Lobster Rolls of Cape Cod

By on Wednesday, November 16th, 2022 at 3:52 pm

I ate my first whole lobster around twelve years old. Usually I was allowed to order one for my birthday at The Mayflower, the family diner on Commercial Street in Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. But as an adult I find myself much more likely to indulge in a lobster roll, a sandwich filled with lobster meat.

I suspect most people think of Maine-style when they think of lobster rolls. These are toasted buns filled with lobster salad served cold. There is usually a dressing, sometimes but not always mayonnaise-based. But I much prefer the Connecticut-style roll served hot with nothing but warm, drawn butter.

A great lobster roll is made from whole Maine lobsters. Cheaper rolls will often adulterate their meat with cheaper lobsters — varieties from other parts of the world that are smaller or don’t have claws. Claw meat is essential, because of how sweet and tender it is.

For me, the lobster roll marks the start of summer, and there is no better place to eat one them on Cape Cod. Here’s a look at some of the best.

Lobster roll from Chatham Fish and Chips in Chatham

Chatham Fish and Chips is a classic fried seafood joint

The Chatham Fish and Chips is a local, independent shop serving up local seafood. There is a full menu of fried foods. The fish and chips are phenomenal, flaky and crispy. It’s a toss up whether I want the lobster roll or the fried fish. The onion rings and french fries are good too.

The funny thing is the shop is just outside of the main downtown of Chatham. We always end up walking from the central parking lot, but I suspect it is a bit less busy than other places because it’s no in the center of the town. Either way its one of my favorite spots in Chatham.

Mac's Seafood in Eastham makes a delicious if pricy lobster roll

Mac’s lobster roll in Eastham

If Eastham had better pedestrian safety, we could easily walk to Mac’s Seafood Market, but it’s inevitable that we drive there given the dangers of crossing four lanes of traffic on route 6. But it’s also an easy lunch during the week when you’ve forgotten about all the calls you have. I’m also likely to pick up some oysters for dinner, and if the new Provincetown Independent is out, I’ll grab one of those too.

Mac’s lobster roll is a straightforward roll. It comes in two sizes, small and large. The sandwich is sold at market price, which means this year I’ve been eating smalls with a side of french fries. There’s not really any frills about this sandwich, but it nails the simplicity and allows the lobster to shine. Mac’s offers both a cold and hot roll, but I’ve never actually eaten the cold one.

A lobster roll from Bubalas by the bay in Provincetown

Hot lobster roll, Bubalas by the Bay

Eating out in Provincetown can be something of a hassle. In season, the crowds all descend at the same time and the window for eating dinner is narrow. But also many of the restaurants stop serving food for an hour or two between lunch and dinner service. Bubalas always has something on the menu. It has become one of our easy go-to restaurants because they always have some food.

Bubalas has always had an outdoor patio space. Even before the pandemic, I recall sitting there under heat lamps and blankets in the shoulder season trying to stay warm.

The lobster roll at Bubablas is quite passable, but I suspect their fixed price and relatively affordable roll comes at the cost of some less than ideal lobster meat. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to eat this lobster roll, but I’m not convinced it is all 100% Maine lobster meat.

A lobster roll from PJ's in Wellfleet

PJ’s famous lobster roll

I’ve been going to PJ’s since I was six weeks old. As a kid, what I always wanted to do was eat dinner on the beach — and for that dinner to be PJs. Since my Birthday often fell while we were on vacation, once a year we would stay late on the beach and my father would drive over to PJs a pickup an order. The irony is, as a kid, my favorite food order was a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a milk shake.

Eventually when I grew up a bit, I started eating lobster rolls and PJs was one place I would go. For my first pandemic birthday, we had a beachfront PJs takeout. We picked up a box of food and planted ourselves on Cooks Brook watching the sun set. PJ’s roll is stuffed high with lobster meat.

The lobster roll from the Knack in Orleans

The Knack, a modern seafood shanty, makes a superb lobster roll

The Knack in Orleans is a new upstart of a burger stand and seafood joint. I’ve heard it described as a modern PJ’s, and I think that’s an accurate description.

The menu here is more limited than a classic seafood stand. This is primarily a hamburger joint, but the lobster roll is filled with big chunks of meat.

A lobster roll from the canteen in Provincetown

The Canteen’s lobster roll with a green slaw

The Canteen is a fun bay-side bar. It’s one of the more casual places I eat in Provincetown. There is literally sand under some of the tables. But this is what I love about the Canteen’s lobster roll — it feels casual too. Too many restaurants want to be precious about their lobster rolls.

There are a few honorable mentions I didn’t eat at this past year. The Lobster Pot makes a pretty good lobster roll, but it’s a lot easier to eat there off season. The wait times can be long.

We also like Bayside Betty’s. When you’re lucky, you can get a table on their porch overlooking the bay. The sunset is spectacular, and the lobster rolls are fine examples.

One place I like to eat but don’t love the lobster rolls is Patio American Grill, a seasonal spot on Commercial Street. This is a great spot for sipping rosé, but their lobster rolls are mediocre at its best. A few years back I had one where the bread tasted stale rather than toasted. The rest of the menu though is actually quite good.

I’ve also heard good things about the lobster roll at Young’s Fish Market in Orleans at Rock Harbor. They’ve been closed when I’ve tried to get them, so I can’t say if they are good or bad.

Summer has come to an end and so sets another season of lobster roll eating. I realize there’s nothing preventing me from eating a lobster roll in the middle of winter — and I’ll admit I have had one from time to time — but they strike me as an indulgence best reserved for summer. Like last year’s vintage of rosé, they are best not consumed after Labor Day. Until next year, lobster friends.


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