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The lobster roll at Bite, in Alpharetta. (click for larger version)
September 24, 2012ALPHARETTA, Ga. — What's the latest food trend to hit this area?
I'm pretty sure it's the lobster roll. These trendy little sandwiches are becoming more popular and are flying out of restaurant kitchens. Let's take a look at what's behind their popularity and sample a few from area restaurants.
The lobster roll has been a staple in New England for years. Thanks to a decline in lobster prices, the sandwich is readily available. But it still isn't cheap as far as sandwiches go.
A traditional lobster roll contains lobster claw meat, served cold and tossed in a tiny bit of mayonnaise. Onions, celery and maybe shallots are added for some texture, and it's seasoned with tarragon, salt and pepper.
Finally, the mixture is placed inside a buttered hotdog bun, usually the split-top variety — an unglamorous vessel for the king of crustaceans to travel in.
Most of the rolls sampled for this article kept to the basic tradition, but added little twists.
Kathleen's Catch – 9810 Medlock Bridge Road in Johns Creek
Fish-monger Kathleen Hulsey started selling lobster rolls out of her seafood market a few weeks ago. The sandwich quickly became one of the shop's best sellers. But be forewarned – Kathleen's Catch isn't a restaurant. Hulsey operates a small fish market, so there is nowhere to sit and enjoy the sandwich.
Kathleen's lobster roll recipe comes from the founder of Inland Seafood, the source of most of her delicious seafood. Of the three lobster rolls sampled for this article, Hulsey's stays closest to tradition. She does deviate a bit with the addition of grated Parmesan cheese and a touch of truffle oil.
And because this is a takeout arrangement, a lobster roll will come wrapped in foil and placed inside a brown paper sack. Again, it's like ballpark treatment for a critter used to the trappings of haute cuisine.
Kathleen's use of the split-top bun pays homage to the tradition of the sandwich. Unfortunately, it weighs in a little on the small side compared to the competition. Those with heavy appetites will need something else to go with it.
Bite — 11500 Webb Bridge Rd., Suite A9 in Alpharetta
The first thing you notice about Bite's lobster roll is the placement of three pickled onions on top. They don't bring a ton of flavor to the sandwich, but it gives the dish a curly pink hairdo.
The flirtatious appearance must be working, as these are pouring out of Bite's kitchen. Nearly every table ordered at least one. Our table had three.
Bite uses massive lobster claws in their roll – almost the size of small lobster tails. They are perfectly cooked and not the least bit chewy, although one roll at our table contained a bit of shell.
Two flavors jumped out in Bite's lobster roll. First is tarragon. They use far more of it than the competition. Second are the herbs in the roll. They break from tradition and use a crusty roll baked with thyme and other herbs. It's pillow-soft inside but with a little crunch on the outside.
The lobster mixture lacked texture in the form of celery, shallots or onion, but perhaps the bread made up for it. All in all, it is probably the best lobster roll in town.
But at $15 for the sandwich and side, it certainly isn't an everyday item. The rest of Bite's menu is better and usually cheaper.
Norman's Landing — 365 Peachtree Parkway in Cumming
Norman's lobster roll hasn't quite made it onto their everyday menu. You'll have to hit them on Wednesdays and order it off the daily specials board.
Norman's breaks from tradition quite a bit with their roll. The lobster meat comes out naked, with no mayo or other additions. Drawn butter comes on the side and is tasty in small quantities. Too much will make the bun soggy. And that bun is the side-cut variety, not the more traditional top-cut like the competition.
The lobster meat was plentiful here but at times was a little on the chewy side. But Norman misses the opportunity to boost the flavor profile of his roll by leaving his lobster undressed.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A restaurant we couldn't get to, but that also serves lobster rolls on their menu is Atlantic Seafood, 2345 Mansell Road in Alpharetta.
S. Lee Guy is a Roots in Alpharetta blogger. His work can be found at www.rootsinalpharetta.com and www.northfulton.com.