If you visit the Web site of Red Lobster and type the word Maine into the restaurant locator box, you will discover that the chain is defunct in this state. Now, your response to this news might be, "That's a surprise!" Or alternately, you might say, "Why would there be Red Lobsters in Maine when every little diner serves them?"
Lobsters are synonymous with Maine in a way no other product is. (Sorry, Maine potato, but Idaho remains the big spud on the block.) They've appeared on our license plates as well as our dinner plates. And thanks to the tireless Maine Lobster Promotion Council, our lobsters are the gold standards by which all others are judged. Down East has also done its part for Homarus americanus. In the past year we've published stories dealing with the legislature's ban on dragging for lobsters offshore to the ad campaign to "certify" Maine lobsters. And that's not counting lobster-related items, like the Bowdoin College carpenter we wrote about last month who uses trap wire to build bookcases.
Given this coverage, it might surprise you to learn that the Magazine of Maine agonizes long and hard over every word we write about our signature crustacean. Lobster, for us, represents a puzzle to be solved, analogous to Texas and barbecue or Alaska and salmon. How do we serve up the quintessential Maine without also dishing up a side order of stereotypes? (It's the same puzzle we face with topics ranging from logging to lighthouses.) As Mainers, we're undeniably proud of our lobstering industry, and many of us enjoy eating lobsters when we can afford to. But it's annoying that tourists sometimes assume we all haul traps for a living.
So how do we celebrate our distinctive region without trading in clichés? By focusing on the topical. This month, Down East explores the inventive ways Maine's great chefs are preparing lobster, from BLTs to mac and cheese (page 74). We also profile a company (page 14) that makes tacky lobster vending machines. (No, I'm not kidding.) Together, we hope these two pieces capture the specific flavor of Maine in the summer of 2007. The subject might be old, but the stories are new.
And if you prefer Red Lobster and the bland spiny lobsters they pawn off as the real thing? Well, the nearest one is located in Wethersfield, Connecticut, just off I-91. Happy motoring!