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Off Menu: The Maine Taste

Off Menu: The Maine Taste


Take a trip to Maine with only a few steps off Pearl Street

I think about food often. One question that often intrigues me: Who was the first person to eat this?

Lobster remains at the top of my list when these musings take hold. I look at lobsters, with their beady eyes, antennae, and intimidating claws and wonder, “What made someone look at this and think, ‘Food!’? How hungry must they have been to crack it open and have a go?” Whoever that person is, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you for being more open-minded than I might have been. I absolutely love lobster.

Not having traveled much in New England, lobster rolls crossed my path only recently. Admittedly, I can be a bit of a minimalist when it comes to certain food items. When I eat lobster, I don’t even use butter. Instead, I prefer to enjoy the pure succulence of it. Lobster rolls, however, have won my heart. Maine Shack remains the primary cause of that.

With several restaurants including the Lower Highlands neighborhood, and now in Boulder just a short distance from Pearl Street Mall, this spot exists for one purpose: to bring people to Maine. On a frigid Sunday afternoon, I had the great fortune of being able to spend time with the founder and owner Drew Ryan.

Ryan hails from Maine and grew up in the food industry. His father owned and operated a small distributing company, and Drew made deliveries. Eventually, Ryan’s path took him into the music industry. When he came to Colorado in 2006, he missed the food from home. This eventually led to the opening of his first fast casual location in the Lower Highlands neighborhood in Denver in 2019, then, most recently, his Boulder location.

Entering into the restaurant, you can immediately tell that great time, attention, and care have gone into creating the atmosphere of a Maine lobster shack. Enlisting the help of his friends who run the Maine Cabin Masters TV show, he brought in repurposed and reclaimed wood, furniture, and decorations. From the chairs to the walls to the old and new lobster traps hanging from the ceiling, everything can be traced back to Maine. His eyes sparkled a bit as he showed me boat helms, nets, and traps. I can tell this is not only a sense of pride for him but also an homage to his childhood home. I can also infer he probably loves to come to the restaurant and just “be,” soaking in the New England vibes and food and rejuvenating his soul. Indeed, the decor, coupled with his New England accent, made me forget for a time that I was still in Boulder. The food only served to bolster that feeling.

If you’re going to claim that you want your customers to feel like they are in Maine, the lobster must be fresh. That’s no easy requirement from a landlocked state. A quick Google search revealed that from Denver to the southern Maine coast covers slightly over 2,000 miles. Stonington, the town where Maine Shack gets its lobster from, sits on an island about halfway between the southern and northern state lines. In order to ensure a fresh product and to keep prices as low as possible for the consumer, Ryan doesn’t work with a distributor. He deals directly with the lobstermen of GreenHead Lobster.

From the dock to the packaging plant, it’s about an hour. Once the lobsters arrive, they are euthanized using pressure, which is the most humane way, and then prepared for cooking. After being deconstructed, the lobster pieces are cooked separately to perfection. This fact boggles my mind briefly but then makes perfect sense. The different pieces cook differently. Claws are not tails, tails are not knuckles, and so on and so forth. The pieces are vacuum sealed with a bit of seawater and then begin their journey to Colorado.

After a direct flight from Boston and once passengers have disembarked the plane, the lobsters await pick up. Ryan also told me that these pick-up days often look like a Who’s Who of the Denver sushi and seafood scene as the restaurant owners and chefs make every effort to ensure the freshest of ingredients for the Colorado food scene. All told, the journey takes two days. “The Maine guys take care of us,” Ryan proclaimed.

Ever since I first set up the interview, the time I have been waiting for finally  arrives. “What would you like to try?” Ryan asked. I put myself in his capable hands. A trio of lobster rolls — I might label it a roll flight — arrived, and I am reminded why Maine Shack made my introduction to lobster rolls such an experience. Ryan wants the seafood to do the talking. No matter what roll you order, the butter, the mayonnaise, the other toppings are present but not overpowering. The locally made New England rolls from Boulder’s Breadworks provide added flavor and texture but remain a supporting character. I also got to try some fried clams, complete with clam belly, which arrive raw after their two-day journey. The New England Clam Chowder warmed my soul, and the Lobster Stew was chock full of claw and leg meat.

Ryan offered that with six lobster rolls on the menu, there’s a lobster roll for everyone. If not, “Have it your way,” he smiled.  


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