The expletive, “get crackin,!” takes on new meaning when faced with a Maine lobster. A culinary challenge worth every crunch, consuming the Homerus americanus known more colloquially as the American lobster, is a rewarding hands-on experience. Considered the “King of Seafood”, lobsters are harvested along the entire New England coast but Maine is considered “Lobster Central.” Every Maine fishing cove harbors its own distinct clan of fishermen and women who “fence” their traditionally defined territories with brightly painted buoys.
Thus, the best place to get your lobster fix is where it’s harvested. Little more than an hour’s drive from Boston, Maine’s southern coast boasts a wide range of dining choices from the salty harbor shanty sitting dockside to the white table-clothed fine dining eatery. One of my favorites is Barnacle Billy’s at Perkin’s Cove, within walking distance from downtown Oqunquit, Maine. From Ogunquit’s seaside village, you can work up an appetite by strolling Marginal Way, a mile-long footpath that curves along the wild-rose edged cliffs above the Atlantic’s rocky coast and ends steps away from Barnacle Billy’s, a weathered cedar-shingled cottage with water views, and home to an active community of fisher people.
Once inside, you’ll notice a chalkboard menu listing the catches of the day. Lobster, steamed clams, sweet corn on the cob, garden salad and garlic encrusted rolls are mainstays. Amble into the waterfront dining room with its view of the marina and cove. You’ll sit at a rustic pine table and if it’s cool, you can warm yourself near a crackling fire by one of the two stone fireplaces. In warm weather, try the sunny outdoor deck overlooking Perkin’s Cove boat harbor with a view of classic New England colonial-style homes and gardens across the water.
Lobster aficionados know that messiness is part of the experience. You’ll be given the necessary tools to extract the meat from the lobster’s bright red shell-a claw cracker, a small pick or fork for those tiny, tight places, a mountain of napkins, a bib, a bowl for the discards, lemon slices and a ramekin of butter for dipping. Lobster cracking and dissection are skills sharpened with practice. Take your time, enjoy every succulent bite and wash it all down with a cold beer or a glass of chilled Chardonnay.
Today, many people consider lobster a delicacy. However, lobsters were once so plentiful that Native Americans used them as fertilizer and fish bait. In Colonial times they were considered poverty food and served to children and indentured servants. Stories have been told that children who brought lobster sandwiches to school were considered the poor kids.
Lobsters are neither fish nor mammal, but rather they are arthropods, closely related to insects. Like insects, they belong to the invertebrate family. These two-clawed marine creatures have one claw called the pincer and another called the crusher. And like humans, lobsters can be right or left handed, depending on whether the crusher claw is on the lobster’s right or left side. Most live lobsters are greenish until cooked. The pigments that make up the shell are destroyed by heat, except the red.
Lobster is healthy for you. It contains iron, zinc, calcium and iodine, as well as vitamins A, B and B6. It has no saturated fat and is low in cholesterol and calories. Knowing “lobstahs” are good for you is one more reason to indulge your crustacean craving. Just don’t get me started on clam chowder. That’s another “only in New England” dish that goes well with salty air and Down East hospitality.
The name, Ogunquit, means “beautiful place by the sea” in the indigenous Abenaki Indian language. If you go: Barnacle Billy’s has become so popular that “Billy’s etc” with a more formal menu has opened adjacent to the original. 50-70 Perkins Cove Rd.Ogunquit. View both restaurants’ menus at the web site:www.barnbilly.com. Visit the Maine Office of Tourism at www.mainetourism.com.