Lobster Shacks - A road-trip guide to New England's Best Lobster Joints

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From "Lobster Shacks: A Road Guide to New England's Best Lobster Joints", by Mike Urban.  You can order your copy here

Many lobster connoisseurs consider Five Islands Lobster Company to be hands-down the best lobster shack in Maine—or anywhere, for that matter. Why?

Start with the lobsters. They come from the deep, cold water that nearly surrounds the Five Islands section of Georgetown, Maine, on the edge of Sheepscot Bay. The deep, dark, and frigid waters close to shore are considered ideal for propagating large numbers of healthy, meaty lobsters, and their proximity helps local lobstermen bring them to shore and market quickly. Numerous lobster boats have made the Georgetown wharf their home port (Five Islands Lobster is situated on the town dock), and there are fresh lobsters arriving throughout the day.

Then there’s the view. When you first approach Five Islands, after driving south nearly fifteen miles down a winding, wooded, two-lane highway from Bath, Maine, you’re greeted with an elevated view overlooking Five Islands Lobster Company, the beautiful cove that it sits on, and an amazing view of the five namesake islands half a mile or so offshore, many covered with thick evergreens and dotted with rocky shores and stately homes. Even on an overcast, foggy, or rainy day, the view from Five Islands’s pier and decks doesn’t disappoint.

Throw in the excellent deep-fried and grilled fare from the fry shack (Down East magazine declared Five Islands’s deep-fried, whole-belly clams to be the best in the state) and the Annabelle’s Ice Cream stand next to the fry shack, and you’re going to find it mighty hard to get back in your car and leave this place. 

 Your Cheat-Sheet for Five Islands Lobster

Given that there are three or four different structures on the pier where Five Islands resides, it’s easy to get confused when it comes time to order your food. You don’t want to stand in a long line, only to find that you’re in the wrong place for what you want. Here’s how to navigate your way around Five Islands Lobster:

The first building you’ll encounter is the fry shack. It’s the large, two-story, wood-frame building with the pitched roof that’s front and center on the pier and that has the large Five Islands Lobster Co. sign hanging over its front door. (It’s actually the shack’s rear door; the front door is around the corner. Confused already? Read on.)

If it’s lobster you’ve come for (and it should be), you need to walk past the left side of the fry shack and proceed to a smaller, red-painted, wooden shack directly in back of it. This is the lobster shack, and there’s a small, faded, hand-painted sign over its front door that simply states: Lobsters. This is where you want to begin. Even if you plan to have other things, it’s best to order your lobster first, since it takes the longest to cook, and all lobsters are cooked to order.

When you pass through the lobster door (it may take some time, as there’s often a lengthy line stretching back on busy summer days), you’ll find yourself at a counter where you need to make some big decisions: What size lobster do you want? Do you want hard shell or soft shell? Do you want to “rent” a shell cracker? (It’s about two bucks, refunded when you return the cracker; and it’s highly recommended, especially for hard-shell lobsters.) Do you want an ear of corn or some red potatoes thrown into the netted cooking bag with your lobster, to be boiled in the same tasty seawater? How about a pint of steamers or a side of home-made coleslaw? All these options are clearly stated on a multicolored chalkboard on the wall next to the register. There are also glass-fronted coolers loaded with soft drinks, iced tea, bottled water, and other beverages.

Order to your heart’s content, then settle up with the cashier. (Good news—they accept Visa and MasterCard—not usually the case in the lobster shack world.) You’ll be given a wooden, hand-painted, miniature lobster buoy that resembles a large dreidel and that has a plastic-coated card chained to it with the name of a local boat, like “Anna Lee” or “Lucky Catch” on it. When your lobster is ready, a server will bring it out on a tray, call out the boat name, and it’s up to you to hand over your buoy in order to get your lobster. 

The Lovenest Grill 

While you’re waiting for your lobster to cook, head back over to the fry shack to order anything else you may wish to have while dining at Five Islands. This building is nicknamed the “Lovenest Grill” because fishermen supposedly used it for trysts with their secret lovers after coming ashore and before heading home to their wives. There’s no more hoochey-coo in the Lovenest these days—just simple, honest shack fare being grilled and fried up throughout the day.  

 

Once you make your way into the fry shack (again, you may encounter a lengthy line on sunny summer days), there’s an extensive chalkboard stating the items and costs of everything they offer. You place your order, settle up, and go outside with claim check and lobster buoy claimer in hand. Grab a seat at a nearby picnic table, if you can. When your Lovenest food is ready, a window with wooden shutters and a wood-framed screen on the side of the building is thrown open by a young counterperson who will yell out your name. Ah, the anticipation!

A Couple of Five Islands Witticisms 

Five Islands Lobster Company prides itself on its sense of humor almost as much as it does on its fine lobster and other seafood. For example, take their slogan, which appears on some of their promotional material:

Maine’s legendary “eat-on-the-dock-with-the-fishermen-but-best-avoid-the-table-by-the-bait-shack-door” summer dining and boats/islands/lighthouse-watching experience.

Quite a mouthful, yet certainly indicative of their spirit. Then there’s Five Islands’s description of how to find the place, which appears on their website:

 We are located approximately 14 miles from downtown Bath [Maine]. From Route 1 in either direction, take 127 south until it ends. As one local puts it: “Keep going until your hat floats, then back up a bit.”

 A little levity always makes the food taste better!

 

Goodies from the Grill 

It’s said that the fryers at Five Islands produce some of the best deep-fried seafood in the area, if not the state. Certainly the fried clams have drawn high praise, and there’s plenty of reason to cheer for much of the Lovenest’s other fare.

Take the fried scallops. They’re locally sourced, large, plump, chewy, and full of deep-sea flavor. Deep-fried Maine shrimp are small yet sweet and lightly breaded.

The fish and chips features fresh haddock or salmon, and there’s a nice haddock sandwich at a very reasonable price. Other sandwiches include a lobster roll from meat that’s picked fresh in the back room of the lobster shed throughout the day. Five Islands’s “Somewhat Famous” crab cake sandwich features two crab cakes that are virtually all meat with no bread crumb filler. Then there’s Jenny’s Special Sandwich, an unusual yet tasty combination of a grilled haddock fillet paired with a crab cake on top.

Home-made sauces for the sandwiches and grilled fish fillets (haddock and salmon) include Five Islands’s innovative cilantro mayo, mustard dill, and a killer tartar sauce with fresh dill blended in. The fish chowder is a fine starter, filled with generous chunks of haddock in a milky, flavorful broth. 

In the way of land-based cuisine, Five Islands has an excellent grilled burger that even seafood lovers will occasionally choose over all the fish and shellfish available on the menu. There are grilled hot dogs in natural casing, grilled cheese and chicken sandwiches, french fries, and home-made, hand-cut onion rings. 

A Varied Dining Landscape 

Five Islands offers several choices of places to dine once you’ve secured your lobster and your Lovenest fare. There is, of course, the dock right on the water in back of the shacks, which provides perhaps the best views of the working harbor and the lobster boats that come and go. This is the largest dining area, with some twenty solid, wooden picnic tables lined up to the end of the pier. It’s also where you want to be when they call names and numbers for food orders. 

On the other side of the Lovenest is a deck extending over the rocky shore and affording views of the southwestern portion of the cove. It’s a nice place for families and others seeking a quieter place to dine. Then there’s yet another decklike area adjacent to this that’s perched on dry land almost in front of the Lovenest’s “back” door. This is another good choice for a more peaceful meal.

If none of this works for you (or all these places are filled with other diners), there are still a bunch of freestanding picnic tables a little further out, alongside the parking lot. These tables offer a great view over the western portion of the cove and a glimpse to the west of the open sea. With the rocky-shored islands and the expanses of sea before you, this may actually be the nicest place to sit.

Five Islands is BYO, and they serve no alcohol, so be sure to bring your own beer or wine if you wish to partake. Sometimes, there is live music on the main pier, and if you’re there in the evening at the right time on the right day, you may see fishermen offloading their tuna catch right along the edge of the dock at dusk.

Five Islands may be a long ride down a narrow road that takes you well out of your way as you explore coastal Maine, but many have taken the detour and been really glad that they did. Take the time to check this place out for some of the best, most genuine lobster anywhere.