SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
Working in a food business often means nights, weekends, and holidays spent working long hours on the low-end of the pay spectrum, so it can be difficult to get out and travel. Some side effects of that include the tendency to gorge every chance you have to try something new and obsessively plan out meals every time you travel.
They call it research and development, people. How else am I supposed to learn and stay inspired?! A picture may be worth a thousand words, but rarely more than a bite.
I'm in that life stage when great many a weekend off is spent traveling to a wedding. A reason to gather with family and friends from near and far? To eat, drink, and dance? That ain't so bad but wedding timelines are often so tight, it can be difficult to find time for exploring or experiencing unfamiliar foods in uncharted territory.
I recently flew from Nashville to Boston for a wedding in North Hampton, New Hampshire. North Hampton is a small coastal town about 13-miles from the New Hampshire-Maine border. I was sad to stay so close to Portland, Maine – a dream destination of mine – without enough time to visit. As soon as I stopped pouting, my friends and I set out to find the best lobster roll within driving distance of our beach house, and I put my regrets to rest.
We drove north from North Hampton to Kittery, Maine just across the border, and worked our way back down the coast. An Internet search en route pointed us towards a favorite local spot that turned out to be closed when we arrived. Disappointed but not defeated, we stepped into a coffee shop on the same block and the baristas pointed us to Robert’s and Bob’s – a lobster house and clam shack on opposing sides of the same street.
We started at Robert’s – a grand two-story space with a deck overlooking the inter-coastal waterway. The menu was an exceedingly tempting selection of local oysters, clams, lobster, and craft beers. We limited ourselves to one cup of clam chowder and one foot-long lobster roll ($29) – half Maine-style (cold with mayo) and half Connecticut-style (hot with butter). The generous chunks of lobster meat were nicely cooked and expertly dressed atop a delicious split-top roll. Maine-style was the favorite at our table – firm, sweet, and salty – with just enough mayonnaise and no additional garnish.
Next stop – Bob’s! Turns out, Bob’s shares an owner with Robert’s – go figure! Bob’s menu was larger and less expensive, with counter service in a bustling roadside environment. We went for the lobster roll – similar preparation, more casual presentation, and a lower price tag ($18.95). A+.
After Bob’s, we cruised back down to New Hampshire on Route 1A, soaking up the coastal scenery. Our next stop was Justin’s Seafood Hut in Rye. Justin’s offered a smaller, Maine-style lobster roll ($5) and fish tacos, among other New England roadside standards. Apart from the size, the most significant difference was the taste and texture of the lobster meat. The lobster was broken into smaller pieces and lacked the salinity of the Robert’s roll. It was also dressed with lettuce and a looser dressing. My guess is they bought their meat cooked, cleaned, and packed fresh – not live, cooked, and cleaned on site – which makes sense given the price.
Our last stop was the Beach Plum, back in North Hampton on 1A. The Beach Plum is another roadside stand with plenty of options. I was turning red by this point, so I opted for an ice cream (the largest small I’ve ever seen) instead of another roll. My friend got one final roll – an 8-oz Premium Hard Shell Maine-style lobster roll ($21.99). The Beach Plum roll was somewhere between Bob’s and Justin’s. The meat resembled lobster salad, like Justin’s but with better texture and flavor. My friend said this was his favorite – mine was Robert’s.
With a short but memorable road trip under our belts, we made it back in time for the wedding and had a great time, in spite of my disappointment in missing out on Portland. We even managed to put down some raw oysters en route to the Boston airport the next day.
In sum, here are some tips for attacking the weekend with the enthusiasm and fervor the couple deserves, while managing some time for yourself:
1. Extend the trip: If you have some flexibility in your schedule, why not stay an extra day? Flying there and back on off-days may result in less expensive flights, reserving excess cash for meals and an additional night in the hotel. If an additional night in the hotel is off the table, find a friend or relative in the area that can put you up, just be prepared to invite them along.
2. Plan ahead: If you're not careful, you could spend a lot of your downtime equivocating, driving aimlessly, or worse – eating bad food! Ask the bride and groom their favorite places to eat or, if they're tied up, ask a local, take a social media poll, or look online for recommendations. I like to map out each place that I’m interested in prior to my visit so I can hit several destinations, on one strategically planned route, without doubling back or ending up in rush hour traffic. Google Maps is great for this – do it on your desktop, then send it to yourself or sync it with your phone.
3. Focus on local favorites: Start your research with one item in mind, then try three or four places that the locals love. By visiting a handful of spots in different neighborhoods, with various price points, you can find your favorite and discover some local flavor along the way. This strategy is especially good in regions with products or techniques that are unique to the area.
4. Don't be afraid to explore: Between the rehearsal dinner, the wedding, and the brunch, you'll have plenty of time to catch up with friends and family, so get out and take advantage.
5. Always take the scenic route! If time allows, take the road less traveled. If not, take it at least one way.
6. Sleep when you're dead.