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Thanks to an invitation from the friendly folks at the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, I was lucky enough to enjoy a visit to The Clam Shack in Kennebunk, Maine, on a picture-perfect late-summer day in 2015, complete with a behind-the-scenes tour and (what else?) lobster roll lunch. Here’s how it looked!
Located on the bridge over the Kennebunk River that connects Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, The Clam Shack‘s address is almost always listed as Kennebunkport, but if you take a close look at a map, you’ll see their location in Lower Village on the west side of the bridge technically puts them in Kennebunk.
Regardless of the town (we’re fans of both), the service and offerings at the Clam Shack and its next-door Seafood Market are terrific. The winner of numerous accolades and awards (including more than a few from Yankee), the Clam Shack is a regular winner at Tasting Table’s Lobster Roll Rumble, a NYC-based competition featuring 25 of the nation’s best lobster rolls.
The story goes that the Shack first opened in 1968, rented on a handshake, but current owner Steve Kingston has been manning both the shack and the market since 2000, and it’s immediately clear that he loves his job.
After a few deep breaths of coastal Maine air, we skipped the line at the shack and headed straight into the market. Open since 1938, it’s one of the oldest continuously operated seafood markets in Maine.
Inside is all warm wood, fresh seafood, and an assortment of Clam Shack and lobster-branded souvenirs. The colorful stools pictured below were recently painted to match the buoys of some of the local fishermen. How cool is that?
Walk up to the counter, look down, and you’re immediately face-to-shell with a tank of Maine lobsters.
And, if you’re lucky, you’ll look up to meet owner Steve Kingston himself. We were fortunate enough to get a personal welcome from Steve, and a brief overview of how the Shack makes its lobster roll magic.
All of their lobsters are brought in from nearby Cape Porpoise Harbor, steamed in local seawater, hand-picked, and kept chilled on ice until it’s time to roll.
In the rear of the market is the room where the lobsters are kept in fresh seawater tanks filled with water from the Kennebunk River, and the where they’re eventually steamed.
Basically, the room is Steve’s kitchen, and it’s everything you’d hope the heartbeat of a lobster operation would be — worn wood, hot stone, large and roomy tanks, bubbling kettles, melted butter, the glow of afternoon sunlight, and the smell of sea air.
They weren’t doing any steaming during our visit, but Steve gave us a closer look at a few of the lobsters in the tank, which foamed and roiled like a hotel whirlpool.
And then it was time for what we’d been patiently waiting for — lunch! As we sat out in the sunshine with charming dockside views, Steve first delivered a platter heaped with tender fried clams, haddock, and large, juicy scallops.
As you might have guessed from the name, the fried clams at The Clam Shack are one of its signature offerings, and also not to be missed. In his post for Yankee Magazine listing the 10 Best Fried Clams in New England, author and expert Mike Urban revealed that “Kennebunkport resident and former First Lady Barbara Bush declares these to be the best fried clams in the world.”
I could have happily eaten just that, but then the belles of the ball, the Clam Shack lobster rolls, began to arrive. (Note: you can buy fresh lobsters in the market, but rolls are ordered at the shack.) In another of his lists, this time the 10 Best Lobster Rolls in New England, Urban sums up the Clam Shack roll perfectly:
This is the best lobster roll in the six-state region. Owner Steve Kingston’s meticulous use of fresh-daily, soft shell lobsters and chilling each handpicked order on ice creates a freshness of flavor unmatched anywhere. Served on toasted, buttered hamburger-style buns from a local bakery, the Clam Shack’s cold-meat rolls may be had with mayonnaise or warm butter. This is the lobster roll by which all others should be measured.
Now that’s a ringing endorsement! Even without the (almost always) required top-split New England-style hot dog bun, this lobster roll has managed to win over the hearts and stomachs of lobster-lovers everywhere.
As Mike noted, the Clam Shack offers their lobster rolls with butter, mayo, or a combination of the two — the shack’s unofficial signature style. Here, the buttered rolls toasted, topped with 5 ounces of fresh lobster meat and drizzled with more butter. Then the underside of the top roll gets a generous spread of mayo (the meat itself is never tossed with mayo) and is placed on top of the meat. A wedge of lemon, and it’s ready to eat.
The resulting sandwich deserves the hype. Thanks to the Shack’s commitment to quality, simple sandwich approach, and lobster meat that (to quote the Shack’s t-shirts) is “so shucking fresh” you can’t image ever settling for anything else, the Clam Shack lobster roll is, without a doubt, one of the best in New England.
Living far away and can’t visit in person? Not to worry. The Clam Shack will ship lobster roll kits or 2 lbs. of fresh-picked lobster meat directly to your door.
Have you ever visited The Clam Shack in Kennebunk, Maine?
The Clam Shack. 2 Western Avenue, Kennebunk, ME. 207-967-3321; theclamshack.netSpecial thanks to the MLMC and The Clam Shack for a wonderful visit!This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.