Zabar’s deli and grocery on the Upper West Side in New York City has a brilliant worldwide reputation online and in its shop for integrity and the quality of its products. So do Maine lobsters, known for their flavor, colorful appearance and superb flavor — as well as their challenge to unfamiliar eaters.
Unfortunately, these two outstanding reputations have come into conflict, although it is one that has been easily resolved. The collision came to light when a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, visiting with his family in New York, ordered “lobster salad” on a bagel at Zabar’s. He found it delicious, but the pink or orange tails seemed small for lobster and yet somehow familiar.
Suspecting material for a column, Doug McCash checked the label. It listed the ingredients as “wild freshwater crayfish, mayonnaise, celery, salt and sugar.” No mention of lobster. Zabar’s manager was not available when Mr. McCash telephoned for comment. But no matter, he had his column.
Enter the Maine Lobster Council. Dane Somers, the executive director, quickly got on the case. He spoke by telephone first with the general manager, Scott Goldshine, and finally with the owner, Saul Zabar, the president and co-owner, a son of Louis and Lillian Zabar who founded the business 77 years ago.
Mr. Somers advised Mr. Zabar of the federal regulations that make deliberate misbranding of food products a serious violation. The Food and Drug Administration permits the use of the term “lobster” without qualification only for the Homarus species, which includes the European and American lobsters. Labeling other species, including langostino, crayfish or other lobster-like species as “lobster” without qualification would cause the product to be misbranded in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits advertising or marketing other species as lobster without express qualification and clear labeling as to the true species.
Mr. Zabar said his people were not aware that the labeling was incorrect and would change the labeling in the future. He thanked Mr. Somers for the information.
Mr. Somers had gotten into the matter with the belief that retailers often are not aware of illegal mislabeling and usually are quick to correct misleading language. He says, “We always contact the company first to try to resolve things professionally, and we use that opportunity to let them know we can assist them in securing a supplier of the true Maine lobster in order to serve their customers with the finest lobster in the world.”
So the council has done its duty of defending the distinction of Maine lobsters. And Zabar is doing its duty of maintaining its own sterling reputation.
Mr. Zabar might consider one further step. Zabar’s online recipe for lobster fritters, which calls for “cooked lobster meat, cleaned and small diced,” would be even better if it specified “Maine lobster” in the ingredients and title.