Chefs weigh in on North Fork lobster rolls

PORT Bar & Grill serves lobster rolls two ways. (Credit: David Benthal)

There is no dish more synonymous with summertime in the northeast than the lobster roll. In all its forms — hot and buttery or cold and slathered in mayo — most North Fork restaurants have their own impeccable take on the summertime favorite.

To find out how it’s done right, we reached out to the chefs and proprietors at some of the area’s top eateries to get the story behind their signature lobster rolls.

The lobster roll at Noah’s. (Credit: David Benthal)

Noah’s, Greenport

Ask chef Noah Schwartz, of his eponymous farm-to-table restaurant in Greenport, the number one element of a well-made lobster roll and his answer will have nothing to do with the great debate of hot versus cold.

“I think it is using high-quality ingredients and pure simplicity — the freshest lobster and the perfect roll,” he said.

Schwartz has offered various takes on the lobster roll since opening the restaurant a decade ago on Front Street, but stands by the one currently on the menu as “by far the best.” His recipe is no frills: no extra vegetables, minimal seasonings and no mayonnaise.

“We steam fresh lobster; we never use frozen lobster,” he said. “We hand pick the lobster meat and keep it chilled. For each order, we warm the lobster meat in a little bit of melted butter. No fillers or mayo. Then the lobster is piled on a toasted, buttered, locally baked Blue Duck Bakery brioche roll. I toast the roll with clarified butter, so it gets extra crispy on the outside, like the bread on a grilled cheese sandwich. There’s a bit of crunch, giving the roll more texture.”

Although lobster rolls are on the menu at so many East End restaurants, Schwartz keeps it available for guests due to its popularity, even if it’s not something he personally craves.

“As a chef, making so many lobster rolls on a regular basis, truth be told — I have never ordered one when I go out to eat!” he said.

Port offers lobster rolls on the waterfront. (Credit: David Benthal)

PORT Bar & Grill, Greenport

Keith Bavaro, owner of PORT Bar & Grill, agrees that a good lobster roll is rooted in simplicity, balance and high-quality lobster meat.

“Noah’s has an amazing lobster roll,” Bavaro said. “It seems simple, but you know so much thought went into it. He understands his ingredients and how to use them. [For us], it’s about letting high-quality ingredients stand on their own, not covering them up with unnecessary extras.”

Lobster rolls have been a staple at PORT since it opened on the harborfront in 2016. The Greenport restaurant gives customers options by serving it two ways. The Connecticut style includes warm butter-poached claw, knuckle and tail meat, dusted with Old Bay seasoning and served on a toasted split bun. The New England style also includes claw, knuckle and tail, but with lemon aioli and garnished with fresh herbs atop a grilled split roll.

“Ours have no fillers,” Bavaro said. “It is literally overflowing with lobster meat. It’s like eating a whole steamed lobster without all the hard work.”

At sister restaurant SALT Bar & Grill on Shelter Island, the “Naw’lins style” lobster roll is a spicy twist on the classic, served with butter-poached lobster and topped with pickled jalapeño relish and cilantro.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve had anywhere else,” Bavaro said.

The North Fork Food truck lobster roll. (Credit: Mark Jordan/North Fork Table & Inn courtesy)

North Fork Food Truck at North Fork Table & Inn, Southold

At Southold’s North Fork Table & Inn, owner and chef Claudia Fleming and executive chef Brian Wilson prefer their rolls on a toasted brioche bun, loaded with lobster salad and lightly dressed with mayonnaise.

“The most important thing is the quality of ingredients, of course: fresh lobster to start, and great bread,” said Fleming, who has been serving up the staple menu item for more than a decade since opening the seasonal North Fork Food Truck in 2008.

In a coastal town, North Fork Table & Inn knows what its clients want, including the fresh seafood that inspired the easy grab-and-go lobster roll, ideal for a casual lunch while exploring the area.

“It is by far the most popular item on the food truck,” the veteran pastry chef explained. “We also serve it for brunch in the dining room. People tend to associate lobster rolls with summer, so demand for them really picks up in-season.”

As for the restaurant, North Fork Table & Inn prepares its lobster roll simply and seasoned, using fresh lobster meat dressed in house-made mayonnaise, lemon zest, tarragon, chives, salt and pepper.

“We make our own mayonnaise in house, and it is light and fresh,” Wilson said. “We also don’t add anything but some light seasonings. The other big standout is the freshly buttered, grilled brioche from Blue Duck Bakery.”

Fleming also shouted out Southold Fish Market for its “great one.”

A Southold Fish Market lobster roll. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Southold Fish Market, Southold

The perfect lobster roll at Southold Fish Market comes down to fresh lobster meat and creamy mayonnaise — Hellman’s brand to be precise — and bread choice, according to owner Charlie Manwaring.

“I spent a lot of time up in Maine and they have the classic New England style on hot dog buns, but we here use brioche because it’s a little more hearty,” Manwaring said. “You don’t want the bread to take over the sandwich either, so you need to have enough lobster salad to make it evenly portioned.”

Lobster rolls at Southold Fish Market are a top seller, especially in summer. Situated within a stone’s throw of the Peconic Bay, Manwaring said the order is a no-brainer for diners. The recipe is simple: lobster meat, mayo and celery with a little lemon and pepper seasoning.

“I don’t do crazy, weird over-the-top with the classic lobster roll,” said Manwaring, who has been making lobster rolls at Southold Fish Market for six years. “An iconic lobster roll is just with mayo and celery.”

In addition to the regular lobster roll, Southold Fish Market offers other styles on its rotating menu of specials, including a hot lobster roll with butter, garlic and dill. He’ll also occasionally opt for brown butter.

“We do a lot of things with lobster because everyone loves it,” Manwaring said. “People love it as an alternative to fried seafood. We’ll serve it in a salad or stuff it in a tomato. Even when it’s cold out, we are still selling a lot of lobster rolls. It is never not in season.”

Ordering lobster rolls when dining out locally isn’t something Manwaring does often, but he is never disappointed when he does.

“Everybody’s out here is pretty good,” he said.

David Benthal, editorial, portrait, davidbenthal.com

Love Lane Kitchen, Mattituck

For Love Lane Kitchen owner Carolyn Iannone, the key to a good lobster roll is the meat-to-bread ratio. The Mattituck restaurant has been offering its overstuffed lobster roll since 2009, and it continues to be one of its signature dishes.

“A great lobster roll is always going to be first and foremost about freshness,” Iannone said. “After that it needs to be about balance — you can’t have more bread than lobster. When you start with fresh ingredients, you don’t need to do too much.”

Regarded as one of the most generous lobster rolls around, LLK’s starts with chunks of fresh lobster claw and meat dressed simply with mayo and celery on a toasted roll.

“We toast the roll on the flat top with a little butter so the edges get all crispy and buttery,” Iannone said. “Heaven.”

It also comes with a giant pile of LLK’s signature herb and garlic fries. While there are many great lobster rolls to choose from locally, the nostalgia associated with the dish on summer days makes it a staple, Iannone said.

“When it’s done correctly, it can just be the most perfect bite you have all season,” she said. “I really love the [North Fork Food Truck] lobster roll. It’s fresh, balanced and so, so tasty.”