Every summer, my sister Katie and I go in search of the perfect lobster roll in Atlanta. It's an effect of our hybrid personalities - raised in Atlanta, by a family from Boston. As kids, we sat around a large table at my grandmother's house in Gloucester, Mass. in the summer, shucking and picking freshly boiled lobsters, sometimes caught in my cousins' traps. It was a lot of work for a little meat.
I much prefer my lobster already shelled. As an adult, I lived in the Boston area for 13 years, and drove up the coast of Maine each summer with a friend. I feasted on lobster rolls, lobster pie, lobster mac & cheese, lobster pizza....any way lobster was served, I would eat it.
Undisputedly, though, my favorite way to eat "lobsta," as the locals pronounce it, is on a toasted buttered hot dog roll, easily found in beachside shacks throughout New England. The purist version has no mayonnaise, no celery, no lettuce. Just huge chunks of fresh lobster. To show you that it's not as elitist as you think, you can even find lobsta rolls at McDonald's in Boston in the summer. When I first moved there, they were selling for $5.99 - much below market price elsewhere. McD's lobster is probably previously frozen and certainly not as good as a clam shack in Essex, Mass., but if you have a serious craving, it will do. I used to tease my sister, when she told me she was craving lobster in Atlanta, to just go to McDonald's - where, of course, she could not order lobster in Atlanta.
So every summer since I moved back to Atlanta, Katie and I seek out the best lobsta roll this city can make. We have been to Steamhouse Lounge twice. We tried Oceanaire, which I hadn't even known about in its unassuming location on Peachtree Street. Their lobsta roll came with endless shoestring fries, which alone was worth the visit there.
We lunched at the Optimist twice, renowned for its seafood and featured on national food shows. The lobster portion was huge, but mixed with a bit too much mayo and dill for me. It was good, but it wasn't New England style.
We went to JCT Kitchen twice. Unfortunately, the lobster portion was small, although good. Their truffle fries upstaged it (see below for evidence). They do have the best fried chicken salad ever made, though.
And to do something special for my sister on Mother's Day during the pandemic last year, my boyfriend and I bought steamed lobsters from Publix, shucked them and made our own lobster rolls. We all ate them safely outside in a park, 2020 COVID style. Good, but a long way from Essex clam shacks.
But then I heard that Beetlecat, just off the Atlanta BeltLine in Inman Park, had a lobsta roll that was voted best in the world by Maine. By Maine, the state that invented ways to eat lobster. I had to try it.
I already like Beetlecat for its basement bar vibe - retro board games, '70s sofa and chairs, even a rotary dial phone. And cocktails that never fail.
The lobsta roll was ah-may-zing. The best I had eaten in Atlanta. Possibly rivaling New England. I got the mayo on the side (the purist in me), but later heard that Duke's mayo is probably what won Beetlecat the Maine award.
So the other week, my boyfriend (also from Massachusetts) wanted to celebrate his birthday with a Beetlecat lobsta roll. We ate in the upstairs dining room for the first time, which is beautifully designed with large windows overlooking Inman Park, a long bar and quirky nautical features like a ship crawling up the wall.
They had my favorite drink, a Hemingway daiquiri, which is not easy to find and if it's not listed on the menu, you don't want to ask the bartender to attempt to make it. Trust me on this.
The lobsta roll was as good as I remembered. I mean, just look at all that lobster! Buttered roll perfectly toasted. No fillers. I kept the mayo this time, and it really did enhance the flavor.
So it's probably no coincidence that several of the restaurants that serve lobster rolls in Atlanta are owned by Ford Fry (Beetlecat, JCT Kitchen and Optimist). And while one is better than the others, they are all good. Ford must like lobsta rolls as much as Katie and I. Maybe he wants to join us on our summer quests (ha ha).
My boyfriend, Shawn, also loved it.
"This is the second best lobster roll south of the Mason-Dixon line," he says.
"What's the first?" I ask.
"167 Raw in Charleston, South Carolina," he tells me.
Well, that's way off the BeltLine.
An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the founder & CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking food tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. The BiteLines blog features art, restaurants, happenings and weirdness on the Atlanta BeltLine. Share story ideas and pics at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow on Instagram @bitelinesatl.
Note: We have paused our tours during the pandemic, but plan to ramp up again in 2021.