Noank - How long would you stand in line to get the first lobster of the season, piping hot from the famed Abbott's steamer, just waiting to be cracked open, drizzled with butter and devoured?
After a near miss at first place last year, Ben and Alison Fernandez of Hartford camped out for two days with their five-month-old Australian cattle dog Charlie in the cold and damp to claim their place as first customers of the 2012 season. Abbott's Lobster in the Rough opened for the season May 12. Three years ago the Fernandezes chose Abbott's for their wedding rehearsal dinner venue because of the great food, location and unstructured
After freezing for a couple of days, the pair was moving on to Falmouth, Massachusetts for a weekend of "hot showers and a king-sized bed," Alison laughed. A word of advice from Ben - "trim your beard before eating lobster," it's really hard to get the scent of lobster out of a full beard, although your dog may love you more. He was sure to trim before lunch this year.
In appreciation of their zealous patronage, Abbott's owner Deirdre Mears presented the Fernandez's with cozy sweatshirts and a copy of the newly released book "Lobster Shacks"(2012 Countryman Press) by Old Saybrook Author Mike Urban, who also was on hand to sign copies.
The book is a mobile foodie's must-have guide to famous and obscure lobster shacks along the East Coast from New Haven to nearly the Canadian border, including several pages about Noank's own Abbott's Lobster in the Rough. Urban includes the shacks' quirks, history and stories in his sit-on-the-porch-and-have-a-chat style. He even got a few owners to share secret recipes.
The cool, wet weather didn't prevent Jimmy Aiello and his wife, son and daughter from traveling all the way from New Jersey to be second in line. The trek to Abbott's is a six-year tradition for the Aiello's. Some years they have been first, sometimes second or third. Jimmy lined up to order the "lobster bisque and the super select lobster, with chips and cole slaw," while his son Jimmy joked he would order "whatever he's buying," with a nod toward his dad. They keep coming back "because it's a special place, with nice people and the food is great," Aiello said.
Third in line by sheer serendipity, were Della and Gary Foster of North Carolina. The couple was in the area to celebrate Gary's mother's 100th birthday. They were staying at Foxwoods Resort Casiono and had read a listing Urban had compiled of the 12 best lobster shacks, which included Abbott's. They didn't know it was opening day, or that there was a race to be first, or that Urban would be there to sign books. They had a great lunch, purchased a signed copy of "Lobster Shacks," had their picture taken for Abbott's website, and earned their spot in Abbott's history. A banner day for the Fosters.
Some years the crowd is thick and competition to be first in line is fierce. The lighter crowd was probably because of the weather, Mears said. "I did see people drive by to see if anyone was here yet. When they see they aren't first they say 'We'll be back.' We've had six or seven cars parked overnight some years with people sleeping in them," she said. "It's not one of our best opening days, we're very weather dependent."
"The customers themselves came up with the contest, it wasn't our marketing ploy that started it," Mears added. "We're special every day, we're a destination. It's not like we're sitting downtown where people can just stop by, people have to leave town and find us."
Abbott's and sister restaurant Costello's are also a staycation destination for surrounding areas. "When gas prices go up, it's actually good for the area, more people stay closer to home," Mears said.
As for being featured in "Lobster Shacks," "It's a great book; he did a great job, very thorough. He showcases a lot of very good restaurants. It's nice when all of your hard work comes to fruition, and it's nice to be recognized for it," Mears commented.
This is Mears' 32nd season at Abbott's. She first worked in the restaurant as a teenager. Her parents, Jerry and Ruth, would come in to eat, chat with the owners and enjoy the beautiful water view. Eventually her parents bought the restaurant, and Mears worked for them right out of college on a promise of giving two years to the business. "I had a job lined up in human resources, but came here anyway, and I'm still here." Seems Abbott's is the kind of place that's hard for anyone to leave.