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Dining on a Shoestring: Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls

B_Washingtonian image septermber 8, 2014November 2014 Issue

A snug Annapolis seafood place does the classic New England lobster sandwich proud.

Dan Beck’s kitchen is tiny.

No, tinier than that.

It could fit comfortably into an efficiency apartment, probably even into a food truck.

I’m not knocking it. A restaurant with the get-to-the-point name Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls ought to be a lean, unshowy operation.

Beck has apportioned his money wisely. He spent grandly for a nice storefront—the restaurant looks out on picturesque Main Street in downtown Annapolis—and he spends grandly for his main ingredient.

His source is Ready Seafood, in Portland, Maine, a company that claims—cue the chicken scene in the Portland, Oregon, parody, Portlandia—to be able to trace the lobster back to the boat where it was harvested. Typically, the lobsters are out of the water no longer than two days.

The freshness is apparent from the first bite. The meat is firm and sweet, without the wateriness that inferior lobster rolls—generally, those with frozen meat—show.

At least it’s apparent right now. Come winter, Beck, like many, will be relying on frozen lobster. The high prices for fresh product in cold weather make it prohibitive for most purveyors, a reminder that even though you can find a lobster roll nearly year round, it’s probably best to think of it, in these parts anyway, as a seasonal treat.

Beck’s cost-conscientiousness is the other nice surprise in coming here. You can have a great lobster roll for $12, a price significantly lower than anything of comparable quality you’ll find in the area.

Twelve bucks—why, that’s darn near New England-like!

Speaking of which: Yankees will be thrilled to hear that, in addition to a roll stuffed with lobster salad, Beck offers the lesser-known Connecticut iteration, with tail meat doused in drawn butter.

Beck is a restaurant lifer—he ran three places in the Outer Banks before becoming a lobster wholesaler—and understands it’s the little details that distinguish the middling from the memorable. He slathers his hot-dog-like buns with butter and griddles them just until they begin to crisp. He applies the mayo sparingly in his lobster roll, enough to bind the meat, not obscure it. The dice of celery in the mix wouldn’t be out of place in a finicky chef’s mise en place.

If you’re looking for more than a light bite, begin with a cup of Beck’s clam chowder ($4), thick with sweet clams and boasting a light, not viscous, broth. Add a bag of kettle-cooked chips ($1.25), a Maine Root blueberry soda, and a whoopie pie ($2.50), and there you have it: the perfect meal for late summer.

This article appeared in the September 2014 issue of Washingtonian Magazine.

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