The story behind what may be the best lobster roll in New England.
By Malerie Yolen Cohen | Photography by Caryn B. Davis
When Enea Bacci purchased a humble lobster shack in Clinton, Connecticut, on impulse in 1995, there were three strikes against him. One: He was not from town. Two: He had a funny accent. And three: He knew nothing about lobsters.
Twenty-three years later, Enea and his wife Cathie—affectionately known as “the Bacci people”—preside over Lobster Landing, a seasonal harborside eatery that dispenses what is arguably the best lobster roll in New England. Come during the months that it’s open (mid-April through December), and you’re likely to see a line of fans, old and new, from Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. “The beauty of our place by the sea,” says the irrepressible Enea, “is that friends from NYC and Boston meet in the middle—it’s two hours from each city—and stay for hours. We won’t throw them out.”
Enea Bacci—who, with his white beard and woolen beanie, resembles a thin Santa Claus by way of the Gloucester Fisherman—was not to the Seven Seas born. He hailed from a hotel-and-restaurant family in the very landlocked Piedmont Region of Italy, known for its rich red wines and truffles. But not for lobster.
In fact, Enea’s first business ventures in the U.S. revolved around publishing then designing, building and running a successful restaurant called Bacci, in Southbury, Connecticut. It was just after selling his restaurant in 1995 that Enea took a fateful sail with friends in Clinton Harbor and saw the “For Sale” sign on the old lobster shack. He bought the place without telling Cathie. When he did, she thought he was crazy.
In the beginning, it was a tough go. The learning curve was steep. It took a couple of years for the Baccis to cultivate a relationship with local commercial lobstermen, who at first looked upon these newcomers with suspicion. Now, Lobster Landing gets deliveries, most offloaded right at the shack’s back door, from eight Clinton-based lobster companies. Enea credits these fishermen with his success. “They were tremendous teachers. Without them, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Shack with a Past
The weathered, ramshackle shack, which still stands today, had been a lobster pound since at least the 1920’s. An old photo, identifying the building as “W.M. Petri Fish-Clams-Bait,” shows Model T’s parked in the same spots now commonly occupied by SUV’s and hybrids. For six years, the Baccis continued selling live lobsters.
It wasn’t until 2001 that they added frankfurters and sausage-and-pepper sandwiches—sold from a hot-dog cart they purchased from a guy downtown—to serve the fishermen and “dock people” at the nearby marinas. Soon, Lobster Landing began offering hot lobster rolls, “because we had the product,” says Enea. (You will not find a cold “lobster salad” roll at Lobster Landing, as Enea believes that mayonnaise overpowers the “gentle taste of lobster meat.”)
How They Roll
There is nothing revolutionary about the way a Lobster Landing lobster roll is prepared. It is simply a quarter-pound of freshly steamed lobster drizzled with drawn butter and stuffed into a flash-grilled bread roll. At first, the Baccis took great pains to find the perfect lobster meat delivery vehicle—traditionally a hot dog bun—trying seven bakeries before settling on one in Vermont. Most wiener rolls either dissolved from the melted butter or were so hard and crusty as to be inedible. The Baccis discovered that the longer Italian grinder rolls from Koffee Kup Bakery in Burlington held up and toasted nicely. It was a game-changer.
Because most of the Baccis’ lobsters are steamed the day they are pulled from the ocean, the meat is tender and sweet. A young and loyal staff—some of whom have worked for the Baccis since high school—use time-tested tools and techniques, including a flat mallet, to crush shells, keeping claws and other lobster parts whole. Their friendliness is also the reason many people return again and again. The whole experience, from service to succulent lobster roll, to views from the dockside deck, is a happy one. “All those people from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, they keep coming back because they know what to expect. Our integrity sets us apart.”
According to Enea, Lobster Landing is “integrated with the marina people.” They deliver to boats at nearby marinas, or boaters can just take their dinghy over to the back of the shack for pick up. In addition to the lobster rolls ($17.50 each), hot dogs ($3.50) and sausage-and-peppers ($7.50), Lobster Landing compiles complete “lobster bakes” for pick-up or delivery. Each aluminum box contains a steamed two-pound lobster, ½-pound of steamers, six clams, an ear of corn, potatoes, melted butter and a lemon, for $40. “This is great for people who just want to stay onboard and watch the boats in the harbor, have a glass of wine, and eat a good quality meal,” says Enea, who clearly appreciates the finer things in life.
152 Commerce Street, Clinton, CT 06413
Watch the Clinton episode of New England Boating TV featuring Lobster Landing and Enea Bacci.