Roll call

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A tuna sandwich might only cost $5, but ask for lobster tossed with your mayo instead — a lobster roll — and the price, even at a humble fish market, could skyrocket to almost $30.

I was prepared to shell out for the luxe, fishy treat, but was shocked to find that one of the borough’s best lobster rolls cost just $7.99 at Fairway in Red Hook.

With the famous roll from Red’s Eats in Wicasset Maine — fresh lobster boiled briefly, heaped into a toasted, lightly buttered hot dog roll and served with a cup of melted butter or mayonnaise — serving as my guide, I set out to see if Brooklyn had a lobster roll that would please both my mouth and my wallet.


The Brooklyn Paper / Gregory P. Mango

The best bargain on dry land is at Fairway’s Market Cafe, where a hefty lobster roll (above), a perfect half-sour pickle, tart coleslaw and chips set me back just $7.99. Yes, the mayo to meat ratio was higher than then those in the $20-$28 range, but this roll was no shrimp — literally; according to Fairway, the roll is all lobster. The meat was chunky and sweet, with bits of celery adding a pleasant crunch. The hot dog bun that it came perched in was fresh and lightly toasted. And eating the sandwich in the outdoor seating area with the salty tang of the water wafting past the tables? That’s as close to Maine as I’m going to get in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Fish Camp

The Brooklyn Paper / Daniel Krieger

I could hear the folks in Wiscasset guffawing as I plunked down $28 for the lobster roll at Brooklyn Fish Camp (above), which at least ten people told me I must include in this article.

But what a roll it was. Most of the sandwich consisted of chunks of supremely sweet, impeccably fresh tail and claw meat, and the rest was delicious little leg meat slivers. Only a bit of fresh mayonnaise bound the fish that was nestled into a lightly toasted and buttered Pepperidge Farm hot dog bun and topped with chopped chives. Sitting beside the sandwich was a mountain of the thinnest fries I’ve ever seen. Fish Camp’s roll was the costliest of the bunch, but definitely worth the dough.

Surf Bar

The Brooklyn Paper / John Barclay

With its sand-covered floors and funky wood stools, Surf Bar in Williamsburg has the look of a kitschy tropical lounge. The kitchen serves a lobster roll (above) with a lot of fresh meat; it’s heavy on the mayonnaise but light on salt, and is generously mounded into a fresh, toasted bun. For $14 you get chips and for a buck more, there’s a side of nothing-special fries. It’s a good sandwich at a fair price, but would be better if there was no Red’s, or Brooklyn Fish Camp, to compare it to.

Fish Tales

The Brooklyn Paper / Gregory P. Mango

I pulled in another whopper at the much-admired Fish Tales, a Carroll Gardens seafood store known for its supremely fresh fare. “You know it’s $20, right?” asked the man when I placed the order. I knew and I was ready to spend.

Before my sandwich appeared, I was given Lobster 101 by the friendly staff: a tutorial on what constitutes an excellent roll (getting it at Fish Tales) versus the phony stuff (ordering it anywhere else). What I found was a crisp hot dog roll filled with fresh pieces of tail and claw meat among the smaller bits. The mayonnaise binding was a touch heavier than Brooklyn Fish Camp’s, yet still admirably restrained, and a bit of chopped fresh dill contributed its unique grassy flavor. Fish Tales uses only fresh Maine lobster, and they don’t throw anything suspicious into the mix. “Some places will add shrimp or that fake lobster stuff,” the counterman said. “You’re not going to find that here.”

Union Smith Cafe

The Brooklyn Paper / Gregory P. Mango

This Smith Street eatery takes plenty of liberties, but it’s all for the greater good. The chef is a bit less generous with the lobster meat, but for $16 — which included a side of either fries or a salad — there was plenty to enjoy.

The toasted brioche roll that held the lobster was too big and the fries that accompanied the sandwich were pretty dismal, but adding pesto to the mayonnaise made the meat that much sweeter.

Brooklyn Fish Camp (162 Fifth Ave., between Douglass and Degraw streets in Park Slope) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Lobster roll: Market price. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner Monday through Sunday. Subway: R to Union Street. For information, call (718) 783-3264 or visit www.brooklynfishcamp....

Fairway Market (500 Van Brunt St., near Reed Street in Red Hook) accepts MasterCard and Visa. The cafe is open daily from 8 am-8 pm. Lobster roll: $7.99. Subway: F to Smith and 9th Street, transfer for the B77 to Van Brunt and Van Dyke streets. For information, call (718) 694-6868 or visit

Fish Tales (191A Court St., between Bergen and Wyckoff streets in Cobble Hill) accepts Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Lobster roll: $20. The store is open Monday through Friday from 9 am-8 pm, Saturday from 9 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday. Subway: F, G to Bergen Street. For information, call (718) 246-1346.

Surf Bar (139 N. Sixth St., at Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg) accepts MasterCard and Visa. Lobster roll: $14 with chips; $15 with fries. The bar is open for lunch and dinner daily. Subway: L to Bedford Avenue. For information, call (718) 302-4441.

Union Smith Cafe (305 Smith St., at Union Street in Carroll Gardens) accepts Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Lobster roll: $16. Brunch, lunch and dinner are served daily. Subway: F, G to Carroll Street. For information, call (718) 643-3293.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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