Each visit to Boston holds a specific food memory for me. On my first visit, it was the gigantic mounds of pasta at La Famiglia Giorgios. More recently, it was the fresh, rich simplicity of a lobster roll at Pauli's. Perhaps even more than the touristy sights themselves, food memories remain the most lasting, the most satisfying from our travels.
Court Street Lobster Bar Owner Dan Swormstedt must have felt that same emotional impact. His recently-opened restaurant places the lobster roll on a high pedestal, inspired by both his early years living on the East Coast and his visits to popular seafood joints featuring the distinctive sandwich.
The Bar's streamlined menu, designed by former Jeff Ruby alum Clint Walker, Jr., totals less than 20 items, including all its appetizers, rolls, salads and side items. There are two types of lobster rolls: the Maine style, served cold with a chilled lemon mayonnaise and "wacky" pea tendrils (the early stems of a pea plant), and the Connecticut style, served hot, with seasoned clarified butter and pea tendrils. Other rolls include crab, shrimp, chicken and a garbanzo bean-based veggie alternative. All are served with Bibb lettuce on toasted Sixteen Bricks Challah buns designed to mimic the uniquely flat-sided rolls popularized on the East Coast.
We've stopped by several times since it opened last month. It's located a few doors west of Bangkok Express. The only hint of its existence from afar is a sidewalk sign outside. Its interior is familiar to downtowners: a shotgun-style feel with whitewashed wood booths along the east wall and a full bar along the west. A prominent blackboard menu greets incoming patrons, who can quickly scan and order at the bar's corner cashier.
On my first visit, I chose the Maine-style lobster roll ($19 or market price) and a side of purple au gratin potatoes ($6). Since this effectively blew through nearly a week of my usual lunch budget, I chose tap water to drink. In subsequent visits, my girlfriend and I tried the Connecticut style roll; the shrimp roll and the chicken roll, with sides of lobster mac and cheese, charred corn chowder and duck fat fingerling potatoes.
Court Street Lobster Bar's rolls are what cameras are made for: incredibly colorful and photogenic, it's hard to take a bad picture. The bread is pleasantly toasty and buttery brown on the sides, with 1/4 pound of lobster exploding from its maw. Like its New England counterparts, the mayo is mixed with a light touch, letting the sweetness from the lobster meat shine through. The accompanying bread on my Maine roll, however, nearly stole the show: it's a wonderful vehicle in itself, and sometimes I wondered if the sweet challah was the right marriage for a protein already exuding its own inherent sweet notes. The purple au gratin potatoes were cheesy and comforting --I love that they feature such a colorful, more nutritional potato variant.
To my surprise, I fancied the Connecticut roll ($19) even more, given I'm more familiar with the Maine style. This sandwich, with its seemingly simple dressing of clarified butter and served warm, further enhanced the lobster flavor and was difficult to put down. My girlfriend very much enjoyed her shrimp roll ($12): plump shrimp mixed with a light, citrusy aioli, topped with those red-veined sorrel leaves that are all the rage right now. It was among her favorite lobster rolls (not quite beating the one at Pike Place Chowder in Seattle). She really liked the lovely charred corn chowder ($5), which was light, yet satisfying, exuding all the right natural sweet notes from the corn.
My chicken salad lobster roll ($9) featured free-range chicken, also lightly dressed in mayo. It was topped with what at first appeared to be those crunchy-fried onions we all love at Thanksgiving, but it was actually a richer topping of fried chicken skin, which left me somewhat disappointed. The lobster mac and cheese, which featured cavatappi pasta, was creamy and delicious, though there was only one small piece of lobster in my cup.
Court Street Lobster Bar features food that is delicious, heavy and expensive, with great takes on the lobster roll, hearty sides and an inviting, seaside-like ambiance. Its menu overall feels a bit overpriced, especially when compared to the East Coast restaurant that inspired it.
Even if they shaved a buck or two off some of their items, you'll still be shelling out more than you normally would. But is the occasional splurge worth it? You better believe it.