The tiny village of Noank, Connecticut, a south-facing peninsula at the junction of the Mystic River and Long Island Sound—once a summer camping ground for the Pequot people—is so camera-ready, so picket-fenced and cedar-shingled and nautical, it would be easy to believe that some movie crew-—maybe a team of set designers from Mystic Pizza, circa 1988—built the whole thing as a fantasy New England backdrop and then simply left it standing.
Toward the end of Pearl Street, down a short hill with a view of the blue expanse of the Sound and Fisher Island beyond, a jumble of parked cars and customers breaks up the coastal calm. Here is Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough, a compound of tents, outbuildings, and the original restaurant, which has accreted additional spaces over nearly 70 years as Abbott’s popularity has grown. Here’s the walk-up order window, the indoor dining room for rainy days, the fish market stocked with lobsters in a series of saltwater tanks.
On busy weekend days, the wait for an open parking spot, let alone the line at the order window, can aggravate. But people tend to arrive happy anyway. A meal here is a mini seaside vacation offering fresh seafood and a clean ocean breeze. Most of the action takes place outside by the water, where picnic tables line both the lawn and, most temptingly, a wide dock directly over the water. Sailboats, fishing boats, yachts, and kayaks glide by. Seagulls linger, but rows of thin wire strung above the dining areas prevent them from dive-bombing your lobster roll. And what a unique lobster roll it is: Abbott’s signature dish is done in Connecticut’s hot-with-butter style: a quarter-pound of buttered meat served on a toasted hamburger-style bun. We can’t say that we prefer this deviation over a nicely griddled top-loaded type, but the round bun is their trademark. And it does allow more flexibility: The “OMG Hot Lobster Roll” piles nearly double the meat—seven ounces—between the rounds. And for lobster-salad lovers, there’s the traditional cold roll on a split bun.
But being this close to the water, we like to stick to more-elemental pleasures. Fresh oysters from nearby waters—briny Blue Points that go sweet around the edges, Abbott’s own signature variety with a nuttier flavor like celery root—are intensely satisfying eating when the air is scented with salt and tides. Abbott’s has no liquor license, so BYOB, something dry and fruity, like a Pinot Grigio or Grüner Veltliner. Likewise, the Rhode Island–style chowder, with its clear broth base, is full-flavored and oceanic. Whole lobsters are gently steamed, split down the back, given three or four whacks to the legs for easier picking, and served with potato chips and coleslaw, with plenty of butter for dipping.
A large, multigenerational family seeking shelter from a brief shower under the big, red-striped tent watches as a son tackles a massive two-pounder. “It’s an exercise in humility,” he admits. But he’ll still have room for some ice cream from the dessert stand opposite the main dining room. Or strawberry shortcake. Or a pumpkin-pie sundae. A sign at the window reads, Clamo; Clamatis; Omnes clamamus; Pro glace lactis. And beneath that: Si hoc legere scis, nimium eruditionis habes. “I scream; you scream; we all scream for ice cream … If you can read this, you’re overeducated.” This may be a lobster shack, but we’re in Connecticut, after all.
Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough. 117 Pearl St., Noank, CT. 860-536-7719;