A vendor at the tourist trap in downtown Boston known as Quincy Market has been selling cold lobster rolls stuffed with a mix of crawfish and lobster meat, and two intrepid tourists from Houston are not letting it go unchecked.
In late July, Lennie Ambrose, the chief marketing officer of historic Houston brewery Saint Arnold, visited the Boston area for the first time on a work trip with his wife, Amber Ambrose, the inaugural editor of Eater Houston. The pair did what droves of New England tourists have done since the dawn of time and ate lobster roll after lobster roll during their trip.
This was all going very well — the warm lobster roll at Lobster Shanty in Salem, Massachusetts “was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time,” Lennie says — until the duo decided to grab a roll at Quincy Market, the centuries-old Boston food hall that is, generally speaking, a terrible place to eat.
They stopped at Boston & Maine Fish Company and ordered a cold lobster roll. At this stall, the cold roll is also called a “lobster salad” roll, which Lennie assumed referred to the mayo and celery with which the lobster meat was tossed. But when the pair began to pick apart the mayo-covered seafood, they noticed that something was amiss. As residents of Houston, a city that loves its crawfish in the same way that Boston loves its lobster, the Ambroses knew what they were eating was not the rich, meaty flavor of an oceanic bug, but rather the lighter, more rubbery flavor of a mudbug. And instead of identifiable chunks of lobster, it was stuffed with small, shrimp-like crawfish tails.
“I walked up to the front of the stall and said to the guy, like, ‘Hey, are you trying to pass off crawfish as lobster?” Lennie says. “[The guy said] ‘No, no, no, it’s lobster.’” Lennie walked away, unsatisfied with the response. “There’s no way that that is lobster. I eat a lot of crawfish. There’s no way.”
Later, he started engaging in a bit of online heckling on Boston & Maine Fish Company’s Instagram account. “Wait, lobster or crawfish? Which one?” he wrote on a picture of lobster. “Wait are these scallops or are they crawfish, too?” he wrote on a picture of scallops. His comments were deleted, and shortly after, the vendor posted an apology-slash-clarification about its lobster salad rolls.
“Boston and Maine Lobster Salad rolls are served with mixed lobster and crawfish meat, diced celery, mayonnaise, and lemon juice,” the statement reads. “We apologize for any misconceptions regarding our salad being just lobster meat. We recommend trying our hot buttered lobster rolls made with 100 percent Maine lobster meat with butter toasted on a brioche bun for pure lobster delight.”
The co-owner of Boston & Maine Fish Company, Andre Ornelas, says that the crawfish meat in the lobster salad mix is part of a decades-old recipe that traces back to when Boston & Maine Fish Company’s founder Larry Smith opened the shop in Quincy Market in 1984. When Ornelas purchased the shop in 1999, he didn’t change a thing — not the menu, which omits crawfish as an ingredient in the lobster salad roll and in the cold lobster roll (they are the same thing, listed separately in different sections of the menu), nor the recipe itself. He doesn’t know of anyone else in the area who serves crawfish in their lobster rolls (neither does Eater), but says that the recipe has been serving the business well so far. “We have been doing this for so many years and have been so successful with the way that we do it,” Ornelas says.
The lobster salad roll with crawfish is currently $23.36, while the hot buttered lobster roll with only lobster is $26.17. Ornelas says the lobster salad recipe is a mix of about 70 percent lobster and 30 percent crawfish; Lennie estimates the mix at more like 80 percent crawfish and 20 percent lobster. (Ornelas strongly disputes that estimated ratio.)
Lennie’s online complaints prompted Ornelas to post the statement on Instagram. “We never had an issue before,” Ornelas says. “This is the first time that we are having a problem.”
Judging by the Yelp and Google reviews, people do seem to generally like the shop. Lennie scrolled back through Yelp reviews and found one user pointing out the crawfish in May, but aside from that, the reviews are pretty positive. Lennie has nothing against crawfish rolls — the Houston brewery where he works has a popular crawfish roll on the menu — but, he says, it was the seeming deception that stung.
After Boston & Maine Fish Company posted its statement on Instagram, Lennie messaged the shop to request a refund. However, he was told that he would have to come collect his refund in person. Lennie will not be traveling back to Boston solely to collect his $23.36 refund on the lobster salad roll, but he does want other customers to be aware that Boston & Maine Fish Company’s lobster salad roll is not entirely lobster.
“It’s not about whatever it cost,” Lennie says. “We just happen to know what crawfish is, but there’s so many tourists and people going through there [who may not know]. If it had said, ‘lobster and crawfish roll,’ then we wouldn’t have gotten it. Or if it had even said, ‘lobster and seafood roll,’ I probably would have been like, ‘Oh, wow. Well, what does that mean? What other seafood do you put in it?’ But it doesn’t say that. It says ‘lobster salad roll’ which, to me, is 100 percent lobster with celery and mayo or whatever else.”