I was craving a lobster roll. While lobster rolls are not quite ubiquitous in Atlanta, they are much more common today than they were even a year or two ago. The brand new joint in midtown called Olmsted has one on their lunch menu. There's a version from the BEST NEW RESTAURANT IN THE COUNTRY ACCORDING TO JOHN MARIANI (AKA The Optimist). JCT has them on Fridays and Saturdays at lunchtime. Bocado sometimes offers them as a special, as does Yeah! Burger. Octopus Bar usually has them (and is my favorite in town), but "usually" at Octopus Bar means a late night trip down to EAV, which is not usual for me at all. And then there's always Legal Sea Foods, if you're in a "feel like a tourist in downtown Atlanta" mood.
For some reason, when this craving hit, I disregarded all of those options (and others) and headed down to Nicky's Seafood, on the southern edge of Castleberry Hill. Well, I shouldn't say, "some reason." I've heard a few people rave about the lobster rolls whipped up every Friday through Monday at Nicky's Seafood by one "Lobster Lord" - an appropriately salty old ex-Navy cook named Fred Lord. So I was hoping for something good.
Nicky's is a good old seafood shack (since 1984) serving up lots of fried and grilled fish and shrimp. The partnership with the Lobster Lord looks to make a nice addition to their menu, and has definitely brought some folks down to Nicky's who might not have come otherwise. That partnership, though, seemed comically uneasy on my recent visit. Mr. (Lobster) Lord was tending to his own little lobster roll counter off to the side, complete with a portable electric griddle to toast his rolls. As I was about to order, Lord began loudly grumbling back and forth with the cashier over recent orders, apparently trying to sort out the best method of conveying how many customers had ordered what type of lobster roll ("slider" size or "jumbo"). Side eyes were exchanged. Words were muttered but not meant to be fully heard. A reluctant detente seemed to be reached as Lord confirmed the orders and began constructing my lobster rolls (yes, plural, I had to try a slider and a jumbo, of course). Lobstermen should be on the grumpy side, so this did nothing to alter my expectations of a great lobster roll.
Exactly what defines "a great lobster roll" is, of course, a matter of great debate. To me at least, Lobster Lord misses the mark, and I'll tell you why. There are really just two components to a good lobster roll. The roll, and the lobster. (Duh). A great lobster roll needs to exceed the sum of those parts, and, in my experience, keeping it as simple as possible is the key to letting those two parts meld into something sublime.
First up as we dress down the Lord, let's look at the roll. Lobster Lord brags of its "toasted Tennessee whiskey roll that we bake fresh everyday in house." The good is that it is top-loading, toasted, and buttered. The bad is mainly that there's just too much of it. The "rolls" are cut from a large, challah-like loaf and sliced down the center, but that cut stops well short of the bottom of the loaf, leaving a sizable double-wide layer of bread at the bottom of each roll. The "whiskey rolls" also have a strange red crust on top, apparently brushed with a thin layer of tomato paste and nutmeg and Jack Daniel's. That red crust does little to contribute anything other than curiosity. More importantly, the toasting (on my two rolls at least, both the slider and the jumbo) was done to the point of obliterating any freshness that the bread may have had. Maybe Lord got distracted by all the back and forth with the cashier and let the bread sit too long on his little griddle.
As for the lobster, Lobster Lord wins points on the amount of lobster included (a whole 1 1/4 pounder on each jumbo roll), the quality of that lobster (very fresh and sweet, flown in each Friday), and the fact that the tail represents its fair share of the meat (rather than the lobster mix being tilted to lesser pieces of meat). Points are taken off, though, for the fact that the amount of mayonnaise used barges in on the freshness and flavor of that lobster. My personal opinion is that when it's obvious there's mayonnaise on the lobster, that's too much mayonnaise. It should be a sheen, not a coagulant.
There are a few other details worth mentioning for the detail-obsessed: namely, the presence of an imperceptible hint of citrus zest and tarragon, and the perceptible inclusion of some chopped romaine beneath the lobster. I'm not opposed to either, nor did either do much to improve the roll. In the end, it's a good lobster roll, but Lord has lots of competition for the lobster roll crown in Atlanta and has a few too many faults to be considered royalty.
So, if I do come back to the Lobster Lord, whether at Nicky's Seafood or at his roving pop-ups around town (check his Facebook page), I will ask for a lightly toasted bun and a light touch with the mayo, and thank the Lord for his devotion to bringing fresh whole lobsters in each week.
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