Before Chloe Dahl and Nikki Booth started selling lobster rolls out of farmers’ market stalls, they thought they had a good product, but they wanted to be certain. Sure, they’d invested a lot of time and energy into crafting their take on the classic New England sandwich, sourcing the freshest ingredients they could find and landing on a recipe though research and home-kitchen trial and error, but the only feedback they had was from family. What they really wanted was some verification from strangers.
“We had something that we absolutely loved, and our parents loved it, and our siblings loved it, but, you know, they have to love it,” says Dahl (granddaughter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl), who spent her childhood on Martha’s Vineyard. “We wanted to take it out into the real world and get people’s honest advice and honest feedback to see if we were onto something. From the get-go, we knew we were because people were just eating it up–pun intended.”
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of securing a lease–a difficult process that Dahl likens to “getting into a private school in L.A.”–finding a bakery to make their rolls (they started with brioche, but now they’re getting classic split-top buns from Rockenwagner), and continuing to build an audience for Knuckle & Claw, their new brick-and-mortar spot in Silver Lake, which had its grand opening last weekend. So far, their reputation–plus Instagram photos and rapid-fire word of mouth–has preceded them, spurring out-the-door lines and sell-out days during their opening weekend, which for better or worse, happened to coincide with the L.A. Marathon.
Some of the enthusiasm can be attributed to the fact that there isn’t another proper lobster roll to be found for miles. While L&E Oyster Bar on Silver Lake Boulevard was doing a lobster torta special for a while, until now there hasn’t been a go-to place in the area to sate the kind of craving that Dahl and Booth have zeroed in on. The other factor is that Knuckle & Claw is offering something different from many recent purveyors, namely less mayonnaise and butter.
“When we started this, we drove out to Portland, Maine, and we tried lobster rolls from all different areas,” Booth says. “We took the good and the bad from those, and we just knew, if we could get the freshest lobster possible, then all we needed to do was just not put too much mayo, not put too much lemon butter, and not put too much of anything that was going to mask the freshness of the lobster.”
“Neither of us are mayonnaise-y people. That’s a big lobster faux pas that we wanted to break,” Dahl says and laughs.
With lobster flown in daily from the Northeast, a quarter pound of meat is piled high on a bun dressed with a conservative squirt of mayo. Lemon butter and a dash of “secret” spice blend finish it off along with a pickle on the side. Shrimp and crab are also available and equally delicious–we suggest getting a trio of mini sandwiches to try all three. The seafood they’re getting from Ready Seafood, a company they settled on after sampling meat from more than 20 suppliers in Maine, is some of the freshest and highest-quality you’ll find in town.
“Lobster has to be firm, it has to hold together. So many of the lobsters we sampled, you would get it, and the lobster would kind of be falling apart, the claws would be falling apart, and that doesn’t make any sense to me, you know, it should come out, and it should be a perfect claw. It should hold together, and when you bite into it, you should be able to rip it apart–it shouldn’t fall apart,” Booth says.
Though the dressings might be scant, those in search of real decadence also have options here, including the Knuckle Sandwich, a grilled “sandy” loaded with chive-studded Cotswold cheese (from The Cheese Store of Silver Lake down the street) and lobster knuckle and claw meat. And if you’re still hungry, you can grab a Hammond’s Whoopie Pie, a dark-chocolate bar filled with whoopie-pie cream. On the other end of the spectrum, calorie counters can switch out the bread for a collard-green wrap, a low-carb, gluten-free concession the duo have made especially for diet-prone Angelenos.
If everything goes to plan, Booth and Dahl have more in store for the future. In the immediate, they’ll start serving beer and wine once their license comes through, and they’d also like to add a lobster pot pie baked in-house or sold frozen for takeaway. A full West Coast expansion is a longer-term goal. In the meantime, they’re just trying to keep up with the crowds, which they hope to keep their claws on.