If there was ever a doubt about Maine’s place in the lobster industry, the annual Lobster Roll Rumble in New York City next month seals the deal.
More than 1,000 seafood aficionados will flock to the city to choose America’s best lobster sandwich from 20 competitors. Since the rumble’s inception, Maine food purveyors have dominated.
The Clam Shack of Kennebunkport claimed the competition’s prestigious fan favorite prize at last year’s event, the third organized by influential foodie news distributer Tasting Table. The previous two years, the Rumble’s most coveted title was taken home by Luke Holden, a Cape Elizabeth native who’s turned heads with his chain of Luke’s Lobster eateries in the New York and Washington, D.C., areas.
These strong finishes arrive as the lobster roll undergoes a renaissance in fine dining circles. The famed seafood sandwich is enjoying renewed attention from celebrity chefs and food television of late.
“The Tasting Table Lobster Roll Rumble is an amazing opportunity to show New Yorkers and trendsetting foodies what we in Maine already know — there is only one Maine lobster and the flavor is impossible to beat,” said Marianne LaCroix, acting director of the Maine Lobster Council, an organization that promotes the state’s signature seafood.
This year four Maine-based operations — Portland’s Eventide Oyster Co., Bite Into Maine in Cape Elizabeth and The Galley Restaurant & Pub in Naples — join reigning champ The Clam Shack in the Big Apple. They are among a field of contestants hand-picked by Tasting Table editors.
Many others, including Luke’s Lobster, the California-based Cousins Maine Lobster and Red Hook Lobster Pound of New York, are run by Maine natives or folks with close family ties to the state.
Even chefs without any direct connection to Maine consider the state’s beloved crustacean their best shot at being crowned the country’s lobster roll king, said Tasting Table spokeswoman Samantha Bernstein.
“A lot of our contestants boast that they fly in fresh Maine lobster, so I think everybody tries to have some kind of tie to the region,” she said.
Bernstein said the Lobster Roll Rumble is Tasting Table’s marquee event. Even with a $163-plus ticket price and more tickets added this year, the showdown sold out in a few weeks.
Such popularity comes as no surprise considering the play lobster rolls are getting on top-television programs.
Cousins Maine Lobster founders Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac found stardom as successful participants on ABC’s “Shark Tank” last year.
The Travel Channel’s Adam Richman declared The Galley’s zesty-lemon lobster roll the ultimate on his series “Best Sandwich in America.”
Steve Kingston, owner of The Clam Shack, used a combination of mayo and butter for a lobster roll that won Travel Channel’s “Food Wars,” two years before taking the successful condiment to New York for a Lobster Roll Rumble title run.
“We have a very good reputation as a regional icon, and we’re starting to grow as a national icon,” Kingston said. “We’ve done a few different shows on Food Network and Travel Channel and the Cooking Channel, and part of that has gotten us in the conversation to be invited [to the Lobster Roll Rumble]. Barbara Lynch, John Doherty, Marc Murphy — all these celebrity chefs have some version of a seafood restaurant or oyster bar, and all of them have some version of a lobster roll. These are major players with a lot of influence.”
While The Clam Shack is seeking its second straight Rumble championship, as voted on by the 1,300 event attendees, the food truck Bite Into Maine has the distinction of being the smallest operation to be invited to the exclusive competition.
Co-owners Karl and Sarah Sutton launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $5,500 necessary to cover their trip to Manhattan. They said the 8-by-10-foot booth they’ll be assigned at the Metropolitan Pavilion is larger than their 72-square-foot mobile eatery.
“We’re tiny,” said Karl Sutton. “Win or lose, this is a great way to showcase ourselves.”
And, Maine lobster advocates say, it’s a great way to shine light on the state’s best-known delicacy.
“Maine has repeatedly dominated the Tasting Table Lobster Roll Rumble,” LaCroix said. “Clearly, people adore the signature Maine lobster flavor and appreciate the great respect our chefs show for this product.”
The Lobster Roll Rumble is June 6 in New York City. For more information visit http://www.tastingtable.com.