From bankers tucking into surf ‘n’ turf to MCs making it the official seafood of rap music, lobster is often associated with luxe living, and it remains an ingredient that’s often deployed to give dishes a “classy” touch (see: the now ubiquitous lobster mac and cheese). But it wasn’t always this way. Not so long ago, lobsters were considered the rats of the sea—bottom-feeding, insect-looking crustaceans sold for cheap to anyone willing to eat them. We won’t get into the entire history of the little critters, but if you’re interested, you should read David Foster Wallace’s wonder essay, “Consider the Lobster.”
Today, the lobster is at a cross-roads in public perception. It’s still a high-end item, but it’s also becoming more democratic, thanks in part to the success of Brooklyn’s Red Hook Lobster Pound and the Manhattan-based Luke’s Lobster, both launched in 2009 by native Mainers. These businesse turned the lobster roll into a widespread street-food phenomenon, bringing the hot, buttery Connecticut roll and the Maine lobster roll, which is served cold with mayo, into the standard lexicon.
With a wider audience comes harsher scrutiny, particularly when it comes to pricing—this year, the New Yorker and Grubstreet both got in on the debate. Why is lobster valued as low as $2.99 a pound when it comes off boats in late summer, while restaurants are charging consumers upwards of $40 for an entrée portion?
For starters, lobster doesn’t usually come directly from the boat to your table. In fact, there are several steps before a lobster reaches your dinner plate that greatly affect not only its cost, but also its quality. For a little insight in this process and many other commonly misunderstand aspects of lobster eating, we tapped an expert to help us set the record straight.
The expert: Susan Povich, cofounder of Red Hook Lobster Pound. Born of an idea she and her Ralph Gorham had six years ago, Red Hook Lobster Pound is one of two major players in the increasingly saturated market for lobster rolls. The craze started in their modest Red Hook storefront and then moved to Brooklyn Flea, where Povich recalls a four-hour wait on their first day. Now, Red Hook Lobster Pound has locations in New York, Washington, D.C., and Montauk that, in May and June, serve thousands of pounds of lobster meat a week.