But here's the thing: if you go to the fish markets and buy chicken lobsters and steamers and three pounds of butter, and corn on the cob, it will probably cost you much much more than last night's dinner cost me.
I spent the first hot day at the Seabrook/Salisbury beach, where I suffered a stupid pre-marathon sunburn and played in the tide pools, since it was too cold to go in the ocean. We drove past Brown's and Markey's on the way home, two rival lobster pools facing eachother across route 286 in Seabrook, NH. I decided we should go for dinner.
I don't know why, but people around here have loyalties when it comes to these lobster pounds. I've never been to Markey's because everyone I've ever eaten lobster with has been a Brown's devotee.
This is how it works: fried food is ordered on the outside, through a window. For lobsters and steamers, you walk into the actual restaurant, if you can call it that. Really, it's just a large room with long tables and benches and screened windows and a wraparound porch out on the marsh where you can sit and watch the fisherman net things and the sun slip below the horizon. I recommend ignoring the view of the dome of the Seabrook nuclear power plant.
You have choices, of course. Chickens are the smallest lobsters, followed by medium lobsters, large lobsters, and premium lobsters. Steamed clams come in one size only. When you tell the surly dude working the register what you want (I have no idea why, but my surly register man was wearing a Yankees cap and sporting a Joba Chamberlain jersey, even as he barked at me with a very distinct New Hampshire accent), he'll grab and weigh your lobsters--in my case, chickens--and ask you if you want anything else. I ordered corn. I love steamers, but my best friend has a late-developing bivalve allergy and we were scared to test whether clams made her puke as bad as mussels do. Surly man will give you a wooden paddle with a number on it and instruct you to wait until called over loudspeaker.
Brown's, like Markey's, is BYOB, which meant Wachusett blueberry beers on the back deck, three apiece if we were dividing fairly. Eventually, our number was called and we picked up two perfect lobsters, clarified butter in plastic cups, wooden stakes for pulling out claw and knuckle meat, and two foil-wrapped pieces of corn.
That's the short version. The long version is that they actually forgot our corn and we stood waiting in the angry anteroom for ten full minutes while they made it. And we asked three times for an extra butter and set of silverware until surly man number one finally complied. And then, worst of all, I noticed a photograph in the back of the room of the entire Brown's staff wearing their aprons and stickers with a smiling George W. Bush, all holding a sign that said BUSH 2000. Turns out Brown's is a favorite of the Kennebunkport Bushes as well as that idiot ex-president of ours. My best friend was getting surly herself, due to the butter and corn fiasco. I was surly because of the Bush endorsement. We both decided to do Markey's next time.
I will say this: those lobsters were sweet as anything and the early-season corn was, too. And the whole meal came to a whopping $28. Try getting two lobsters for under 30 bucks anywhere else and you'll see the appeal. But the rival spots catch their wares in the same neighborhood and their prices are, well, rivaling, so next time, we'll be headed across the highway to Markey's.
As an epilogue to lobster fest 2009, I should add that I was still hungry after our lobsters because, these days, I am always hungry. Consequently, I drove down to the heart of Salisbury beach, where the arcades and dough stands are, for a slice of beach pizza, native to the area. Beach pizza is crispy, flat, and square. If you ask for extra cheese, you'll get a slice with a circle of provolone on top. I had a square exterior piece from Christy's, very much worth the calories and the price ($1.75). It was sweet-sauced, crisp as any New York slice, and possibly a better dessert than anything sweet I could have imagined.
Brown's Lobster Pound
Seabrook Beach, NH 03874
Salisbury, MA 01952