19th-century Maine didn’t live on bread and water. They dined regularly on lobster, but they sat down to their meals with a sense of disgust and loathing. After all, the ubiquitous crustacean was frequently used as fertilizer and was only consumed by the truly desperate. Who would voluntarily eat such a revolting-looking, bottom-dwelling creature?
I would and did every chance I got in Bar Harbor, Maine, on Mount Desert Island (pronounced dessert by locals), a quaint seaside town that was once a summer oasis for the most affluent families in America. Think Rockefellers, Astors, and Vanderbilts.
Obviously, attitudes toward consuming lobster have changed drastically since the 19th century, and the price reflects that. In some parts of the country, lobster lovers may feel they need a trust fund provided by one of the aforementioned families to afford such a luxury. Not in Maine. Lobster is plentiful and relatively inexpensive.
I kicked off my week-long lobster feast at Stewman’s Lobster Pound, an outdoor eatery right on Frenchman Bay. My family and I settled in at a picnic table painted with cartoonish lobsters and perused the menu. I chose that New England classic, the lobster roll. A mound of fresh lobster mixed with just a touch of creamy mayonnaise was bursting out of the buttery, toasted roll, making it more of a fork-and-knife affair than a handheld sandwich. The sweet meat was at once firm and tender. Crispy sweet potato fries and a side of coleslaw rounded out my lunch. For me, the meal perfectly captured the flavor of summer in Bar Harbor.
My husband, Wesley, is a lobster purist, eschewing mayo or anything else that could detract from the true flavor of the most prized of shellfish. He went for the Simply Maine Lobster, which is kettle steamed in sea water. A server lifted the lid of a large oval-shaped pan with a flourish. Voila! Inside was a fire engine-red lobster that was probably crawling on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean that morning.
Uninitiated diners tend to stare at a whole lobster looking as bewildered as a Maine moose that’s wandered onto the highway, but Wesley knows how to eat a lobster. He started by grabbing the body in one hand and the tail in the other, then gave it a hard twist. Next, he twisted off the claws, then yanked off the legs. Not everyone is such a proficient lobster eater. Many lobster pounds are so used to inept summer tourists, they offer written directions on how to properly disassemble and eat a lobster.