There is no surer sign - aside from the shedding of hats and gloves - that a Maine winter has ended than the re-emergence of lobster shacks along Route 1 in Maine.
It is in the fishing villages where it oceans smash against granite coasts and the smell of seaweed mingles with ocean air that the real Maine lobster experience lies. Visitors can see fishermen hand over 90-pound crates of the crustaceans while they feast on the freshest lobster rolls, tails and salads that the state has to offer.
Five Islands Lobster Co
This little lobster shack on the Georgetown coast has probably become one of the most popular in Maine. Though it has become a bit overrun in the past few summers, that has not lessened the beauty of the setting. This seaside shack overlooks five pine-shrouded islands and out into the ocean beyond. During the sunset, visitors can watch the sea gulls and the sail boat race into the distance to beat the fading light.
This lobster shack lacks any indoor seating, so visitors should bring a sweater on chillier day. The waters in the bay are among the coldest and deepest in Maine, which, according to fishermen in the area, makes for some of the best lobster in the state. Diners can choose their dinner right from the tank, which comes with sweet corn on the cob or a side of fried onion rings. There are no fancy lobster creations here, no rolls, no salad and no ravioli - just a giant blushed lobster to crack open by hand and some melted butter to compliment the flavour.
Shaw's Fish & Lobster Wharf
For those that crave the comfort of a proper restaurant, Shaw's Fish & Lobster Wharf offers that -but with a views that come with the seaside shacks. The restaurant has two stories of indoor seating, as well as a wharf for those that want to sit outside and enjoy the view.
Kayakers and boaters sail on up the wharf for a meal, while fishermen saunter on up to the sell their catch to the restaurant from the New Harbour Lobster Co-Op next door. The restaurant’s lobster is caught that day and it is as good as it gets. The same goes for their fish and prawns. For visitors who want to enjoy a little culture after their meal, the local boats sail to the artist colony island Monhegan.
Waterman's Beach Lobster
Nestled on the shore by black spruce forests and saltwater farms, sits the humble Waterman's. They host a handful of picnic tables and a tented deck overlooking the sea in lieu of a proper dining room. Their shack overlooks the beach, so while lobster is steamed over saltwater, an act that keeps the lobster tender, the kids can hunt for shells on the sand. Like many shacks, they keep their lobster simple. Guests get corn on the cob, a bowl of melted butter and a hunk of freshly baked bread and are tasked with going to work getting their succulent prize from its shell.
Red's Eats in Wiscasset is gaudy and a bursting with American patriotism - but it does serve up arguably the best lobster roll in the state. What makes the lobster roll at Red's Eats so special is its simplicity. It is not some mass of grated up lobster slathered in mayonnaise, but rather nearly the worth of a whole lobster balanced in large chunks in a bun that’s too small for its bounty. For a lobster roll filled with a whole lobster it is surprisingly affordable, and those who desire mayo or melted butter for it can get it on the side. The lobster tumbles out of the roll as diners eat it, but with the sides, it serves for a lovely lobster cocktail afterwards. They serve whole lobsters as well, with classic sides of coleslaw, corn on the cob and onion rings, but it is the lobster rolls that are the true prize. In their rolls, visitors get a whole lobster, but don't have to put the work into plucking it from the shell.
Estes Lobster House
Estes Lobster House sits on Maine's Mid Coast. Estes is located on a narrow little stretch that splits the Harpswell Sound on one side and Potts Harbour on the other. This is off the beaten path and a bit of a hidden gem among good lobster shacks. Locals frequent this shack to enjoy the view over the water and talk until late in the night by the side of the fire pit. Visitors soon realize that they are in the company of seasoned veterans when even children can rip into a lobster claw. The shack serves a number of lobster dishes, as well as a number of great seafood dishes, like scallops, haddock, clam and shrimp all steamed and equally as tender as their giant whole lobsters.
The Clam Shack
The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport is oddly both unassuming and ostentatious at the same time. It doesn't look like much, a simple sign and a simple building outside a seafood market. However, the owner Steve Kingston insists on only hand shredding the meat for his rolls and other dishes, insisting that knives cause oxidation and taint the meat. The shack also pumps in seawater from tidal rivers to fill the steaming tanks, believing that ocean waters are too filled with pollutants. Their real star is the lobster roll. While some places serve them cold, the lobster roll at The Clam Shack arrives still warm covered in butter, mayo or the alluring mix of both on a toasted roll.
Roadside lobster shacks host some of the best lobster in Maine, but sometimes visitors just want to sit indoors to dine, especially on one of Maine's many rainy, dreary days. The search for a proper restaurant that serves wonderful lobsters leads back to Wiscasset. They have whole lobsters at affordable prices, lobster rolls, clams and oysters served up by the platter and fresh haddock pulled from the sea that morning, but the restaurant is most famous for its rich, creamy lobster stew.
White Barn Inn
The final stop on this journey is for the discerning visitors who have a few extra bucks to treat themselves to culinary creations. The White Barn Inn sits in Kennebunkport is the only AAA five-diamond restaurant this side of Manhattan. The restaurant transformed two restored barns from the 1820s into the hottest upscale restaurant with a rustic feel. Though their prix-fixe menu changes weekly, it focuses on seasonal delights, and in the summertime there is nothing more delightful than lobster. Visitors seeking lobster will find it in no short supply. Enjoy flavourful lobster spring rolls, mussel minestrone with butter poached lobster or pan-seared quail breast.