Clawdaddy's, whose niche is shellfish rolls in general and lobster rolls in particular, opened last summer. At that time, I dropped by for lunch. Big mistake. A long line snaked from the counter where you order, through the restaurant and out the door. I was just too impatient to wait, and couldn't understand how people with a 30- to 60-minute break for the midday meal managed either.
Yet, as fate would have it, now, about six months later, the assignment came to review the place. I went on a Sunday when there was no queue; I am told that the rhythm at lunchtime has become more practiced, so midweek should be equally simple and much faster than at the beginning. The only reason there is still a bit of a wait is because everything is prepared on the spot.
Yes, it takes several minutes to heat up items made on site, like the large lobster pot pie, whose flaky crust "lid" was divine but whose sauce had broken and was a bit watery. The bisque, flown in straight from Maine, aka America's lobster heaven, came out last; it could have been creamier but still beats out its few competitors around town.
The rolls arrive quickest, however. They are the best reason to eat at Clawdaddy's.
Just in case the concept may be new to you, these "rolls" are always served on hot dog buns. That's the tradition. But at Clawdaddy's, these aren't just any buns. Billed as brioche, they come from Sunrise Bakery around the corner. They are fabulous, pressed like panini and toasted with just the slightest smear of butter, and then loaded to overflowing with the virtually unadulterated seafood of your choice.
To sample everything, take a friend or two and share the "Down East Shore Dinner." OK, it's pricey at $49, but you get two lobster rolls, one crab roll and a shrimp roll. Though the market price of lobster has been at a 20-year low over the past year or so, we are still talking about the crustacean that is synonymous with luxury and the good life.
The lobster roll is undoubtedly the best. Every chunk is perfectly cooked, coated ever so lightly with a bit of mayonnaise and a shake of seasoning salt that has a subtle spicy bite.
Clawdaddy's is proud of the fact that there are no "fillers" e.g., chopped celery or scallions. You know, the sort of addition that makes crab cakes full of bread crumbs taste like fishy, wet, yeasty discs.
Because of the generous portion of lobster, this roll costs $16. I don't care. Indulge yourself. And, if you don't get a platter, remember to try a side of the great coleslaw ($1.50) whose light, subtle dressing hides none of cabbage's textural virtues.
I was also delighted to see that the shrimp were the tiny ones called "pink shrimp" on the East Coast and elsewhere. On the West Coast, they seem to be known as "bay shrimp." In any event, I adore them, whatever their name, and loved seeing a mountain of them on my sandwich.
It was only the Jonah crab that left me less than satisfied. Crab is delicate and gets soggy quickly. Such was the case here. It was OK, but not outstanding. (I prefer its cousin Dungeness anyway: sweeter and plumper every time.)
That said, Clawdaddy's is a fine addition to downtown dining, and I have to commend the owners for a concept that has been totally overlooked in our landlocked city — until now.