The Best Thing I Ever Ate

I don’t know why it always surprises me that the last meal requests of the condemned are so prosaic: ribeye steak, fried chicken, cheeseburgers, biscuits and gravy, fried mushrooms, fried shrimp, prime rib, cheese pizza. Maybe those are ultimate comfort foods when death looms. One inmate in particular,  Bobby Wayne Woods, asked for an ordinary meal make surreal by its size: two chicken-fried steaks, two fried chicken breasts, three fried pork chops, two hamburgers with lettuce, tomato, onion and salad dressing, four slices of bread, half a pound of fried potatoes with onion, half a pound of onion rings with ketchup, half a pan of chocolate cake with icing and two pitchers of milk. There’s a fascinating blog, “Dead Man Eating” that records list after list of the last meal requests of the condemned. For the record, I don’t support the death penalty, but it is interesting to me to see what people choose to do when faced with their own last hours.

If I had to choose one last meal, it would be this, the best thing I ever ate: a lobster roll from Kelly’s Roast Beef in Revere Beach, Massachusetts. Once, in a much longer essay about lobsters, I wrote this about Kelly’s Roast Beef:

Long, long ago in Boston, I regularly drove north to Revere Beach for lobster rolls at Kelly’s Roast Beef.  A seaside joint, it’s open nearly every hour of the day (with a two-hour break from three a.m. to five a.m.) every day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving. No matter the weather or the season, you walk up to the window and order your lobster roll (some people do get roast beef I guess) and bite down into absolute bliss.

We usually went at night. I don’t remember all the people who went with me to Kelly’s. My ex-husband, I’m sure. I know my mother went at least once because she still talks about it. Girls in summer frocks and combat boots, skinny boys with new tattoos, friends home from Paris and people I could hardly stand; all of us at the window bathed in a pale blue fluorescent glow—the sea stretching out behind us inky black.

But I didn’t write much about the lobster roll itself, because then I was writing about childhood and lobster culture and lobsters as metaphor, and folding one’s youth back into one’s life.

This is a lobster roll that deserves to be written about.  The amount of lobster meat in a Kelly’s lobster roll is stunning. It must be a whole lobster, or maybe two. It’s held together with a bit of dressing, and stuffed overflowing into a grilled, buttered hotdog roll. There’s a rumour that Kelly’s uses frozen lobster, and frankly it does not seem possible– and if they do, I don’t care. I’ve eaten lobster rolls up and down the New England coast and up through the Maritimes, and no one, I  mean, no  one, makes a lobster roll as good as this.

It’s tender without falling apart. It’s generous. It is incredibly delicious. The bread is crisp and buttery, the lobster cool and sweet and creamy.

When I wrote the earlier lobster piece, I hadn’t been there in two decades. Then the summer before last I took my teenage son there (he got a roast beef sandwich, sigh) and I ordered the lobster roll. I was disappointed that Kelly’s had “gussied-up” their beachfront shack.  I was disappointed that they’d opened sit-down restaurants all over the north shore.  Theirs is food that is meant to be consumed with your hair blowing in your face and trying to shield your lunch from seagulls. Nevertheless, progress had come to Kelly’s.

But, a miracle: it didn’t matter. The lobster roll was as divine as I remembered it. Except maybe even larger. It had increased in price from $9 to $17 in twenty years, but you can hardly blame them for that. To sit, looking out at the harbor, holding the roll in two hands and filling your mouth with the luscious, tender, succulent lobster, that is living. If I had only one meal left, that’s the one I would ask for.

Today’s target number 64. Steps walked 11, 302. For breakfast: two hard-boiled eggs, strawberries, banana. Lunch: a cheeseburger. Afternoon snack: half a cinnamon roll, mug of hot tea with milk and sugar, dinner was half a cup of cottage cheese with a sliced tomato. And a dill pickle on the side. For dessert, maple yogurt with maple-pecan granola.

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7 thoughts on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate

    • Don’t kill for this lobster roll, Martha. If you kill in Ohio, they won’t fly in out-of-state lobster rolls for your last meal; if you kill in Massachusetts, they have no death penalty and thus no last meals.

  1. Man! I have to try one of those.. or two. No time like this summer, right? We’re heading to the Berkshires in July to see James Taylor in concert at Tanglewood. This will have to be a meal stop for us along the way. Mmmm

    This reminds me of your trip a couple of summers ago. Lobster was certainly on our menu long before you came (and Julian’s …ahem.. lobster dogs) and you raved about this lobster roll. I see, online, that many others share in your opinion. Can’t wait to try it out.

    I’m really enjoying your writing these days. I might not comment a lot, but I love reading them. If I didn’t always have to remember my log-in for this each time I tried to post something, I might do it more often. LOL My memory is like crap these days. Too many log-ins and passwords to remember. I just can’t do it all the time.

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