A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip out to Cape Cod to visit with friends — a summer sojourn that’s quickly becoming an annual tradition.
Each year, there are one or two more additions to our group — new friends, new babies, new dogs — but the routine stays mostly the same: reading and napping, swimming in lakes, drinking lots of rose and getting our hands on as many lobster rolls as possible.
I love my friends. But half the reason I make the trek every year is for those New England-style lobster rolls — heaps of sweet claw meat dressed with mayonnaise, maybe a little celery and a squeeze of lemon.
This year, I didn’t quite hit my lobster limit, and upon my return to Florida, I was still hankering for more. But Tampa Bay isn’t exactly known for the Northeast specialty. Stone crab? You bet. Grouper sandwiches? No problem. But cold water crustaceans stuffed into fluffy rolls, either tossed in drawn butter or slathered in mayonnaise? I hadn’t come across more than a few noteworthy ones.
I decided to crowdsource this conundrum, posing this question to readers in my weekly newsletter: Where can I get a good lobster roll in Tampa Bay?
The response was swift: Within minutes, my email inbox was filling up with suggestions. Turns out I’m not the only one with a fondness for the dish: There are, in fact, plenty of places to get a great lobster roll.
Guy Cote runs one of them. A former high school teacher and author, the Maine native hatched the idea for his lobster roll stand in 2012. He’s now a regular on the Tampa Bay farmers market and festival circuit, sometimes even selling out because the demand is so high.
“I’ve grown up eating lobster and it’s always been my favorite food,” he said.
At his lobster stand Maine-iacs, Cote serves Connecticut- and New England-style rolls. The former features lobster meat sauteed in butter, served on a grilled and buttered bun. The Maine-iac roll — which Cote says is the fan favorite — is modeled in the characteristic New England-style preparation, where cold hunks of lobster meat are tossed with mayonnaise, herbs, spices and lemon juice on a bun.
Though Cote is currently taking a break for the summer, he’ll be back at the markets in September. He hopes that by then the cost of lobster will have dropped a bit — lobster has always been a pricey commodity, but inflation has pushed prices higher than ever. When he started his business 10 years ago, his rolls went for $10. Now, they’re upwards of $20.
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“The price of lobster is higher now than I’ve ever seen it,” Cote said.
Cote’s rolls are still considerably cheaper than some others in the area, with the average price falling somewhere between $25 and $30. He says he hopes he can make up for his shrinking margins with volume.
At more upscale restaurants, including Bon Appétit and Lucky Lobster Co. in Dunedin, lobster rolls hover around the $34 mark.
“They say everything fluctuates, depending on the time of year, but not this year,” said Lucky Lobster Co. owner Tom Murphy. “Lobster meat just goes up, up and up.”
But the price hikes don’t appear to be doing much to curb sales: Lobster rolls are still among the bestselling dishes at restaurants where they’re featured, including Murphy’s.
Keep in mind when looking at this list and planning your next meal that prices will likely continue to fluctuate.
16 spots to get a lobster roll in Tampa Bay
The restaurant’s signature lobster roll ($19) features steamed lobster meat on a toasted New England roll with melted butter.
100 Main St., Suite 101, Safety Harbor. 727-400-4790. barflyfishingbar.com.
1026 Nebraska Ave., Palm Harbor. 727-351-5151. barflyfishingbar.com.
The waterfront Tarpon Springs restaurant imbues plenty of Old Florida charm with a casual seafood-forward menu and a choice of either Maine-style ($18) or hot, buttered ($20) lobster rolls.
607 Island Drive, Tarpon Springs. 727-940-6120. bayoubistroandtiki.com.
400 Beach Seafood & Tap House
The New England lobster roll at this downtown St. Petersburg mainstay is served with citrus aioli and lemon on toasted brioche (market price).
400 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. 727-896-2400. 400beachseafood.com.
The Boardwalk Grill
People come to this John’s Pass boardwalk restaurant for the thick-cut fries and overstuffed lobster rolls, served New England-style with piles of claw and knuckle meat paired with celery and mayonnaise, served with lettuce on a grilled roll (market price).
204 John’s Pass Boardwalk E, Madeira Beach. 727-391-8947 facebook.com/theboardwalkgrill.
The Dunedin restaurant’s Maine Lobster Festival menu features an open-faced lobster roll with a fresh fruit side for $34.
148 Marina Plaza, Dunedin. 727-733-2151. bonappetitrestaurant.com.
DJ’s Clam Shack
This East Coast-inspired seafood spot sits tucked away in an Indian Shores strip mall but can draw a big crowd, especially for their Maine-style lobster rolls. A regular-sized roll with coleslaw will run you $24 while the “overstuffed” jumbo version costs $39.
19705 Gulf Blvd., Suite A, Indian Shores. 727-474-7407. djsclamshack.com.
The St. Pete Beach cafe and seafood market is known for lobster rolls served in cigar boxes, where hunks of lobster are tossed in a key lime aioli and served on a toasted roll for $28.
7736 Blind Pass Road, St. Pete Beach. 727-363-4356. helmtampabay.com.
The popular food truck sources lobster from Maine and keeps a busy schedule, popping up all over the Tampa Bay area. Rolls are served with either mayonnaise or butter for $22.
A trip over the Sunshine Skyway bridge is worth the trek for the massive lobster rolls served at this Connecticut-based chain, which recently opened off St. Armands Circle. The spot serves a long list of variations beyond the classic rolls, from lobster BLTs ($31) to lobster tacos ($28) to the Heat Wave, a hot lobster roll drizzled with serrano pepper and habanero-spiced butter on a toasted bun ($30).
28A S Boulevard of the Presidents, St. Armands Circle, Sarasota. 941-346-6325. lobstercraft.com.
The East Coast-inspired seafood market and restaurant features Maine-style lobster rolls with mayonnaise, lettuce and a quarter pound of Maine lobster ($25.99). The Connecticut-style “Ucon” rolls are served warm and drenched in hot butter ($25.99).
12807 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa. 813-855-2888. lobsterhaven.net.
Lucky Lobster Co.
The No. 1 seller at this Dunedin restaurant is the Connecticut-style lobster roll, made with Maine lobster, served on a bun with warm, drawn butter. The New England-style version is a close second, made with mayonnaise, onions and celery. Both are $34.50.
941 Huntley Ave., Dunedin. 727-228-1222. luckylobsterco.com.
The popular festival and farmers markets lobster stand serves Connecticut- or New England-style versions in a 4-ounce roll for $20.50 and a large, 6-ounce version for $23.50.
Sea Critters Cafe
Grab a seat in the back, right on the water, and dig into a Maine lobster roll, made with slow-poached lobster meat and paired with celery and an herbed buttermilk dressing, all on a New England-style bun ($27.99).
2007 Pass-a-Grille Way, St. Pete Beach. 727-360-3706. seacritterscafe.com.
Taste of Boston
The casual New England seafood spot in Ballast Point Park serves cold lobster meat seasoned with Old Bay and lemon juice, served on a New England roll with slaw (market price).
5314 Interbay Blvd., Tampa. 813-831-2112. tasteofbostonofsouthtampa.com.
The trendy downtown St. Petersburg restaurant’s lobster roll features diced cucumber, shredded lettuce and lemon-tarragon aioli on a toasted Hawaiian bun (market price).
437 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-898-4300. eatintropez.com.
The Tampa restaurant features a roll made with poached North Atlantic lobster tossed with garlic, lemon and butter, served with a mango citrus aioli, tomatoes and lettuce on a split-topped, buttered New England-style roll ($25).
1810 N Highland Ave., Tampa. 813-999-4952. ulele.com.