You won't find Enea Bacci on social media but you might see him greeting customers or lugging giant lobsters around Lobster Landing, the shack on the Clinton shoreline that he has owned with his wife Cathie for more than 20 years. He's big on integrity and simplicity and most of all, introducing the world to his lobster roll. Lobster Landing doesn't have a website but you can follow the business on Facebook and Instagram.
How did you get started in the lobster business?
It was about 1995. We went for a cruise with my wife and some friends and we saw a for sale sign and so I took the number down. The next day I called the gentleman and visited, and he showed me what it was and we bargained on the price and bought it. A month later my wife asked me where I was going and I said Clinton. She said "Clinton? What's in Clinton? We don't know anyone in Clinton." And I told her I bought the place. She said I was crazy, and with the help of fishermen we learned every single thing. We could not have done it without our fishermen. We honestly didn't know anything about the business. They were very kind. We went out to Maine and took a course for a week at a university and learned all about lobsters and how they grow, and about molting season and all that. And from that point on it took off.
Why do you only serve lobster rolls?
Well there's a very good reason for that. We don't have a kitchen to support the cooking/steaming of lobster or steamers or soup. We are simple, we are seasonal. We open the second week of April and close at the end of December. Cathie and I have discussed at length, to have additional things like clam chowder. But to cook and serve it outside it is difficult to maintain that quality and integrity of the meat.
You only serve the Connecticut style lobster roll. What are your thoughts on cold lobster rolls?
Many people ask us why we don't do cold lobster rolls. And my thought is if you use mayonnaise with the lobster meat, the first thing you taste is mayonnaise and therefore it takes away the integrity of the taste of the lobster. In addition to that, when you are dealing with 90 degree weather and mayonnaise you need a refrigerator and we are located outside. It would be difficult to not have waste. But taste wise I think it is a matter of preference.
How important do you think the actual roll is in the lobster roll? Why do you use a sub roll as opposed to a hot dog bun?
I think for a hot lobster roll, the importance is probably 70% fresh meat. We are using tail, claws and knuckles. The mixture is very important because the taste of each part is very different. Then the bread is very important. When we started we probably went to at least 10 different bakeries and we couldn't find the bread that we wanted. Either it became too hot on the grill or it fell apart. Finally one day we stumbled onto what we are using now, which we've had for about 15 years. The roll is from a small company in Vermont and then bring down x amount of boxes every Wednesday. We put them on the grill and they stay firm and the butter doesn't soak through and yet it is very easy to chew. On Wednesdays we have senior day and we have a lot of people who have difficulty chewing. So it is very important to have a bun that is very soft and tender even after it has been grilled. The last part is the melted butter. There is a tremendous difference in the taste of melted butter vs pan fried. When you pan fry butter it loses acidity. When you mix lobster with butter that is releasing acidity it takes away from the beautiful lobster. So it is very important to us to just use melted butter. And then we simply finish it with some lemon juice.
Obviously lobster rolls have become a quintessential Connecticut food. Do you see them sticking around?
Well 22 years ago when got here there was no one doing lobster rolls. Once we started, a dear friend of mine on the west coast asked if I could help set him up so I told him exactly what we were doing. Then another fisherman with the same setup as us asked me if I'd mind and I said I don't mind and I helped set him up. It went from 3-5 to many other people. In my opinion I think the lobster roll will stay with us for a while. Because if you are honest with your customers about putting in a quarter pound of lobster meat it is still at a reasonable price. I think it will stay for a while, I don't think the trend is going to disappear. I think the customers are not even close to that. There are so many people around the world that visit and come here to try it.
What is one piece of cooking equipment that you would tell a home chef to buy?
Well to cook a lobster roll I would tell that they can do it with what they have. You don't need anything fancy, just simple. What we have here is very simple, just a grill, a pot with water, and another pot to melt the butter.
What is the most memorable meal that you've ever had?
Well coming from northwest of Italy, the Alps, one thing that stays with me all the time is this risotto dish with wild mushroom and truffles. Those are things that I don't find here but those are the traditions that I truly miss and have experienced since I was a child. To me it's not the $200 meal that makes a difference, but the integrity of the ingredients. So that is my favorite.
Do you cook them now still?
I do, whenever I have the ability. As a matter of fact there are many porcini mushrooms in Connecticut. I go and harvest them in August. I took a course so that I know which ones are not poisonous. I forage for them and then I dry them up in the sun and once they are dry they keep one or two years. I love to cook, I cook every day. That's why my wife loves me.
What does your family in Italy think of you opening a lobster shack?
They are very proud of what we achieve here. They can't believe it. They are on Facebook and my brother sees everything. It's a small operation. It's a very important job we do here. We introduce many people to simplicity. I use the word simplicity because that is what is very important. It is why we keep our menu and system simple. My wife and I are very proud.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.