Full disclosure: I’ve never been to the East Coast. I never ate seafood growing up (my mom hates it). I’ve never actually had lobster that didn’t come inside a ravioli — and even that was only about twice. So while I was trekking to Da Lobsta (416 N. Clark St.) during the first big snowstorm of this winter, I didn’t really know what to expect. Still, it turned out to be well worth the seven minutes of blinding snow in my face.
My wallet drew me to Da Lobsta, located in River North just a few blocks from the Grand Red Line stop. At $14, the counter service joint has one of the cheapest lobster rolls in the city (compare it to $16 at Luke’s Lobster or $20-plus you’ll pay at one of the nicer sit-down seafood restaurants in the Loop).
The inside is quaint, with a handful of stainless steel tables and various nautical-themed decorations. I could imagine it getting crowded during the typical lunch hours, but I had no trouble finding a spot to sit when I went in for a late lunch around 2 p.m.
The menu is broken up into “rolls” and “other items.” There are three types of rolls — shrimp ($10), lobster ($14) and crab ($12) — and each can be ordered in a different style. The “traditional” has tarragon mayo, garlic butter and celery salt while more adventurous styles like “south of the border” feature salsa, lettuce, chihuahua cheese and guacamole. The “other items” include sides such as hush puppies, coleslaw, soups and lobster mac and cheese.
I used a Groupon (which is only sometimes available) that got me and a friend two traditional lobster rolls, two bags of chips and two drinks for $20. We also tacked on hush puppies ($4) and split an order of lobster mac and cheese ($10).
The staff is incredibly friendly, especially to first-timers. Our cashier/waiter (it’s counter service, but they bring the food to your table and will clean up your tray if they see you’re done) was helpful as he explained the menu and offered suggestions. He even brought us samples of other foods we didn’t order (the lobster, crab and spinach dip) free of charge. After reading other reviews online, it seems like this is a pretty common occurrence, which shows Da Lobsta’s high-quality customer service.
As for the food we ordered, there are about five hush puppies in an order, but they’re bigger than the typical golf ball-sized treats. The hush puppies also come with a cool aioli dipping sauce that perfectly complements the soft heat in the deep-fried cornbread pillows. The lobster mac and cheese is also a generous portion — perfect to split between two people as a side — with huge pieces of lobster meat.
The rolls were the most important aspect of the meal for me, though, as it was my first time trying a lobster roll. I was initially surprised to find that the lobster meat was cold. The menu describes the split-top New England-style bun as being “grilled to warm buttery perfection” and says the traditional roll is topped with warm garlic butter, so I expected it to be a warm sandwich. The difference in temperature between the warm roll and cold lobster was weird at first, but I quickly got over it.
The lobster is piled high into the roll. It’s lightly seasoned with celery salt, but there wasn’t as much mayo or butter as I expected, which allowed the meat to be the star. I actually preferred the cold lobster meat in the sandwich to that in the mac and cheese; in the mac and cheese, the lobster got slightly overcooked and was more rubbery, but this problem was nonexistent in the sandwich.
Verdict: Because of the price (at least when the Groupon is unavailable), Da Lobsta is definitely a once-in-a-while treat for college students. If you are looking for that treat and want to get quality food and service without expensive Gold Coast prices, Da Lobsta is the lunch spot for you.