Fast-Food Lobster Rolls: Can They Be Any Good?

[Photographs: Malcolm Bedell, unless otherwise noted]

During the summertime in Maine, lobster rolls are big business. All along US Route 1, every sandwich shop, gas station, roadside food cart, and anyone with a reasonably functional kitchen and a friend at the health department has a sign advertising a lobster roll.

The seasonal influx of out-of-state visitors slowly crawling from Kittery to Acadia National Park have a seemingly bottomless appetite for the classic Maine lobster roll, and with good reason. In its ideal form, big chunks of sweet Maine lobster, freshly-caught, slightly chilled, mixed with just a touch of mayonnaise and served in a warm butter-griddled New England split-top roll, it's a perfect sandwich.

Summer goodness wrapped in a bun. Those lobster rolls are quintessentially Maine.

But this post is not about those lobster rolls.

Today, we're focusing on the lobster rolls at the other end of the spectrum. Every year, national and local chains also roll out their versions of the traditional sandwich. It's a bold choice; lobster meat needs to be served reasonably soon after it's been cooked, and it is subject to some cost fluctuations over the course of the season. Committing to a fixed price or national availability becomes somewhat tricky.

In the 1990s, McDonald's captured attention with their "McLobster," a fast-food version of a Maine lobster roll that was only available in select markets in New England and Canada. My recollection of the sandwich was that it wasn't half bad, and a bargain at just $7.99. But it's been MIA in recent years in coastal Maine (anyone seen it?).

So which other chains are serving up mass-market lobster rolls? And are they anywhere close to the version served at our favorite roadside Maine seafood shacks?

Here's what we found.

Pat's Pizza

Would Absolutely Eat Again!

Pat's Pizza

Would Eat Again, in a Lobster Pinch

Ninety Nine Restaurant

Would Not Eat Again

Shaw's Supermarket
Linda Bean's Perfect Maine
Au Bon Pain