Enea Bacci has run Lobster Landing since 1995 with his wife, Cathie. In a 2016 interview with the Hartford Courant, he said the “O” on the front sign slipped out of place years ago, but when he went to fix it, Cathie stopped him. “Don’t you touch it,” she said. “It’s beautiful.’”Photo Credit : Allegra Anderson
Connecticut can lay credible claim to having invented the lobster roll, or at least to having recorded its invention. In the mid-to-late 1920s, Harry Perry stuffed some buttered lobster meat into a split-top bun at his namesake Milford eatery, Perry’s, and thus the hot buttered roll was born. For years afterward, Perry’s hung a sign that read, “Home of the Famous Lobster Roll.” Over time, though, Maine would grab the branding rights.
But here’s a consolation: One of the best lobster rolls in New England is made at Lobster Landing, a 100-year-old lobster shack and seafood market perched on pilings over Long Island Sound. It’s a decidedly rustic gem, a relic from Connecticut’s peak lobstering era. The worn white shingles and red trim, the homey wooden sign with the “O” tilting into the “L,” the tangle of fishing net by the front door—it all makes this feel more like midcoast Maine than Clinton, Connecticut, a town best known for its outlet mall.
This authenticity is the first secret of Lobster Landing’s success. You can sit on the dock on a warm summer day and breathe salt air while eating lobster meat that was caught right in the sound. Even with the crash of the local lobster industry (down from 3.7 million pounds landed in 1998 to about 200,000 pounds in recent years), owner Enea Bacci can usually source enough meat from his dedicated team of eight boats to supply the restaurant through the summer.
The second secret is Bacci himself, a bespectacled, bearded bon vivant and native of Piemonte, Italy. Sporting his trademark red bandana, he looks a bit like Santa after a Key West wellness retreat. His customers glow in his presence.
The third and final secret is Bacci’s most critical asset. He has analyzed every facet of the lobster roll with the meticulousness of a jeweler, and every roll is perfectly considered. He forgoes the traditional split-top bun for a fluffy sub-style roll from Vermont, which gets buttered and griddled on the inside. “The bread is very important,” Bacci says. “When you take a roll in your hand, it shouldn’t fall apart.” Lobsters are par-cooked, shucked, and portioned. Then the meat is bagged and gently, gently warmed in a saltwater bath that becomes enriched with lobster juices as the day goes on. “After a couple of hours, it’s almost like a bisque,” he says. The meat is drained and packed into the bun, then lightly drizzled with butter that has been melted in a double boiler (“a hot flame releases an acidity in butter that is detrimental”). To finish, the lightest touch of lemon—“just a little squeeze,” he says. “You wouldn’t even know.”
Contrast this approach with the hot-and-buttered industry standard, which is to take fully cooked meat and toss it into a hot pan with butter. “The meat automatically becomes hard,” Bacci says, sounding a little grieved. “The flame is too high. It’s against my policy.”
For all these reasons, the crowds continue to come up from New York and down from Boston and from much farther afield, long after the pleasure cruisers in the marina next door have been shrink-wrapped for the winter. The typical season runs from mid-April through New Year’s Eve, and a large on-site party tent and some patio heaters offer a makeshift dining room. (At the time of this writing, Bacci was hoping to be able to reopen the restaurant sometime in May, pending state approval.)
It’s such a perfect little place that it squeezes the heart. There’s a German word, fernweh, that describes a feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never been. Lobster Landing evokes those long-ago days when the whole coast was lined with little white shacks. May no storm wash it away. May the crowds keep coming.
Lobster Landing 152 Commerce St., Clinton, CT. 860-669-2005; Facebook