Lobster Rolls Go QSR (and Fast Casual)
Au Bon Pain Lobster Sandwich; Photos: L. Kerr
In New England, everyone's a lobster roll connoisseur. You can't shake a stick without hitting one, and some of my best friends are lobster roll experts. Heck, even I, a Florida native, overcame my lobsta-ignorance and revel in the joy of good lobster rolls, especially during summer. Gone are the days when I questioned why they aren't called lobster salad sandwiches. You just go with it. Everyone here can name their favorite lobster roll spot, or opine on which lobster shack's rolls are the most authentic. Those in the know are well aware that for high-end rolls you go to the North End's Neptune Oyster or the South End's B&G Oysters and pay $25 for their mouth-watering creations. The less lofty among us are just fine with James Hook's Best of Boston for $11.99, or one at Sullivan's in Southey for $9.95. But I'm not interested in any of those today; today is about lobster rolls gone QSR and Fast Casual!
Yes, the lobster roll - or sandwich, as it called on some menus, is currently on limited time offer at Au Bon Pain, Panera Bread, and D'Angelo's. A fitting feature for chains with local roots, I think. Rather than judge the name or ingredients (okay maybe we'll dissect ingredients a bit), I set out with my highly-qualified research assistant, Stephen, to understand the price-value equation, an experiment that he deemed a worthy one.
Our journey began at Au Bon Pain, where signs advise that its Lobster Salad Sandwich contains "over 1/4 pound" of lobster meat. At $12.99, the sandwich contains a sizable mound of lobster salad in a croissant. Our server explained that it the recipe is mayonnaise and lobster - true to tradition - and the combination was tasty - as Stephen said, "the butteriness of the croissant works and it helps that it's a good croissant." He likened it to the traditional hot buttered hot dog roll that lobster rolls typically require. The lobster meat was shredded finely, which was somewhat unfamiliar to us, but this did not detract from the sandwich. The croissant is full of lobster, the price point is near the midpoint of bargain rolls available regionally, and the taste was, well, lobster-y, so this was a good way to start our endeavors.
Panera Panera Bread Lobster Sandwich; Photos: L. Kerr
Next stop: Panera Bread, where a $16.99 Lobster Sandwich awaited us - chips or apple slices included. We asked what was in the sandwich and the order taker said it was a pound and a half of meat with mayonnaise. She also said she orders them frequently despite not receiving the employee discount. Employees said the lobster is fresh, but did not know where it comes from - I do sometimes ask the tough questions. We were truly excited at the prospect of a pound and a half of meat, and figured that's what justified the higher price point. Upon receiving our sandwich, we knew that the portion was not a pound and a half, and guessed that perhaps this was the weight of the little Larry who donated itself to the cause. The portion was more than adequate - a call to Panera's guest service hotline revealed that the serving is 15 oz., including the bread, according to a representative. Panera uses a sizable roll that appears somewhat empty despite a generous amount of meat. The meat was in larger chunks, reminiscent of the lobster rolls New Englanders know and love, though the sandwich tasted bland and watery and the addition of lettuce didn't add to the creation.
D'Angelo's Lobster Lineup; Photos: L. Kerr
The last stop on our tour was D'Angelo's, where there is a lobster sandwich lineup, complete with a Red Sox Nation marketing campaign. D'Angelo's lineup includes lobster sandwiches, a lobster roll, a lobster club (the official sandwich of Red Sox Nation) - and even a baked stuffed lobster for those who want their lobster to stand alone. Our order taker proudly described the offerings, and was knowledgeable about the items. I could not fool him with my query of the difference between the sandwich and the roll. He explained that while both contain 5 oz. of lobster meat, the sandwich roll is more bread and the roll is on a hot buttered hot dog roll. Bingo - authentic, we thought. We don't need no high bread-to-lobster ratio!
Bonus: I received a free member rewards card with an enthusiastic explanation of the program, and mine came loaded with a free sandwich since the Sox won the day before my visit. Nice promo! But back to the lobster roll. The sandwich appeared overly mayonnaise-y, though this did not detract from taste. For $9.99, D'Angelo's sandwich is substantial, is closest to a traditional lobster roll, and has chunks of lobster mixed with mayonnaise in a hot, buttered roll. For the value quotient, the authenticity of the lobster roll, and the taste, if you are searching for a lobster roll and can't go to a lobster shack, based on our research, D'Angelo's fits the bill.