REVIEW: WHY I DIDN’T SAY NO TO LOBSTER…

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Lobster Trap – 35 Patton Ave, Downtown Asheville – thelobstertrap.biz

Good lord, I love lobster. I grew-up in New England, and some of my earliest memories in life are of sitting on the newspaper-covered kitchen floor with a rolling pin, using it to squeeeeeze the sweet, delicious, bits of orangey-white meat out of a pile of spindly, bright red, “spider legs,” while the grown-ups sat at a table devouring the rest of the lobster, drinking beer, and laughing a lot. There was definitely a party atmosphere on lobster-nights, and most definitely a hierarchy: The adults got the tails, the big claw (AKA “The Crusher”), and pretty much what-ever else they wanted, while the kids got the spider legs, and sometimes the smaller “pincher” claw. An industrious kid could also scavenge and pry open the tiny “fans” that are on the very end of the tails once they had been discarded by the adults. I was that industrious kid. I ferkin’ lerved lerbster from day one, and I couldn’t wait to get older, so that I could graduate to the big claw, and finally to the much coveted tail!  I remember my mom saying, “He’s going to be an expensive date,” when I was so young that I didn’t know what a “date” was, let alone what “expensive” meant. Now I know what both of those things mean, and yep. As usual, Mom was right.

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Many of my fondest memories include a giant red claw and a nutcracker. photo by Stu Helm

As I got older, I was allowed to have more and more choice parts of the lobster, until I was finally old enough to have a whole dang sea-bug all for myself! Then I got too old, and my parents stopped paying for my meals… Fuck. That’s when it really sunk in: Lobster really is fucking expensive, Yo. Result: I almost never eat a whole lobster anymore, because I’m as broke as a fuckin’ joke most of the time, and I just straight-up can not afford it. These days, I’m back to nibblin’ bits just like that kid on the kitchen floor, only now I do it in fancy restaurants. Chestnut makes a really nice lobster bisque, with a goodly number of bits in it. Those lobster corn-dogs at Rhubarb have some nice bits in ’em, and so do the Lobster nachos at Limones. But bits is bits, and they always seem to be in limited supply. I count them down while eating. “Three more bits of lobster left… two… one… zero…” Sad face.

I have not had the opportunity to sit down and devour a whole bunch of lobster, free from bit-counting, in about 9 years. True story, The last time I ate the whole dang thing, head-to-tail, was on an expensive date with Dawn at The Lobster Trap in, like, 2006.  That was a long muhfuckin’ time ago. Way before I started writing about food. Back before the whole restaurant / food scene explosion here in Asheville had really kicked-in. A lot of things have changed in this town since my previous visit to The Lobster Trap, but one has remained constant: I still can’t afford to eat as much lobster as I want to. Ever. That’s why I eventually broke down, and said yes to Head Chef / Co-Owner Mike McCarty when he invited me to The Trap himself, saying, “Come in any time, on me.”

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Chef Mike McCarty of The Lobster Trap. photo by Stu Helm

I first met Chef Mike at the taste of Asheville in 2014, and that’s when he extended his initial invite to me.

“Come see us!” he said.

“I will!” I replied.

When I saw him again at the 2015 Taste, I felt ashamed that I still hadn’t gone in to see him, 12 months later!

I told him, lamely, “Uhhh…part of it is… you guys aren’t open for lunch… and I mostly eat lunch… sooo…” He wasn’t hearing it.

“I’ll open for lunch, just let me know ahead of time.” Whoa. Super cool.

I let a whole other month go by before I contacted him, and here’s why:

A compt lobster dinner seemed like too much to ask for. Too much! Seriously. How could I possibly ask for a compt lobster dinner? Who am I, Sir Asks-a-lot?

Then one day, it dawned on me, “Hey, Dumbass! You didn’t ask. The chef offered. Twice. Are you insane? He WANTS you to come in. Take him up on that shit, like RIGHT NOW!!!”

I berated myself a little more, and then e-mailed Chef Mike and arranged to go into The Trap at the dinner hour, as a “guest of the chef.” Well, la-dee-fuckin’-da for me! Gonna eat lobster! A week later I did just that…

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Raw stuff, and appendages, yum! photo by Stu Helm

How was it? How do you think? It was fuckin’ awesome, Yo. In addition to lobster, I ate crab legs, and oysters, and clams. plus some crackers. The food was fantastic, for reals, but the best part was that Chef Mike sat with me for almost an hour, and we chatted the whole time, mostly about The Lobster Trap, and his history with it. He’s a super nice guy, and has a really great attitude about cooking. He explained to me that he feels an affinity toward seafood in particular, saying something like, “I don’t know what it is, but I always gravitate toward cooking seafood.” I could read in his face and see in his eyes that he feels a very strong and sincere connection to it, almost like a calling. I like that. Callings are good.

If you want some more details and background on Chef Mike McCarty… you can You Google his name, or better yet, ask him! Like most of the chefs in Asheville, he’s not aloof, and loves to talk about food! Here’s a run down on the experience I had at The Lobster Trap…

• It was 6pm on a Tuesday night, so I expected the place to be mildly-bumpin’-to-kinda-dead, but it was pretty much full-on bumpin’ when I got there. There was live music, the bar was full, and a goodly number of the booths and tables were taken. By the time I left it seemed like the dining room was almost at capacity. That made me happy. I had wondered in the past if The Trap might be “too expensive” for Asheville to support, but they’ve been around for 10 years and seem to be going as strong as ever. The folks at the bar seemed to be having a really good time, and the bartender, Matt Gafney, had it going on from what I could tell. There were a couple of TVs playing — which I hate — but no one seemed to be paying any attention to them, instead the bar patrons were talking to each other and Matt, and grooving the music being played by Jay Brown, who performs at The Trap on a regular basis. The lively atmosphere was unexpected and definitely added to my enjoyment of the experience as a whole.

They’ve redecorated the joint since the last time I was there. That was actually a huge relief to me. I was kind of dreading the atmosphere, because the last time I was there I felt as though the quality of the decor did not match the price and quality of the food. It had a “cafeteria” feel to it for me before, but now it’s a hell of a lot more cozy and inviting. The walls are painted a dark reddish / maroon, and that really works for me in terms of warmth and comfort. The details, such as a couple of giant copper sea creatures on the walls, and very cool configurations of ropes and wood and such added to the cozy feeling, and gave it a seafood-restaurant-feel without being too over-the-top gimmicky about it.

• The People working there were all very nice. The young host who greeted me was nice, friendly, well-dressed, and pro. She lead me to my table, where my server took over. He was also very pro, and seemed like someone who takes his job pretty seriously, always conducting himself properly, but not being too stiff about it. The kitchen is open for the clientele to see, and it was busy back there, but running like a clock. I knew the Chef trusted his crew to crank out high-quality grub in his absence, because despite how busy the kitchen was, he still took time to sit with me, and he did not seem even the least bit stressed about it. I had a chance to meet his sous chef Rakim Gaines before I left, and he seemed like a very happy dude. He told me he’d been at The Trap for 6 years and started out shucking oysters. His path from hired-hand to sous chef is a great example of the ability to rise in the ranks in the restaurant biz. One of the highlights of my visit was when Rakim pulled a live lobster out of the tank, and rubbed its back until it went into a trance. Then he stood it on its head! Yeah, Man! Dinner and a show.

• Speaking of shows, the live music was not killing me. Chef Mike told me that the tiny stage in the corner of the bar at The Trap is actually a historic landmark, which is protected from demolition. He didn’t know much more about it, except to tell me that they have live music on the stage 7 nights a week. Jay was playing an electric guitar, singing rock standards, and doing it in a way that was neither too loud or too quiet, and contributed greatly to the over-all atmosphere of the restaurant. In between his sets, some pretty generic music came out of the speakers, but it didn’t ruin the night for me or anything. In my notebook I wrote “She Drives Me Crazy FYC.” Meh. Not a song I ever really need to hear again in my life, but like I said, not a deal breaker. I preferred when Mr. Brown was playing.

• The food was fuckin’ good, Yo. I kinda said it all in the intro, but I wanna reiterate that the food that nigt at The Lobster Trap was really effing good. The fish is all flown in fresh, daily, from Maine, Massachusetts, and elsewhere, and it tasted really fresh, and was cooked well, if it was cooked at all. I ate about a half-dozen raw oysters, and they might have been the best I’ve ever had. I’m not the hugest raw oyster eater in the world, so when I do eat them, they’d better be good! These were very good, flown in fresh that morning from Duxbury, Mass, they tasted like the ocean to me. They tasted like my childhood.

Yo, Duxbury, Whazzahhhp? I grew up not too far from you!

The clams were served both cooked and raw, and I enjoyed them tremendously both ways. The crab legs were sweet and delicious, and the lobster was cooked to perfection, and I actually had to stop myself from eating because I was so full  — partially full of regrets that I ate crackers when I could packed more lobster into that corner of my stomach  —  and I didn’t even make it halfway through the lobster roll that Chef Mike styled me out with at the end. GROAN! I was stuffed. I was also very fucking happy. I was in my element. FOOD! Holy fuck, I gotta figure out how to make more money so that I can eat like that every fucking day of my life!

Anyhoo, thanks, Chef Mike and crew for making me feel like I’m in a higher tax bracket for a night, and treating me to your food and company. I’m gonna say that anyone who wants great, fresh seafood — especially shellfish —  here in the mountains should do themselves a favor and get into The Trap. I’ll be back for sure.

Just in case you need shit broke down super-simple: I’M RECOMMENDING THE LOBSTER TRAP.

Here’s a video review, if that makes things even easier…

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IMG_0273Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.

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3 thoughts on “REVIEW: WHY I DIDN’T SAY NO TO LOBSTER…

  1. Pingback: REVIEW: ELEVEN MADISON PARK RESTAURANT, NYC | Stu Helm: Food Fan

  2. Pingback: How Many Restaurants in Downtown Asheville? Officially: An Assload. I made a list. | Stu Helm: Food Fan

  3. Pingback: BOOKED! Chefs Elliott Moss, Mike McCarty, AJ Gregson, and More! | Stu Helm: Food Fan

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