Joseph Milano, the owner of Union Oyster House — the country’s oldest continuously running restaurant — has a romantic backstory for how he imagines two rare orange lobsters ended up in the tank of his stalwart eatery after a delivery from Ipswich Shellfish Co. last weekend. Two cooked orange lobsters on a plate are nothing new (Union serves them up with fries and melted butter for dipping) but two orange lobsters still alive and swimming certainly are.
“They came in the same delivery, which is most unusual,” Milano tells Eater. “I think they’re mates. Maybe they were attracted to each other’s colors and that’s why they were in the same area when they were caught.”
It almost reads like a CGI animated musical tale: Two orange lobsters feel like they’re the only ones out there until they meet their equally pigmented partner and fall in love, only to be swept away to a strange city where they must find a new home. And just spit-balling here, but maybe Taylor Swift — already a pro at performing underwater during a deluge at Gillette Stadium last weekend — and John Legend can lend their voices. Cue a dueted cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”
The as-yet-unnamed crustaceans (one suggestion: Mac and Cheese) were caught off Nova Scotia, are both about a pound and a half, and around eight years old. This marks the first time Union Oyster House has received one of these rarities, never mind two. And the first time Milano — who first started as a general manager with his father in 1970 before becoming only the third owner since the spot’s founding in 1826 — has seen such creatures in-person.
The eatery is used to celebrities, though, from Barack Obama coming in for chowder, to Leonardo DiCaprio favoring one of the tank-side booths when he’s in town. The lobsters, in a sectioned off part of the tank in the front of the restaurant, are already a hit with diners, with Milano happy to show them off.
Once thought to be one in 30 million, Jordan Baker, an aquarist at the New England Aquarium, cites an updated figure for the pigment’s rarity. “We report orange lobsters as being one in 10 million,” she says. “Still significant!” Genetic mutations impact color-producing pigments in lobsters to create these rare forms, with vibrant blue, white, and yellow versions also spotted in nature.
“I don’t believe we’ll ever serve them up,” Milano says of plans for the pair. “I don’t believe they should be devoured. I really don’t.” He, however, has been personally feeding the lobsters bits of scallop as he figures out just what to do with them next.
A cushy residency at the New England Aquarium seems like an obvious choice. “The aquarium receives donated colored lobsters from lobstermen or restaurants for use as ambassadors in educational programs and for exhibit when we have capacity,” Baker says. “Though we haven’t had room for another lobster since our last donation.”
In the meantime, if you happen to have a large salt-water tank and the desire to give these ocean-crossed lovers a home — or want to slurp some oysters on the bright patio, at least — head to Union and talk with Milano. Maybe just don’t chow on a lobster roll right in front of them.