This self-confessed Lazy Eater will never again slip his carcass, not fully stripped of its bountiful offerings, into a big bowl of fully cleaned shells . . .
I guess you could call me a somewhat lazy eater. No, I do not mean I eat lying down, but I do not like to work too hard to enjoy my food. For instance, I prefer a tender filet mignon than to chew the meat off a rack of ribs, I prefer clam chowder rather than having to pry open each bivalve mollusc for the tasty morsel within, and I prefer when a bartender hands me a cocktail rather than having to pick up the martini shaker myself to make my own. So it is not surprising, I guess, that though I love lobster, I prefer it in a lobster roll.
Time and time again experts have worked with me to perfect my lobster eating technique. Still I find myself lacking polish, often clumsily working away with the provided medical instruments, cracking the shell with plyers and tweezering out the tiniest shred of meat with the awkward forceps. After nibbling on the most easily accessible meat, I try to surreptitiously slip my lobster carcass, not fully stripped of its bountiful offerings, into a big bowl of fully cleaned shells.
I always get caught, “Whoa what’s this?” exclaims the specialist. “This lobster could still feed a school of hungry kids!” Please pass it on then, it is a noble cause, and instead deliver me a delectable Nova Scotia lobster roll!
So it is a hunting I go, navigating my way through the coastal towns and fishing villages of southern Nova Scotia, from Halifax Harbour southwest along the craggy coastline with stops in Peggy’s Cove, Lunenburg, and Barrington, before heading north to the Fundy side, through Kejimkujik National Park to Hall’s Harbour, fishing for the region’s best lobster rolls, with no labour required other than the eating.
What makes up the best roll you ask? Well, for me it entails big chunks of fresh and tender lobster meat, mixed with butter and mayonnaise, heaped high on a grilled brioche bun. I am afraid that sounds a bit too simple, so to smarten up this story I decided to check in with a true lobster connoisseur and lobster roll aficionado. Pam Wamback of Tourism Nova Scotia is a lady so in tune with these tasty marine crustaceans that her social media handle is @ladyloveslobster. Wamback grew up in Nova Scotia surrounded by lobster traps and lobster boats, where lobster was served for both Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner instead of turkey.
“I’m a purist when it comes to my lobster roll,” admits Wamback. “It needs to have loads of meat seasoned with just the right amount of mayo, salt, and pepper, nestled into a soft and lightly toasted bun. The key is to seek out the best lobster meat possible, and most will argue that meat comes from the lobster knuckle. And while the meat is the most important part of a lobster roll, the bun is also critical. The classic choice is a split-top hot dog bun. I like a toasted bun exterior brushed with a bit of garlic butter.”
“Keeping the inside soft and the outside golden and crusty makes for some nice textural contrast against the tender lobster.”
If that is what makes the perfect roll, great, but I will throw in another criteria, that is the ambience and setting where the eating takes place. A fine restaurant is not really what is needed here – a picnic table on the ocean’s edge, with crashing waves, bothersome gulls, the smell of the sea and rotting kelp, and fishing boats at the wharf, make for the perfect lobster roll eatery. The Parks Canada Perfect Picnic lobster rolls, for instance, are best served with a splash of history, as on Halifax’s St. George’s Island, or with a background of nature’s splendor, as tasted in Kejimkujik National Park. We all know that all things eaten while camping or outdoors in nature naturally taste better.
So, in no particular order other than the direction of my wandering, here are six of my favourite lobster rolls, with special emphasis on the perfect setting for them to be enjoyed!
The Parks Canada Perfect Picnic Lobster Roll – Georges Island National Historic Site, a place the native Mi’kmaq called home for thousands of years, sits in the middle of Halifax Harbour. The island, one of five sites that make up the Halifax Defence Complex, comprises forts and batteries constructed to protect the city from attack. Jump on a boat shuttle for the 15-minute trip to the island, take a guided tour through the maze of underground brick tunnels, and then picnic on a lobster roll fit for a soldier, while marveling at the city’s skyline across the water. The Cable Wharf Kitchen & Patio in downtown Halifax caters the Perfect Picnic. Loads of well-seasoned lobster is tossed with a generous amount of mayo and celery bits, served on a bed of mixed greens on a large crusty ciabatta bun, and sprinkled with a bit of chopped rosemary and a hint of dill. Lunch orders may be placed online or by phone with your ticket purchase for Georges Island National Historic Site, and can be picked up when you board the boat. The Parks Canada Perfect Picnic Lobster Roll is also available in beautiful Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, while camped at your comfortable o’TENT’ik (it’s a Parks Canada thing).
Tom’s Lobster Shack, Peggy’s Cove – No visit to Nova Scotia is complete without making the short 50-minute drive from Halifax to Peggy’s Cove. The authentic fishing village is a masterpiece of delightful fish sheds, stacked lobster traps, and colourful fishing boats. A handsome and much photographed lighthouse high on the rugged, wave-worn granite shore guards the tiny harbour. So it should not be a surprise that you can also find a delectable and authentic lobster roll served up here at Tom’s Lobster Shack. The classic roll has heaps of lobster lightly tossed with mayo and just the right amount of celery, shallots, green onions, and lettuce to provide a lovely flavour. The delicious concoction is served in a toasted bun with a side of kettle chips.
Oak & Oar Eatery at Oak Island Resort & Conference Centre, Western Shore: I visit here on a different kind of fortune hunt, one where an Oak Island curse does not apply – no history mystery here, but I guarantee you will find treasure with a buttery, toasted brioche bun loaded with lobster. Just a sprinkling of greenery balances the well seasoned meat.
Grand Banker Seafood Bar & Grill, Lunenburg – Old Town Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known it for its wildly colourful houses, interesting architecture, and the Bluenose II moored at its wharf. Visit the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic and the Big Boat Shed –to see traditional shipwrights at work. When you are done building boats, head to the Grand Banker Seafood Bar & Grill for a well-built lobster roll. The Banker offers up a quarter pound of lobster knuckle and claw meat, stuffed in a freshly toasted, garlic buttered artisan brioche bun.
Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack, Barrington – Barrington is located on the southernmost tip of Nova Scotia, and offers white sand beaches, historic lighthouse, and one of the best birding destinations in Eastern Canada. The charming village is also known as the Lobster Capital of Canada, so one would expect some succulent lobster rolls. Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack is a two-time winner of the Lobster Crawl Festival Lobster Roll Off! Sweet local lobster tossed in mayo and served on a bun, with a few pieces of spinach as toppers.
Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound – The rustic fishing village of Hall’s Harbour dates to 1779, and their “Lobster in the Rough” dining experience has you picking your own lobster from the tank to be prepared at the on-site cook shack. While awaiting your feast, local resident and long-time lobster lover Lowell Simpson will introduce you to this unique creature of the sea and tour you through the working lobster pound processing facility. Most impressive, I got to meet Albert, a 17-pound, 78-year-old lobster. Of course, I did not eat Albert, but I did get my claws into the freshest lobster and one of the most delicious lobster rolls of my quest, and I got to eat my feast overlooking the Bay of Fundy while observing the highest tides in the world. The wharf is high and dry at low tide, and the fishing boats rest patiently on the harbor bottom. But the water rises as much as an inch a minute to the 40-foot high-tide mark. Their lobster roll with mayonnaise and lettuce on a bun is also very uplifting and will have you dreaming of my friend Albert.
In Nova Scotia lobster is king, and lobster rolls are available at almost every eatery – so the research is as easy as the lobster eating. And that is the way I like it!
Your hunt for the best lobster rolls in southern Nova Scotia will be much-assisted by reference to Nova Scotia’s website and also that of Parks Canada, not to mention the very specifically-named Nova Scotia Lobster Trail. Happy hunting.