Chefs

The Maine Connection: Ryan McCaskey and the Perfect Lobster Roll Bun

Acadia's lobster roll.
Acadia’s lobster roll. Photo: courtesy Acadia

We got a tip that something was happening over at Acadia— lobster rolls on the bar menu. Only these weren’t any lobster rolls— they had a special kind of bun, like nobody ain’t ever seen before. So we called up chef Ryan McCaskey and put it to him straight— we want to know who your lobster bun connection is and we’re Grub Street, see, we don’t take no for an answer. The answer he gave us would run from McCaskey’s childhood to a big West Coast pancake flipper named Keller, but it all starts with a gas station near where his family used to “summer” in Maine— and it probably ends with you going and having one of his $14 lobster rolls once you hear his story.

The lobster itself comes from a famous purveyor near Deer Isle, where McCaskey’s family used to go in the summer: Ingrid Bengis, who’s featured in The French Laundry Cookbook. “She’s a big stickler for quality, literally handpicking every lobster we get,” McCaskey explains. The lobsters are less than 24 hours from the water to McCaskey’s kitchen— “they go in a tank around 4 to 5 in the afternoon, and they’re in my restaurant by 10:30 in the morning.”

But if the lobsters arrive with blue chip credentials, the opposite would seem to be true about the buns— they come from the gas station down the road from where the McCaskeys lived near Stonington. “I’ve tried a ton of lobster roll buns. Bread companies try to make an authentic one here, but it’s too big and too dense. The thing about a Maine roll is, the bread kind of steams the lobster from the outside. Even though the lobster mix is cold, it warms it up a little.”

After trying various local buns, McCaskey basically said screw it, let’s get the ones we ate when we were kids. He sent his lobster purveyors to the Burnt Cove Market, a gas station and variety store near Stonington, and had them buy the buns to include with his lobster shipments. “They were like, you really want us to go in there and buy this little gas station out? I’m sure they think it’s ridiculous, but they do it— once a week they send me a bunch of buns with my order. It’s exactly what you’d get in Maine on a lobster roll for $9.”

McCaskey’s is a little more than it costs at the dock in Maine— it’s $14— but it’s reasonable enough considering that on his, the gas station bun contains nearly a full lobster’s worth of meat. Beyond that, McCaskey is a minimalist— “We cook the meat, then mix it with a little housemade mayo, a little squeeze of lemon and some chive, and then a touch of paprika. That’s it.” For all that he’s the chef of a high end restaurant who’ll soon be off to New York to cook at James Beard House, he’s still a guy who thinks the gas station buns are the best thing for a lobster roll. Which kind of explains how he’s getting to New York: “I’m driving out there with pretty much everything in a minivan.” Who knows, he may find inspiration in a truckstop in Ohio or Pennsylvania along the way.

The Maine Connection: Ryan McCaskey and the Perfect Lobster Roll Bun