The Emperor Has No Clothes

Red's Eats, Wiscasset, Maine

Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, ME, is a culinary Mecca, of sorts. We’ve been told by everyone from Road Food to CBS News that we absolutely must go to Red’s for what is widely proclaimed as the best lobster roll in all of Maine, if not the world. Red’s is so popular that routine hour long waits don’t even begin to describe the chaos. The New York Times recently blamed Red’s for maddening traffic congestion in the area and reported on a proposal to spend $100 million to divert traffic around the eatery. With such great press, and obvious popularity, we had to try these 100 million dollar sandwiches for ourselves.

But before I dig in to Red’s, I have another confession to make: I don’t really understand people’s fascination with lobster. As a protein for a meal, it’s better than chicken, for sure. But like chicken, it needs a sauce, or a marinade, or something else to make it special (and melted butter doesn’t cut it, in my view). Lobster Fra Diavlo is divine. An unseasoned hunk of meat with a spritz of lemon, not so much.

I have a pet theory about why lobster is so highly regarded, and I think it has to do with exclusivity. Lobster is expensive, so it must be good, because if it wasn’t good, it wouldn’t be expensive. Or so the reasoning goes. I think for some people it doesn’t really matter whether their taste buds actually confirm that steamed lobster is delicious, social pressures dictate that they proclaim that it is. But it wasn’t always that way. Lobster used to be so plentiful along the coast that it was once considered peasant food and fed to prisoners. It was even used for fish bait. Hardly the luxury item many people think of it as today.

Red's Eats, Wiscasset, MaineYou can still imagine a poor Maine fisherman of old, piling cold, unseasoned lobster on a slab of toasted bread with nothing to accompany it other than a tablespoon or two of melted butter. If that sounds appetizing to you, welcome to Red’s Eats; where the same experience can be had for the poverty-inducing price of $14.95 per sandwich. Umm, umm good.

I fully recognize that everyone’s tastes are different. It is entirely possible that Shannon and I aren’t wired to enjoy lobster the way other people do. I get that, really I do. But what I don’t get is how people can cause such a commotion over something so basic that you can do it yourself with very little effort. We’re not talking about needing culinary mastery to duplicate Red’s lobster roll. Or even a spice rack, for that matter. We’re talking about steaming a lobster and putting the cold meat on a toasted hotdog bun. That’s it, folks. That’s what the 100 million dollar sandwich consists of. Provided you are capable of boiling water, it is something you can do in your own kitchen in less time then it takes to get through the line at Red’s. So why on earth would anyone go to Red’s for one of these things, unless it was really cheap or really convenient? It happens to be neither.

I have to say, that after visiting Red’s today I’m a bit mystified by all the fuss. In part, I think Red’s benefits from a lot of second and third-hand reporting. No one questions whether Red’s food is good anymore, they simply report that their food is the most popular. That reporting drives crowds, and the press cites the crowds as confirmation of what everyone already knows: Red’s food is great. But for some reason everyone plays along; from celebrity chef Rachael Ray to the little old lady who proclaimed to me while waiting on line “It’s worth the wait.”

Do they all really think steamed meat on a hotdog bun is this good? Or are they just perpetuating a myth because they think they have to, or that they should? “For surely emperor Red is finely clad, everyone knows it to be true.” But are we really the only people who’ve noticed that Red’s lobster is completely naked?

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7 Comments on “The Emperor Has No Clothes”

  1. Jean Lane October 4, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    Hear hear, I wholeheartedly agree.


  2. Bob October 4, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    Keep the lobster, I’m always looking for my next Myrna burger.


  3. Bob October 5, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    You never know you might run into a tasty empinada.


  4. Heather H. October 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    I’ll take a good old Maryland Blue Crab over lobster any day!



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