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December 10, 2009

The Lobster Roll-Off - Chapter III - Skipjack's

Lobster Roll - Skipjack's Dominic Armato

Though the title of this post may give some of the local food nerds hives, allow me to explain. First, the purpose of the Roll-Off is not only to suss out the best sandwiches, but also to educate me in the way of the lobster roll. To that end, I try to cover a range of establishments and styles. Second, in more than one place, I've found recommendations for Skipjack's, a local chain with four locations. And perhaps most importantly, Skillet Doux is ardently chain-neutral. Well, perhaps chain-suspicious. Growth tends to have a negative effect on quality. But not always! And if it's delicious, I don't give a damn where it comes from.

And so it was, on a day when I wanted to squeeze in another entry but didn't have much time to drive around town, that I fell into the Newton location of Skipjack's. It was... not what I expected. For some reason, I was under the false impression that it was a slightly corporatized casual/family seafood shack chain. Not so! While slightly corporatized, it's vaguely upscale-ish. Suffice it to say that the host was in jacket and tie and they're going more for that fine seafood vibe. But again, surroundings mean nothing. It's all about the roll.

Lobster Roll - Skipjack'sDominic Armato

Skipjack's roll was loooooong. Think footlong hot dog. Except not on a hot dog bun, but we'll get to that in a moment. It's touted as a larger offering, but I'm not entirely convinced there's that much more meat on it than some of the other standards. Rather than heaped high, it was spread out a bit. Though it looks heavy on the mayo in the photo, it didn't play that way to me, though I did catch the bits of celery -- something I don't mind one bit. The meat appeared to be almost exclusively claw and knuckle, chopped into large-ish, mostly uniform chunks, though as you can see, a little claw slipped through. It certainly looked nice enough, but there were two major issues with the sandwich. First, the meat -- while perfectly tender -- tasted absolutely flat. I think it was a little shy on seasoning, but more importantly, it didn't have any of that fresh, sweet lobster flavor. I don't know if it was an issue of selection or preparation or holding method, but it was way short on flavor. This alone would have made it a ho-hum sandwich, but the bread weighed it down like an anchor. Eschewing the standard buns (too downscale for such an establishment, I imagine), they went with a baguette. First, it was a bad baguette. Not that I think a crusty one would be appropriate for such a soft, supple filling. But most importantly, it was bone dry, bordering on breadcrumb fodder, so every bite was essentially a mouthful of dry bread with a little lobster texture on top. Even the sides -- soggy, overly creamy cole slaw and overseasoned, limp fries -- were lame.

I've heard a couple of other decent reports, and this wasn't the main location, so who knows... could have been a bad sandwich. But there's no question -- especially considering the $23 price tag -- where this one lands on the rankings thus far.

55 Needham Street
Newton, MA 02461
Mon - Thu11:30 AM - 10:00 PM
Fri - Sat11:30 AM - 11:00 PM
Sunt12:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  1) The Clam Box
2) Belle Isle Seafood
3) Skipjack's


I know it's not in Boston, but the best lobster roll I've had was at Evelyn's drive in - right outside of Newport in Tiverton, RI. We stopped there this past August on our way from Boston to Newport - it was heavenly - so sweet and fresh and the perfect bread to lobster meat ratio. (They are also known for their whole belly clams) I believe it is not open in the winter though. We had some really great food in Boston, but as far as lobster rolls went Evelyn's was tops.

While I thoroughly enjoy the roll-off, I still think there is something odd about it. When I think of Boston's cuisine, I think of chowder. When I think of the lobster roll, I think of the red shack(s) of Maine. I know there are plenty of lobster rolls in Boston, but to me you're a few hours south of the real place to have a roll-off. I get to Boston a few times a year (my company HQ is there), and I never get a lobster roll, ever. I get to Maine every other year and ALWAYS have one. Just saying.

I had the roll from Skipjack's in Natick (or Framingham? It's right on the border) a few years back, and felt pretty much the same way. But their ginger calamari is still basically my favorite fried calamari anywhere ever, chain or not.

Anon man... yyyyeah, I know. But they're ubiquitous enough and I figured it was regional enough to count, and the thought of cramming a dozen lobster rolls into two and a half weeks sounded more appealing to me than a dozen bowls of clam chowder or a dozen plates of fried clams :-)

Plus, there was the whole parallel with the Italian Beef-Off thing.

There is no such thing as a lobster roll in the south. I have never even seen one on a menu, let alone tasted one. This blog is decidedly unfair because it is making me extremely hungry and crave something I have no way of getting! :D

Ahhh, but if I get my act together, Dreamboat, the final installment will be a recipe for preparing your own at home :-)

I'm really enjoying these entries. I've only had one lobster roll, in Maine, 2 summers ago, and it was terrible. I was so disappointed. In reading your reviews, I'm trying to figure out where this Maine restaurant went wrong. It seemed to me the lobster was not dressed at all. Is that typical of Maine? I can understand wanting the beauty of the product to shine through, but this struck me as completely unadorned lobster on bread - no seasoning, no mayo - and it was just sad. Bad restaurant or a regional thing? Anyone?

As someone with a severe shellfish allergy, I'm deeply offended by this series of posts.

Your roll-off is taking you to all the places of my childhood, it's making me quite nostalgic. I grew up (and my parents still live) less than a mile from the Newton Skipjack's (although of course it wasn't there when I was growing up). I think Skipjack's is pretty bad - overpriced and just not all that. It was better a few years ago.

@Naomi - it really varies. Sometimes that's just the way they make it - almost totally plain lobster on bread. Personally I prefer mine dressed a little more than that, but I get lobster so rarely these days (only back east once a year if that) that I tend to go for the utterly boring (but utterly delicious) boiled with drawn butter.

Thanks, jsd! Anything with drawn butter makes me happy :-)

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