In the third installment of Bear Bites, Jasper and Ben are joined by their friend Griffin Kardos to tackle the New England Lobster Market and Eatery in Burlingame.
The New England Lobster Market and Eatery is, as its name suggests, a lobster market and eatery. When we entered the establishment, visible from the street with its huge domed-warehouse aesthetic belied by pastel blues and reds, we were immediately assaulted by the decoration: lobsters, everywhere, from paintings to life-size models pasted on the walls.
To the left of the entrance is the wholesale section, where you can buy lobsters or crab by the pound, from one-pound lobsters up to six-pound behemoths boasting a height and reach advantage over most small children. If I ever were to set up an underground toddler-crustacean fight club, I know where to go.
They keep the lobsters in water-filled tanks, and the rushing noise of the water feeding through a series of tubes is actually quite calming, if pervasive. I did have to prevent Ben from trying to play with the lobsters, though — perhaps a safety mesh of some sort would have been advisable.
The centerpiece of the eatery is, of course, the restaurant itself. We tore our eyes away reluctantly from the massive wooden menu — the food would have to wait. First, we would be treated to a tour of the facilities, courtesy of the wonderful assistant manager, who seemed remarkably happy even when he learned that he would have the chore of escorting a handful of teenage boys through the “tank house,” the attached warehouse-esque building where they keep the lobsters.
He led us through the back door, and I felt quite professional when he handed me, Ben, and Griffin pairs of teal gloves that I quickly put on with the obligatory flourish and wrist snap.
The New England Lobster Company lives up to its name. It flies in lobsters from Maine every single day, mostly smaller ones (less than one and a half to two pounds), although they keep lobsters up to and exceeding six pounds.
Six pounds might not seem like a lot, but six pounds of scale and exoskeleton in one big red package, waving at least a dozen antennae and other appendages around with abandon, takes up quite a lot of space. All of these lobsters are kept in the tank house before they are either served at the eatery, or, more commonly, shipped to numerous locations all across the bay.
The inside of the tank house contained what seemed to be a miniature ocean, bounded by knee-high concrete walls to create a kind of massive, raised swimming pool. Affixed to a green cord running along the length of the pool were the big plastic crates in which the lobsters were kept, and our guide let us open the crates and pick up some lobsters.
We, of course, chose the largest ones — how often do you get to hold a six-pound lobster? — and held them in gloved hands, dumb smiles plastered all over our faces. When I tried, the segmented plates of its abdomen kept clamping around my hand and the little claw-y arms on its belly (which I have been informed were actually its legs — I disagree) nipped me repeatedly.
Ben and Griffin had no such trouble, and I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be able to handle lobsters as well as they could when it started attempting to punch me with its tiny claw-hands. We packed the lobsters back up, and our guide led us back to the main building. With the most adventurous — and most fun — chapter of Bear Bites’ long and storied history concluded, we sat down to eat.
When I first entered the restaurant and glanced at the menu, I was hit by a bit of sticker shock; while the eatery’s prices were by no means excessive, neither were they cheap, especially for a student such as myself, with the average entrée sitting between $20 and $25. I despaired, very briefly, realizing that I would have to put myself further into debt to my friend Jasper. Keeping that in mind, and knowing my friends would be buying sandwiches, I decided to explore the “Small Plates” section of the menu.
After a brief deliberation, I decided to buy the crab nachos and a crab cake slider, and as an afterthought, assured by Jasper’s financial backing, I threw in a Maine root beer too. When the food was delivered to us, it came to my surprise that the term “Small Plates” was very much a misnomer. The nachos alone were the largest of all our plates, and the crabcake “slider” was, in fact, closer to a full-size burger.
In the wake of my recent encounter, I decided I wanted a pet lobster. While the crustaceans may not be conventionally cute, as I lifted it up to head level to pose for a picture, the urge to hug the glorified sea bug was difficult to resist.
After we left the tank house and headed back to the restaurant area to order, I developed a soft spot in my heart for the clawed ocean cockroaches. That said, if there is one thing I loved more than playing with lobsters, it is eating lobsters. To avoid the guilt of potentially devouring the lobster I held minutes prior, I decided to compromise my ideals and order a crab melt, with a side of rough cut potato chips and a Maine root beer to wash it all down.
Immediately after ordering my food, I found myself faced with a dilemma; Did I want to eat inside or outside? On one hand, my feeble Californian nature left me ill-equipped to handle the slightly chilly 60° weather outside, but on the other hand, I was a relatively loud person, to say the least, and I didn’t want to make any new enemies. I finally decided to eat inside, however, upon snapping out of my thought palace, I realized Jasper took advantage of my mesmerized state to slowly lead me to a table outside. About ten minutes passed and the food was probably well on its way, so I accepted my situation and settled to stay put.
I like eating food. I believe that this fact has been made very clear. I especially like seafood, including lobster — that’s why I picked New England Lobster Market and Eatery. In other words, the amount of money we spent buying lobster and lobster-related products (Ben seriously considered purchasing a live lobster and bringing it home. I do not know why…) can be directly attributed to me. I don’t regret it in the least.
If you try to get cheap lobster, you deserve what you get — uh, cheap lobster, mostly, unless you live in Maine. I would also like to point out that Ben volunteered my credit card for use to fund this endeavor, as we were ordering. The lobster roll I purchased, however, was well worth the price. It was slightly smaller than I hoped, but my expectations might have been raised by the massive lobster that had just assaulted me; looking back, it was at least as large, if not larger, than most lobster rolls at that price point.
When the food arrived, I was awestruck. It looked glorious. The bread brushed to a glowing sheen with butter, was toasted to a perfectly golden-brown crunch, and was not at all soggy, unlike many lobster rolls I’ve had in the past. The lobster was excellent, as you’d expect from a place based entirely around lobster, but it was even better than I thought it’d be.
I don’t remember the last time I’ve had really good lobster and, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to describe the lobster any way other than buttery, smooth, and perfection in a roll. There was in fact so much lobster heaped high on the roll that it repeatedly tumbled off, although I’d chalk that down more to my own incompetence than any issues with the lobster roll itself. Scrabbling around my tray for the shreds of lobster might have seemed undignified, but it was worth it.
The roll itself also came with a side of coleslaw, which I will not judge as I do not eat vegetables or anything green not called mint ice cream, and a serving of potato chips. The potato chips were great, as well (I sense a trend), but definitely not your standard Lays. No. These chips were hefty — an eighth of an inch thick at least — and oily enough to have that yellow, semi-transparent luster that you sometimes get.
I think I can say, without any reservations, that this was the best meal I’ve had in a very long time.
Not knowing quite how to begin, I dug into the crab nachos. To say that it satisfied my expectations would be a great understatement; up until that point, my experience eating crab had been, for the most part, limited to the fake crab used to make California rolls. But no Safeway sushi could compare to what I experienced from our nachos.
The crab seemed to melt in my mouth, and the smooth, savory taste perfectly complemented the many other flavors in the nachos, and the black beans and corn salsa perfected the chips. With that encouragement, I decided to move on to my crab cake slider. But even with my expectations raised to incredible levels, the crab cake still managed to impress.
The crab cake was served on a bun, with some sort of secret sauce. I would highly recommend making use of the lemon provided to squeeze onto the crab, to add that last bit of sour to contrast with the flavor of the crab. Altogether, I found both of my dishes perfect for my taste and having made my first impressions, I settled into the full meal.
Normally, in the course of eating, my better judgment and common sense would tell me that as soon as I became full, and my stomach hit capacity, that I should quit eating and pack up leftovers for later, or at least slowdown and pace myself. But at New England Lobster, I found that same advice terribly hard to follow; in the end, gluttonous impulses, urged on by the delicious flavors, would prevail over any sensibility, and I quickly devoured both my dishes, leaving behind little evidence that a crab cake or crab nachos were ever there in the first place.
Sadly the swiftness of my meal was not enough to prevent a minor tragedy; I noticed that Ben had begun to eye my nachos, salivating, perhaps, at the sight of the house-made chips, coated in melted jack cheese and salsa verde, and loaded high with black beans, corn, and of course, delicious crab. Thinking on my feet, I tried bringing out the old joke “What do you call cheese that’s not yours? Nacho cheese!”
Unfortunately, the subtlety of my wit was lost on Ben, who grabbed the chip covered most with all the toppings, and proceeded to eat it in front of me, displaying not the slightest shred of remorse—such an action that I should think, were we not such good friends, would have ended any pretense of congeniality between us. But even with that one incident to mar an otherwise flawless meal, and in spite of my initial trepidations about price, I found the meal well worth the cost, and I left New England Lobster incredibly satisfied. And I certainly look forward to returning there in the future.
The server soon emerged with my food, and as my mouthwatering melt was set down in front of me, I could barely wait to dig in. After snapping a couple preliminary pictures, I had to decide whether I wanted to eat the chips or the sandwich first.
As appealing as the juicy Dungeness crab peeking out from under the toasted crust of the bread was, I ultimately chose to eat my chips first for the sole reason that I could steal as much of Griffin’s nacho topping as possible before he ate it all.
To Griffin’s dismay, I rapidly went to work on devouring my meal, and a good portion of his too, justifying my gluttony as only fair considering the cost of gas I used driving all the way to Burlingame and back (I know, I’m a bad person). While the chips alone were delectable, the nachos were, frankly, like crack.
As I shoved crab covered chips into my mouth at an alarming pace, my mind, body, and soul found themselves all united in the common goal of eating as many chips as possible. The once mountainous plate of crab nachos rapidly dwindled, and before long I was wiping scores of chip crumbs off of my shirt and lips. To wash down my unsettlingly large hors d’oeuvre, I took a hearty swig of my Maine root beer, savoring the sharp sweet punch of the soda.
After I cleaned my plate of chips, I turned my sights to the focus of my meal, my crab melt. After removing the tomatoes that polluted my dish, I took the first bite. While the crunchy lettuce and sharp cheddar were a welcome guest on my palate, the crab (obviously) was the star of the show.
The soft, sweet, tender masses of crab meat pulled cleanly apart as I dined, with each juicy and succulent piece melting over my tongue. I can confidently say it was some of the best crab I have ever eaten. I passionately wolfed the entire sandwich down in a matter of minutes despite its size, not stopping until every sliver of divine white crab meat had disappeared from my plate.
I dug my fork into what I thought was a shrimp salad and stuffed a heaping handful into my mouth, excited to continue my fishy meal. To my utter horror, as my mouth closed around my forkful of food and my tongue was coated with an overpowering, vile flavor, I realized I had made a huge mistake — what I had just eaten was not a shrimp salad, it was sauerkraut. I really, really, really hate sauerkraut.
What happened next is best left to the imagination, as to describe it in words would likely not be school appropriate. That said, I will concede that the cabbage-y concoction never made it past my mouth. For those of you who somehow find the taste of sauerkraut enjoyable, I am sorry to say that, as evidenced by the previous anecdote, I am far from an unbiased judge, but given the quality of the rest of the food, I think it is safe to guess that all the sauerkraut aficionados of the world would likely not be disappointed.
For any seafood lovers who lament the lack of high-quality lobster in California, look no further — the New England Lobster Market and Eatery is the place for you! While fairly pricey, lobster and crab are relatively expensive commodities where we live, and considering the quality of the food, I wouldn’t be deterred. For an excellent seafood feast, make the short drive to Burlingame and give the New England Lobster Market and Eatery a try; you won’t regret it!