Editor's Note: Lobster rolls are the king of all summer foods (shut up, watermelon slices), which is why we sent our very own Andrew Zimmer to try and figure out what the Perfect Lobster Roll is, where it is, or if it’s totally a figment of our nostalgia-soaked collective unconscious. Catch up on previous legs of The Quest here, and follow along on Facebook, or by using #LobsterRollQuest over the course of the summer to see each step of The Quest unfold.
You're dockside. The sun is shining on your face. The waves break easy against the hulls of nearby boats as a brisk New England breeze jostles your beach hair. You’ve got a perfectly red whole lobster on your plate; you crack into its well-shaped claw and draw out a whole piece of meat -- it’s a master class in how to summer, basically. You go to put the finishing touches on your prize, you dunk it with gusto into a warm side dish of drawn... mayo?
This is how exactly 0% of people fantasize about their lobster experiences. Which is why the logic behind the Connecticut-style butter lobster roll is so sound. Bun, lobster, butter -- that’s it. It compresses the whole experience into one glorious sandwich. But for whatever reason, when it comes to rolls, the mayo-laced Maine style is king.
But there’s still a place where the goopy mixture of eggs and oil is scorned in favor of everyone’s favorite popcorn topping. And that place is Connecticut, the Nutmeg State, and the birthplace of the hot-butter style. And since no true Quest for the Perfect Lobster Roll would be complete without it, I took a quick road trip up the coast and educated myself on all things hot and buttered and lobster.
As always, for those of you who hate reading but love planning sweet, sweet, butter-soaked lobster roll road trips, check out the current Perfect Lobster Roll Power Rankings right here.
First stop: Milford, CT, probable birthplace of the hot buttered lobster roll
I wanted to start my quest into butter country at the place where it all began, the wellspring from which the butter roll burst, and unlike the Maine style (which has several origin stories), all the accounts I could find (The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, Connecticut Magazine, and Connecticut Icons: 50 Symbols of the Nutmeg State to name a few) pointed toward the coastal town of Milford, and a restaurant named Perry’s as ground zero.
I emailed the Milford Historical Society to see if they could confirm their own OG status, and while they weren’t positive, they confirmed insofar as a place called Perry’s “on Boston Post Road (US No. 1) and Meadows End Road” claimed to have invented it and had a large, well-known sign declaring “Home of the Famous Lobster Roll.” I also spoke with “Lobster Gal” Sally Lerman who wrote the book Lobster Rolls of New England: Seeking Sweet Summer Delight, in which she spoke to Wendy Weir, a granddaughter of Harry Perry -- the proprietor of Perry’s and inventor of the sandwich -- who confirmed the story.
The abridged story goes like this: sometime between 1929 and 1934, a liquor salesman walked into Perry’s and asked them to whip him up a lobster sandwich -- they put together what was more or less a grilled lobster and butter sandwich. Eventually they wised up to the fact that white bread wasn’t substantial enough and had nearby (and now closed) French’s Bakery create a special roll just for them. They devised a method where they cut a V-shaped canyon in the bun, buttered it, filled it with lobster, buttered the top piece, and pressed the whole thing on the grill (this is, surprisingly, still a novel approach). The sign went up, a patent was sought but never acquired, and the hot buttered style proliferated along the coast.
Perry’s eventually shut down in 1976. So, unfortunately I couldn’t try the original (I attempted to create it myself, though), but I did make up for that by stuffing my head with six great lobster rolls in one day (don’t worry, I did like 15ish pushups, too, so...).