The Dish: Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls
May 18, 2015 12:06PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
188 Main Street, Annapolis
410-280-2254 • masonslobster.com
Article and Photography by Rita Calvert
Dan Beck, co-owner with his wife of the recently opened Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls in Annapolis, answers our questions about what makes an authentic Maine lobster roll, the sustainable lobster fishery, and, of course, how his restaurant concept came to fruition.
What makes a lobster roll “classic”?
No mayonnaise, but butter instead?
Is the warm lobster roll still considered classic?
There are a few versions of lobster rolls in Maine. The “classic” is served on a split top New England frankfurter roll—Country Kitchen brand—grilled and buttered on both sides with just a swipe of mayo, chilled lobster meat drizzled with lemon butter, and topped with celery salt and black pepper. You can find this all over Maine and it is my personal favorite. The roll, the lobster meat, and the process are most important. We also serve a lobster salad roll where the meat is tossed in mayo, lemon juice and celery, as well as the Connecticut variety, which is just lobster meat heated in warm butter.
On your website, it is stated that all lobsters from the Southern Gulf of Maine are certified sustainable by the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Program. Can you explain what “sustainable” means in the world of lobsters?
Monterey Bay Seafood Watch is a science-based recommendation on which seafood to eat or to avoid due to decreased population, to overfishing, or other factors. The North American Lobster population in the Gulf of Maine has been steadily increasing for the last 20 years. The population of lobster in Southern New England has been decreasing in recent years, although there is disagreement if this is because of overfishing or a recent shell disease. Therefore, Gulf of Maine lobster are certified sustainable while Southern New England are classified “avoid.”
Most of us have seen pictures of a lobster pot. On a commercial scale, how are lobsters caught? What is the bait?
Maine lobsters are caught both from large 40–50 foot boats and those similar to crab boats in Maryland using traps made out of wire mesh. The smaller boats set traps seasonally in the harbors and near shore and generally don't fish in the winter due to ice. Larger boats fish offshore and are able to fish year round. Although once made of wood, the lobster traps today are made out of wire mesh and are divided into compartments or “rooms.” There is a cone shaped “door” designed to be a one-way entry which leads to the first room called the "kitchen," because it has a bag of bait—usually herring fish—tied in it. Looking for a way to escape this room, the lobsters go through another one-way door which leads to the “parlor” or “bedroom” where they are trapped. The “bedroom” has a small opening or escape hatch designed to be big enough for juvenile lobster to escape. Our lobsters are steamed and picked at Ready Seafood in the Old Port in Portland, Maine. They are trucked to the seafood wharf in Boston in the afternoon, and then travel overnight by refrigerated 18-wheelers to the Maryland Wholesale Seafood Market in Jessup, Maryland, six days a week.
Did your Mason’s concept of using fishing boats in Maine originate in another area? Do you have other locations? How did you come upon the concept and decide to open a location in Annapolis?
In addition to having a healthy population, Maine lobsters are considered to have superior taste. Although lobsters are caught from Cape Hatteras to Nova Scotia, it is said that the climate, water temp and rocky bottom in the Gulf of Maine are ideal for the North American lobster, which produces a sweeter lobster than other areas. I was a shellfish wholesaler in the Washington DC/Baltimore area and due to sustainable healthy population, lobster was one of the more consistently available products on a year-round basis. People often ask me why I would open a lobster business in a crab town. Anyone in the commercial seafood business can tell you that the future of Maryland Blue Crab is uncertain and the price and availability both fluctuate wildly. Once only really known in New England, the lobster roll is starting to make its way out into the rest of America. I noticed this selling to restaurants in Washington. I travel to Maine every year when I visit my supplier in Portland and also bring back Moxie Soda [only available in New England] for the shop. I live in Annapolis and love downtown and after driving long distances as a wholesaler, I am enjoying the short commute.
Do tell about the nutritional benefits of lobster. I had no idea lobster has fewer calories and saturated fat than both chicken and turkey.
Lobster has less calories, less total fat, and less cholesterol [based on 100 grams of cooked product] than lean beef, whole poached eggs, and even roasted, skinless chicken breast. Anyone who has spent time in Maine knows how clean and clear the water is. This is what always impresses me, knowing that what you are eating is coming from such unpolluted waters.
How did you develop the other items on your menu?
We are trying to recreate a Maine roadside lobster stand with a few original additions. Our Maryland crab roll is made with Maryland jumbo lump crab during the season. [Using Alabama crab in the winter when the local season is closed.] It is our tribute to our local area. When one of my suppliers came to visit from Maine I wanted to hear what he thought of our lobster roll, but all he could do was rave about the crab roll with the Maryland jumbo lump crabmeat, which he had never tasted before. One of our most popular items is our New England clam chowder, a time honored recipe. We originally were using Maine red shrimp in our Shrimp Roll but the fishery has been closed due to overfishing. We are currently using the similarly sweet, yet salty rock shrimp from Florida. In the winter, we serve lobster mac ‘n cheese and we also have kids’ items.
Mason’s has been called a “grab & go” kind of food spot. Do you plan to a café with seating?
We actually have 20 seats plus sidewalk seating and we do a good business lunch due to our proximity to the courts, the state legislature, and downtown offices. We see a lot of locals in the evenings. About 65–70 percent of our business is eat-in.
Do you own Mason’s alone? How did you come to open the business?
My wife and I own Mason’s and it is named after our four-year-old son. My wife is from Annapolis. Previous to us moving here in 2011, I owned restaurants on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.