Epicurean Traveler: Lobsters & Lighthouses, Maine

Clockwise from Left: A live lobster is pulled from its tank at Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound in Trenton, Maine.
Winter Harbor Lighthouse.
Maine Lobster fresh from the steamer.
A view of the harbor from shore.
The Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound in Trenton, Maine.

We visited as many pounds as possible during our trip, including Thurston’s, where customers will see boats stacked high with lobster traps come into the busy harbor, and Trenton Bridge, where the lobster of your choice is cooked over a wood-fired cooker.

I found the term “lobster pound” puzzling when I arrived in Bar Harbor. It sounds as though a bunch of unruly lobsters were caught running around the streets making a nuisance of themselves, and now the poor things are brooding in their cages, waiting to be reunited with their rightful owners. I soon learned “pounds” are simply casual, no-frills restaurants that keep live lobsters in a tank and serve them fresh.

Maine lobster had humble beginnings, once eaten only by prisoners, servants, and the very poor, but it’s come up in the world, really made a name for itself. I think of lobster the same way I think of those country music stars that started out dirt poor picking cotton or coal mining in some Podunk town, then one day they discover their true talent lies in playing the guitar and singing about picking cotton or coal mining in some Podunk town. They rise from peon to superstar, finally getting the respect they feel they deserve.

Once the lowliest forms of sustenance, lobster is now a delicacy. If lobsters could hold a pen in their claws, discerning foodies would stammer out a sheepish request for an autograph. But here’s the thing, like a country music star returning to his home town, lobster is not such a hot shot in Maine. Sure, they’re proud of him and all, but they’re not going to kowtow to him the way fans do in landlocked states.

Mainers knew lobster before he got to be such a la-di-da fancy pants, strutting around garnished with edible flowers and sucking up to his snooty friend Turf of surf and turf fame. They don’t want lobster to forget where he comes from.

So, in Maine, you don’t have to dine at a pricey, white tablecloth restaurant where the waiter places your napkin in your lap to enjoy lobster. Just tie on a lobster-emblazoned bib at a Bar Harbor lobster pound and get crackin’. If a little melted butter dribbles down your chin or a bit of shell flies across the table when you break off the claws, well, you’re in good company. When it comes to table manners, it seems to be an unspoken rule that lobster pounds are a judgment-free zone.

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