There are three things many claim they cannot live without: coffee, good conversation and chocolate. In Maine, we add lobsters to that list.
Lobsters and chocolate may seem like an odd combination, but Eugene Greenlaw of Lubec has turned them both into a rewarding way of life.
For more than 50 years, the Lubec native has rowed into the bay several times a week, checking his lobster pots and hauling in his catch. His cheeks are reddened by Maine’s sea air, and he is strong from decades of rowing.
By afternoon, however, Greenlaw slips an apron over his head and becomes a chocolatier — expertly creating double chocolate truffles, Needhams, dark chocolate kisses, chocolate-dipped marshmallows and a wide menu of other delightful treats. His latest creation is a plum, stuffed with marzipan or caramel, dipped in dark chocolate.
Yummmm. I repeat, yummmm.
Lined up on the shelves of the sweets shop are caramel drops, peppermint patties, coffee cup candies, bonbons, orange delights, Lubecker bars, puffins’ nests — as well as solid chocolate lobsters, moose, lighthouses and starfish.
Bayside Chocolates, which Greenlaw has operated for five years, is on Main Street in Lubec, his hometown, but the road that took him from lobsterman to gourmet chocolatier wandered a bit.
Always intrigued and curious about food, Greenlaw became a U.S. Navy cook right after high school. Then there was a short stint as a carpenter — “I wasn’t really suited for that,’’ he says — and then 31 years at Peacock Canning, a massive structure that looms over Lubec’s Main Street and was once one of hundreds of sardine factories along the coast.
Greenlaw began “pushing pans of fish” and ended up as plant superintendent for seven years.
“It was hot and steamy work in the summer, and we froze to death in the winter,” he said. When the demand for sardines crashed, the plant turned to processing salmon. “I was there until the end,” he said.
But nothing could sever Greenlaw’s connection with the ocean. “I have always liked being on the water. It is just a part of me,” he said. “When I was 10 years old, I used to row my father around as he checked his traps.”
And so he continues to fish for lobsters.
But the lure of food and the creativity it allows is also a part of Greenlaw. “I really like experimenting with food,” he said. “And chocolate is my first love.”
A peek out the front window of Bayside Chocolates reveals seals, gulls and the ocean. Fishing vessels slowly head in and out of the passage.
But inside, it is more like Greenlaw’s family-style kitchen than a candy store.
A large table in the center of the store that easily seats a dozen provides a place for locals and others to congregate and talk. It is the place they gather when a child is born, when a fishing vessel sinks or when local politics need to be discussed.
“I can often see the tourists sort of leaning in, listening to the fishermen, the lobstermen and the other locals, trying to get a taste of the real Down East,” Greenlaw said.
“When the tourists come to Lubec, they want to see the ocean, breathe the air, eat blueberries and lobster,” he said. “Now, they also want chocolate.”
Greenlaw said he is never sure how someone will react to tasting his candy.
“One man put a chocolate sample in his mouth and his eyes rolled back in his head and he stepped back and began jumping and dancing and screaming.”
Greenlaw is confident that he has a good product. “This is my secret: Keep it fresh. I have no closet or freezer full of chocolates. I make chocolates fresh every day.”
Totally self-taught, Greenlaw creates every single chocolate confection by hand. He has only one part-time seasonal employee.
“You can go [to a big-box store] and buy cheaper chocolates but mine are made of the best ingredients and are fresh. At those stores, their Valentine’s Day candy is made before Christmas. Mine is made that morning.”
Valentine’s Day is a two-day event for Greenlaw and he said there is a pretty good chance he won’t get any sleep. Besides the locals who stop in for a gift for a special person, he gets hundreds of e-mail orders from across the country.
“Every single order is made up fresh,” he said. He also uses a unique combination of types of chocolate. “I’ve tasted a lot of chocolate,” he said. “I then blend the very best one or two to create my own flavor. You won’t find this taste anywhere else.”
Greenlaw said he also uses Maine products, when available, and creates Maine’s trademark chocolate, the Needham, with potatoes from his own garden.
On one recent day, Greenlaw rolled his own truffle filling into large balls, hand-dipped each in melted dark chocolate and then rolled each one in hand-shaved milk chocolate. It was labor-intensive work — each chocolate taking several minutes to create.
“I can be creative with chocolate,” he said. “I’m demonstrating a part of me, I suppose.”
And which one of the varieties does Greenlaw prefer? “Whichever one I’m eating is my favorite chocolate at the time,” he said with a sly smile. “But I haven’t found a way to combine lobster and chocolate — yet,” he added.
Bayside Chocolates can be ordered at 888-816-8880 or at http://www.baysidechocolates.com.