When it’s busy at Gateway Lunt’s Lobster Pound, you can see smoke billowing from four hot, steaming cookers, all at once, beside the roadside restaurant on Route 3 in Trenton. The wood-fired brick steamers, which holds 15-gallon pots of boiling water, await customers’ order of lobsters, softshell clams and corn on the cob.
One recent June morning, Derek Sargent picked out a live lobster from a massive saltwater tank inside the nearly half-century-old business. He tossed it in a knit-twine bag and dropped it in one of the outdoor steamers for about 15 minutes. From years of experience, he knows exactly when the spiny crustaceans are done. Extracted from the outdoor cooker, the bug-eyed shellfish is plopped onto a platter and brought inside to my table. Instead of silverware wrapped neatly in a napkin, I was equipped with a cleansing towelette, metal shell cracker, plastic pick shaped like a wishbone, bowl for shells and plastic bib (both decorated with bright red lobster drawings). Don’t worry, paper towels are available.
Back to my lobster. The invertebrate in front of me has 19 different body parts. Tucked inside the creature’s carapace, tail, claws, eight legs and other parts is sweet, tender meat. To be dug out by me.
So, what now? As a Midwesterner new to Maine, and new to tackling the shellfish whole, the bright red lobster before me looked like a thousand unconnected puzzle pieces. Where do I even begin?
Enter Hannah Buzzell. The waitress walked this Chicagoan through the process — step by step. She instructed me to begin with the two big claws. With your bare hands, you twist the claws off the body and pry its smaller claw resembling a “thumb” off. Then you take the aforementioned pick and fish out the meat from the “thumb.” That slender morsel is dipped in cup of melted butter provided on your plate.
Bravely forging ahead, I smartly cracked both big claws. It may take two cracks to remove all the prime succulent meat. The empty shells get tossed into the bowl to make room amid the detritus on your plate.
Now it’s time for the tail, which is arguably the most fun to dismember. With a light tug, the entire tail slides right out of the body. Don’t be alarmed by the runny green stuff (liver and pancreas) that comes with it. It’s called tomalley. The paste is a delicacy to some and something to avoid for others. Its creamy consistency is reminiscent of pâté. Some people like to make a spread out of it and eat it on Saltine crackers.
Back to the lobster’s tail. Once you’ve separated it from the body, flip it over. A crack down the center allows you to split open the tail. Without much difficulty, I was able to get the meat out in one piece.
Now all that remains is the body. Some leave that part alone. And I can understand why — at this point I’m getting full. But experts will tell you there’s still good meat to be had from various crannies. The restaurant’s co-owner Gregory Harding demonstrated how.
As he fished more meat out, he detached and gave me the legs — long spindly things attached to the body — to suck on. Lightly biting down on a leg releases the meat.
To get more meat, Gregory peels the crustacean’s back off. With his hands, he split the body down the middle revealing pockets of meat located near the legs.
By now, you should have an empty plate, a full stomach and a bowl full of shells. If you have worked your way through a lobster with me, it’s official: We have graduated. Congratulations.
Gregory and his wife Patricia Harding know lobster. For more than a decade, the couple ran Gateway Lobster Pound on the opposite side of Route 3. In 1983, the Hardings acquired Lunt’s Lobster Pound on the inland side and eventually merged both restaurants to become Gateway Lunt’s.
Besides Hannah and Gregory, Patricia also is intent on customers getting the most out of their steamed lobsters. They readily show diners how to go about it. They’ll even do it for you if need be.
“I’ll take their meat out for them if I have to,” Patricia said. “Because I don’t want them to leave it behind.”
One day, she remembers being too busy to check on a family who had never eaten lobster before. When she went back to clear the table, the shells mysteriously were gone. While some customers save their shells for art projects, this didn’t appear to be one of those times.
“All I could think about was what was going to happen to them the next day,” she said, laughing.
Gateway Lunt’s is located on 113 Bar Harbor Road, Trenton. For more info, call 667-2620, email [email protected] and visit gatewayluntslobster.com.