About twenty minutes north of Portland, Maine, off the side of US Highway Route 1, is a delightful shack-like eatery named Day’s Crabmeat and Lobster. On the right side of the white building, wooden deck steps bring visitors up to a sliding window, where one can order their lunch of steamer clams, fried clam bellies, clam chowder, crab cakes, lobster rolls, or whole lobsters with a side of corn on the cob. On the left is an entrance into a large, low-ceiling room with tanks of crawling lobsters, a counter with refrigerated soups and scallops, chalkboards detailing the prices of lobsters and steamers, and various Day’s t-shirts and mugs. Behind the buildings and next to the gravel parking lot are bright red benches overlooking a pleasant marsh with small sailboats, presumably ones for lobstering where sailors set traps and catch lobsters, in the distance. We first visited as a family in fall 2021.
Greeting you with a friendly face is an unassuming man named Trip. I recall shaking his hand, his burly, thick fingers callused with burns (from grabbing boiling-hot lobsters) enclosing my hand with a firm grip. Trip proceeds to lead my dad and I outside on the wooden deck, where a deep stainless steel tub filled with boiling water lays stacked on cinder blocks. He lifts the metal handle with his bare hands, drops in the sack of lobsters, and closes the lid. Although Trip recommends steaming lobsters at home, he says that because the restaurant has to cook nearly 100 at a time, the boiling water reaches the entire surface area of each lobster, and therefore cooks them more evenly. We walk back inside and nine minutes or so later, he carries the bright red lobsters in a styrofoam box over the counter.
Growing up in Michigan, every Thanksgiving, my dad ordered five 2+ pound lobsters shipped from Maine’s Cape Porpoise Lobster Co., instead of the traditional turkey. He always insisted that bigger was better because each lobster had more meat. To our surprise, Trip informed us that the distinction between smaller, younger lobsters (1.25 pounds or less) and larger ones (1.75 pounds or more) is analogous to that of veal and beef. My dad and I noticed a tangible difference with the meat of the smaller lobsters. The morsel of white, knuckle meat melted in our mouths–it was the most tender, succulent piece of lobster meat I had ever tasted up until that point. My dad and I were instantly converted, and thereafter we only ordered 1.25 pound lobsters from Day’s and other vendors.
We left Day’s with five cooked lobsters, all 1.25 pounds each of course, and happily consumed them for dinner. My family and I all noticed that the meat was significantly easier to separate from the shell, similar to the coveted “falling off the bone” phenomenon of well-cooked barbecue ribs. The steamed shells were also much softer to crack, and we did not need the metal crackers and sticklike paraphernalia that Thanksgiving dinners in Michigan necessitated.
Trip was definitely right, and possessed the experience to back his claim. He grew up in the area of Maine’s rocky, curvilinear coastline, fully immersed in Maine’s predominant lobster industry before working in commercial real estate for over 20 years, and then as a manager at Hannaford’s Market, a mostly Maine-based chain of supermarkets. Ultimately, he said he was sick of working in “corporate America,” and instead decided to work full-time at Day’s.
Day’s closes for the winter, only to reopen March 1, for the boats need to travel further and in rougher conditions to catch lobsters in the winter. Lobsters are therefore sold at a higher price, and it becomes less economically feasible for Day’s to remain open. My family now insists that anytime we drive together to Portland, we stop at Day’s. Let’s just say we’ll no longer eat large lobsters shipped from afar, for a trip to Day’s is worth the wait.
Cover Photo courtesy of Scott Greenhalgh