Every once in a while, you eat something and you’re like, “yup, that’s it. that’s the best there is.”
And that happened a few months ago – I got back to the same place today and thought the exact same thing.
And the thing I thought it about was the lobster roll at James Hook & Co in downtown Boston.
This place is a bit odd – it’s a double-wide construction trailer situated basically in a parking lot on the edge of Fort Point Channel, surrounded by jillion-dollar real estate. I assume it’s zoned for commercial fishing or something, otherwise, I can’t see how selling seafood is worth more than real estate on Atlantic Avenue in Boston.
But back to the food. Since coming to Boston, I’ve tried and tried to pin down what a good lobster roll is all about. I’ve been to tourist places like the Lobster Pot in p-town. I’ve been to fancy places like B&G Oysters. I’ve been to places famed for their lobster roll, such as Yankee Lobster. Years ago, in Bangor Maine, I even had a McLobster. I grew up in Nova Scotia, for pete’s sake. But nothing has compared to James Hook. I didn’t really ‘get it’ – the ‘it’ being what was so good about a lobster roll until I came here.
And what’s so great about it? It turns out that a good lobster roll is bursting with lobster. It’s the fact that you had to crank open your mouth wide to get so much lobster in, and when you do, you get a big bite of delicious, tender, fresh lobster and almost nothing else. There isn’t onion or celery; there doesn’t even seem to be salt or pepper. There’s just lobster, with a bit of mayonnaise, and a soft toasted hot dog bun, maybe with some butter. The bun is so small (and I just had a regular roll, not the large) that it barely holds all the lobster, and just provides a bit of sweet starch to some of the bites. Both times I’ve been here I’ve had the lobster roll, and both times, I’ve been wowed by how amazing it is.
For years, I’ve told people that good atlantic lobster isn’t made into lobster thermidor, it’s not put into salads, it’s not served in a sauce – it’s just perfectly cooked, fresh, and served with some butter. Doing anything else with lobster is either done to disguise bad/cheap/off lobster, or it’s got minimal lobster to get you to spend maximum money. Warm water lobster in other dishes? Great! It doesn’t have much flavour compared to atlantic lobster. But it turns out that there is one exception: the lobster roll at James Hook. This is a *perfectly* good use of lobster, and should be tried by everyone who comes to Boston.
Just look for the funny trailer that’s so out of place a block away from the Federal Reserve building and hope it never goes anywhere.
And while you’re there, pick up some lobster, take it home, put it in a pot – and remember: just some butter.
James Hook & Co.
15-17 Northern Avenue
Boston, MA 02110
Tel (617) 423-5501
A friend just informed me that the James Hook storefront burned down in 2008, thus the double-wide trailer.