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

Pat's Pizza

Pat's Pizza is a chain of thirteen Greek-style pizza restaurants in Maine, which first started slinging pies in 1953. Many locations advertise a lobster roll special on the sign outside, for the bargain-basement price of $7.99. I wasn't expecting much from the pizza chain's take on a lobster roll, particularly at the tail end of the tasting, when I was feeling discouraged.

I am pleased to announce, however, that what I found at Pat's Pizza in Yarmouth was jaw-droppingly delicious. Made fresh to order, the bun was soft, fluffy, and perfectly fresh. The outside was toasty and warm, while the inside stayed cool and soft. A dab of lettuce offered a slight crunch, but the star here was the lobster salad; a generous portion of sweet Maine lobster meat, freshly picked, slightly chilled, and tossed with just the right amount of mayonnaise. A finish of salt and pepper intensified the flavor ever-so-slightly, making this lobster roll the surprise standout in our bottom-shelf lobster roll roundup. It's the only sandwich in the entire tasting that I took more than a bite of, greedily polishing it off while standing in the sun in the middle of the asphalt parking lot.

At under $8, you can't beat the price, and the quality of the lobster roll doesn't suffer one bit. It's the budget lobster roll against which all others should be judged.

Pat's Pizza: patspizza.com

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
Pat's Pizza is a chain of thirteen Greek-style pizza restaurants in Maine, which first started slinging pies in 1953. Many locations advertise a lobster roll special on the sign outside, for the bargain-basement price of $7.99. I wasn't expecting much from the pizza chain's take on a lobster roll, particularly at the tail end of the tasting, when I was feeling discouraged. I am pleased to announce, however, that what I found at Pat's Pizza in Yarmouth was jaw-droppingly delicious. Made fresh to order, the bun was soft, fluffy, and perfectly fresh. The outside was toasty and warm, while the inside stayed cool and soft. A dab of lettuce offered a slight crunch, but the star here was the lobster salad; a generous portion of sweet Maine lobster meat, freshly picked, slightly chilled, and tossed with just the right amount of mayonnaise. A finish of salt and pepper intensified the flavor ever-so-slightly, making this lobster roll the surprise standout in our bottom-shelf lobster roll roundup. It's the only sandwich in the entire tasting that I took more than a bite of, greedily polishing it off while standing in the sun in the middle of the asphalt parking lot. At under $8, you can't beat the price, and the quality of the lobster roll doesn't suffer one bit. It's the budget lobster roll against which all others should be judged. Pat's Pizza: patspizza.com. Malcolm Bedell, unless otherwise noted

Would Absolutely Eat Again!

Pat's Pizza

Would Eat Again, in a Lobster Pinch

Amato's
Panera
Ninety Nine Restaurant

Would Not Eat Again

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