July 15, 2010

The Maine Event: Lobster Quest

Lobster Tails at Galyn's

While B and I had many reasons to visit Acadia National Park in Maine—to be one with nature, enjoy the seaside villages, relax without fuss—our first and foremost intention was to eat fresh, succulent, affordable lobster... and plenty of it! So we set out on our little road trip during the long Fourth of July weekend and happily accomplished our mission: seven lobsters total in three days. Not only did we manage to make a little dent in the lobster population at Bar Harbor, we also came away with some excellent lobster fishing and local eating know-how. More pics, tips and bits of our adventure on the next page!

Lobster Cages

Maine lobster is the quintessential summertime seafood indulgence, but quite a pricey one. In Manhattan, live lobster typically retails from $12-17 per pound and restaurants mark it up even further to compensate for prep, cooking, etc. So to get around this situation, I either have to monitor Citarella's or The Lobster Place for good sales or... just go straight to the source! Ironically, we probably spent a TON more per pound in Maine, that is if you include the travel and excursion costs. But it's the experience that counts right? Priceless, as some would even say. If you were standing where I was standing (see below), you'd agree. 

Tide is Rising

For those of you who live in New York/New England and are willing to do a little driving (or persuade your significant other to drive the entire way...), Bar Harbor is a fantastic relaxation/adventure destination. Nestled on Mount Desert Island, this little village by the sea offers serene vistas, exciting outdoor activities, and a welcoming atmosphere. On our first night, we had dinner at Galyn's, a local's favorite restaurant. Diners on the porch have a fantastic view of the Town Pier and Frenchman Bay. My first few ravaging bites into the twin hardshell lobster tails (top photo) really hit the spot. Along with a spicy mussel, shrimp, squid-filled Frenchman Bay Stew, it was the perfect starter meal. If you happen to enjoy Bloody Mary's, like B, be sure to try Galyn's.

Show and TellWhat a Catch!

The next morning, we headed out to sea with Captain John Nicolai on the Lulu's Lobster Boat. We decided to go on the 10AM tour to take advantage of the low tide; it's the best time to get a good look at the harbor seals and their pups! On the way, we also spotted a bald eagle and its chick-filled nest. How appropriate for Independence Day! Halfway into the trip, the Captain pulled up one of his traps from the water and gave us an extensive lobster 101. Unexpectedly, the trap contained about four or five lobsters—including a few lobster limbs. (They are cannibalistic critters!) One of them was a freshly molted fellow; still so soft that the typically-solid-rock head was comically squishy to the poke. He was carefully placed back into the water to live another day. 

Can't Run...

Just to be clear, a soft-shell lobster and a hard-shell lobster are the same lobster. It just happens to be in different stages of its life. Every so often, a lobster will outgrow its shell. To get bigger, it has to undergo molting, or discarding of the old skin (kind of like snakes, but trickier). The lobster begins this process by secreting a special enzyme that softens its shell and its connective joints. Then it has the ability to withdraw its blood from its appendages, leaving its enormous claws about 1/4th of the original size. When it is ready to molt, it will position itself into a pike dive (V-shape), which will crack open the shell from the back of its head. Then it slips out entirely through that exit. By the time that it's done, the lobster will resemble a floppy rubber toy. It will hide under a rock for several weeks while it regains its hard outer shell again for protection. Each molt can increase the lobster's size by 15-20% and its weight by 40%. During the molting process, they can even regenerate lost (eaten, stolen or otherwise detached) appendages!

What about taste differences? There is a substantial debate that bubbles throughout Bar Harbor about hard-shell versus soft-shell meat. There are trade-offs to both. Hard-shell lobsters, ones that you will typically find at supermarkets, are stuffed completely with meat. The quantity is significantly greater than that of a soft-shell, which makes them pricier too. Meanwhile, the soft-shell's meat is unmistakeably more tender and sweeter, however there is a lot less of it to be had. It's also much easier to eat; no lobster crackers needed! Soft-shell lobsters are more difficult to come by fresh (unless if you're in Maine), since they don't travel as well as the hard-shells. In Bar Harbor, there were plenty of soft-shells to go around. Most restaurants here will serve up soft-shells by default, so you have to specifically ask to get a hard-shell.

At the end of the 2 hour-long tour, the Captain recommended a place to go for reasonably-priced, no-fuss, packed-to-travel lobster called The Travelin' Lobster. Mmmm it sounded like the perfect lunch idea.

Travelin' Lobster Shack

We drove about 10 minutes out of the town until we reached the north side of the island. Right next to the Bar Harbor Cellars Winery & Vineyard sat a cute little sign (see below) for The Travelin' Lobster. The little store was tucked discretely away behind Rose Eden Cottages, but once we walked over to the firewood-guarded cooking area, the unmistakable aroma of boiled lobster filled my nose. Sweet, sweet lobster sauna... I could almost taste it! 

the Meal

Captain John wasn't kidding about the prices. Out here, hard-shell lobsters started at $7.50/lb and soft-shells at $6/lb. For just $30, you can get two 1.25lb lobsters, 2 ears of sweet corn, 2 crabs or 1 lb of frozen clams and butter. That's a total steal, compared to the $30-something twin lobster tails at Galyn's. We decided to purchase four 1 1/4lb cooked lobsters, one being a soft-shell. Looking back, we probably could have been perfectly happy with eating just two lobsters, but it's hard to resist hoarding such a good deal!

Cooking the Lobsters (The Aroma is INCREDIBLE)

While the Travelin' Lobster had no place to sit, there was a great picnic area nearby. Our cottage hostess and Hank Tibbetts (as seen above, owner of The Travelin' Lobster) both suggested taking the lobster down to Hadley's Point. Hadley's Point is a small, public beach few tourists visit; it's about a three-minute drive from the lobster shack.

Our Four Lobsters from Travelin' Lobster = $45

After driving down Hadley's Point Road, we found a private picnic table in the shade next to the beach. The weather was a dry and sunny 81 degrees, without a cloud in the sky. I promptly started to snap away at my soft-shell lobster. As expected, the shell gave way very easily. The meat inside was small, but ultra-tender and sweet. The hard-shell lobsters put up a fight, but we eventually tore our way through all of the meat. One of the lobsters that we purchased turned out to be an egg-bearing female. Technically, when lobstermen catch an egg-bearing female (typically distinguished by a little man-made knotch on their tail), they're suppose to throw it back. That's what keeps the lobster population in Maine strong. I guess every so often one gets overlooked. For what it's worth, the eggs were quite tasty.

Eating at Hadley's Point

After our grand feast, we headed back into town and settled down for a nap. I don't know if this is always the case, but lobster induces ridiculous food coma. We snoozed for a couple of hours before a relaxing sunset sea kayaking trip with Aquaterra Adventures.

Down the Sea

So in conclusion, Bar Harbor was amazing. It was even better than what B and I both remember it being when we were kids on family vacations. Here are my recommendations/ tips for those of you who are planning on a visit:

Where to Stay: Moseley Cottage (Bed & Breakfast)
The Cottage is ultra comfortable and tastefully decorated. It's located in a prime spot right around the corner from the main street. The staff is super friendly and the hot/a la carte breakfasts are delicious. We stayed in the Bee Hive Room (massive, partial view of harbor) and Cadillac Room (cozy, perfect for two).

Where to Get Lobster: The Travelin' Lobster
Reasonable prices and cooked/packed for your convenience! One thing to note is that it's cash only, unless if you spend over $75.

Where to Explore: Acadia National Park
You can spend many days exploring/hiking Acadia National Park. We decided to stay near the water and along the rocky coastline. Tide pools are interesting little features that show up during low tide. They're full of life, including sea snails, mussels and tiny crabs. If you're lucky, you might be able to spot a sea urchin!

Where to Buy Beer & Snacks: J.H. Butterfield's
This is a store with many treasures, including a self-service beer fridge containing a series of local Bar Harbor brews (be sure to try the Blueberry Ale!) They also carry a bunch of Bar Harbor Food products, including All Natural Smoked Wild Kippers—my new addiction. There's pure maple syrup candies, chocolate truffles, and also wine. Stock up before going into Acadia or bring goodies back fro your friends.

Click here for more pics!


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