Last year, Sag Harbor’s Bay Burger restaurant debuted its lobster roll to the delight of both regular customers and tourists alike, although year round patrons bemoaned the loss of the popular summer sandwich from the eatery’s menu once fall arrived.
This year, for a select handful, patrons will say adieu to another summer and the East End’s famous food staple in a major way, competing in Bay Burger’s First Annual Lobster Roll Eating Contest, held on Labor Day from 4 to 5 p.m.
“We have been talking about this for a long time,” said Bay Burger owner Joe Tremblay, who operates the mom-and-pop burger joint with his wife Liza.
Inspired by the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, Tremblay said they originally thought of bringing a similar hot dog-themed event to the Hamptons, noting nothing like it has found a home here, despite the region being ripe for such a contest. After realizing how popular their lobster roll had become, Tremblay said a plan was hatched to host the contest Labor Day weekend, with a regionally significant dish at its heart.
Bay Burger’s lobster roll, in part, has found such popularity because of its relatively affordable price – $14 for a homemade hot dog bun stuffed with an ample portion of lobster salad. It’s a drop in the bucket, said Tremblay, when compared to the cost of a pound of lobster salad at Bridgehampton’s Loaves and Fishes, which has topped out at $100 per pound.
Tremblay’s recipe also avoids a major lobster roll faux pas, overpowering the delicate meat with too much mayonnaise.
Bay Burger’s lobster salad is made from claw and knuckle meat alone, with just a little mayonnaise, lemon, shallots and celery served in a warm, homemade top slice hot dog bun.
“We’ve had a really strong response,” said Tremblay. “We only serve them in season because we don’t want to keep lobster salad sitting around – it can be a big waste, so we only do it when we know we are going to have a lot of business. Last fall, people got really bummed when they were gone and this spring, started asking us when it was coming back on the menu.”
This spring, Tremblay settled on the idea of an annual lobster roll eating contest, which he hopes will gather a crowd of spectators to cheer on the eight to 10 contestants, who Tremblay said will have fighting names, like Bobby “the Lobsta Monsta” Garcia.
In April, he handcrafted the trophy, which the winner will take home along with $500 in cash. Made from a real lobster claw, painted in gold leaf, Tremblay is proud of his creation, and vowed to make an original lobster claw trophy each year for the contest.
“It came to me in a dream,” he laughed. “I see a golden lobster claw. It will be the most coveted trophy in the Hamptons.”
The response to the contest has been good, he said, with eight contestants signed up as of press time. Tremblay said he hopes for an even 10 by the time next Monday rolls around. The entry fee is $100 per person, and Tremblay said he would like to see the contest remain an amateur event. He doesn’t want professionals from the eating contest circuit, like Joey Chestnut or Takeru Kobayashiz, literally eat him out of house and home.
Participants will have five minutes to eat all the lobster roll they can handle, with the traditional cup of water to help wash the dish down.
“I am expecting the winner will do about a dozen, or maybe even just ten,” said Tremblay. “They do go down pretty fast. There is a video of Kobayaski on YouTube eating like 41 in 10 minutes. So I figured we could afford a five minute contest.”