May in Maine

roundpond_03_175px.jpgMay in Maine and the lobsters are crooning. Leaves sprout on the trees around midmonth but you can’t plant your garden until Memorial Day because lingering nighttime frosts are always a threat to wipe it out. The real sign winter’s finally over: In New Harbor, Shaw’s Lobster Wharf opened on Mother’s Day to serve the world’s best lobster roll and a few miles up Route 32 in Round Pond, the Muscongus Bay Lobster Company fired up its boiler; you can sit at a picnic table and devour your crustaceans as you gaze out at the view of water, boats, islands and trees so stunning that it is where superannuated picture calendars go die.

Muscongus Bay Lobster was a tiny affair when we started going 20 years ago, a half dozen tables and a small cook shack. Dan Renny’s family ran it but about 10 years ago (he’s in his 30s now, as hard working a guy as you’ll ever meet and handsome as the devil) he took it over and has managed growth without sacrificing the rustic charm. The wharf has been enlarged, more tables added to handle the crowds, a bigger cooking shed. The big news this year is that he’s put light bulbs in the port-a-potties.

No reservations, of course. You stand on line – be prepared to wait 10 or 15 minutes in July and August – and then belly up to the tanks filled with lobsters from a pound up to three or four. This is as local a meal as you will find. The critters have gone from nearby seafloor to boat to storage boxes under the float where they were unloaded, then to the holding tanks constantly refreshed by Muscongus Bay water pumped up from below; they’re even boiled in it.

dan_03_175px.jpg Your order is plucked out and weighed (about nine bucks a pound, cooked), your name taken, and 20 minutes later you wave your arms when you hear it called as your food is brought out on thick paper trays with nutcrackers and pickers but no other utensils, though thankfully every table has a roll of paper towels. Butter is an extra 50 cents but the lobster is so tasty you don’t need much, if any.

The menu has grown with the place but it is still simple. In the summer you can get ears of fresh corn. There are lobster rolls and crab rolls. Bags of chips. Dan added local, delicious Damariscotta River oysters some time back and this year has a couple hundred pounds of shrimp caught in the winter and will see how they go. Sodas are for sale but no beer or wine; bring your own along with salad and maybe some cheese and crackers to eat while waiting.

Years ago you could top off the meal with a slice of Wally Jo’s apple or blueberry pies but Wally Jo stopped making them. No matter. By the time you’ve worked your way through two or three pound-and-a-quarter lobsters – starting in July you get soft shells, called shedders, which you break apart with your hands and far and away are sweeter than hard shells – dessert isn’t much on your mind.