One of the strange things about living through the pandemic is how many new ways our family has acquired food.
We used to pretty much be a Trader Joe’s family with guest goodies from the Cape Ann Farmers Market. But you can’t get into Joe’s these days, with lines around the block at the nearest one on Rt. 114 in Danvers. So we have had to seek out several new sources as they present themselves, including Aprilla Farm in Essex, Common Crow, Whole Foods when the line isn’t too bad, Cape Ann Fresh Catch delivered every Thursday, Turner’s Seafood, Marshalls Farm Stand, which goes way beyond vegetables to fabulous meat offerings, A&J’s bread and great produce through the farmers market in pick-ups at Fuller. But also, great opportunities have presented themselves, for example, buying incredible restaurant quality meat in bulk through The Rhumbline and the most amazing stuffed clams ever through Fresh Catch. Also, we’ve returned to Shaw’s and Stop &’Shop for shelf items that Trader Joe’s so excels at.
But, somewhat ironically, one of the sources we keep unexpectedly returning to is at the relatively new Cape Ann Lobster Company right behind the old Bob’s Clam Shack. Our daughter revealed to us how terrific this place is and how good the deals are, especially in the middle of a pandemic. The reason the word “unexpectedly” popped up in this paragraph is because we, like a huge portion of Gloucester, don’t usually eat that much lobster. Our at least we don’t seek it out. Because lobster is all around us, Gloucesteronians tend to take it for granted and even screen it out. We succumb when the price makes it essential ,as was the case a few years ago when they were practically jumping into boats everywhere.
But mostly, it’s guests and visitors that end up exposing us to the spiny bugs -- folks who come to Gloucester and must eat lobster, like my mother. She, rest her soul, used to insist that everyone at the restaurant table have lobster when she was buying. Those lobbies were pretty darn pricey, as they almost always are at a dinner restaurant -- like in the mid to high $20s each -- so quite a few residents will take a pass. Buying them uncooked, fresh in bulk seemed to be the way to go for homies. We didn’t hold it against any restaurant for charging that much cuz that’s the market and it was worth it to the out-o’-townies to get the rare dish.
But the restaurant market has collapsed. As has the cruise ship industry and the China trade. Tariffs on China didn’t help and neither did the trade war mentality. Lobster was seen as a health and long-life stability support in China and a boost to sexual prowess and was also a measure of societal success. But the Xi/Trump imbroglio overrode that and the troika of cruise ships, restaurants and China forced the industry to a very strained springtime status.
So when our daughter called and ordered us to go online to the Cape Ann Lobster Co. website, we were delighted at the opportunity to re-enter the buttery world of lobstahism. It wasn’t a giveaway but the deals were attractive enough to give ‘em a try in our new multi-sourced food universe. Wow, what a year for bugs, apparently, because rarely have we eaten such thick, healthy, firm, delicious lobbies. (Don’t overcook them! Four to five minutes was perfect.) Rarely do any of us get the opportunity to eat-til-we-drop on lobsters -- that dish, always oh-so just out of our reach. But when you get the price down to what a regular protein portion -- like meat or chicken -- would cost, you can’t refuse. Okay, you talked me into it: I’ll have another, please. What a luxury.
Also, we used it to attract our kids/grandchildren to socially distanced, outdoors lobby bake off/eat offs, cooked outdoors on the simple propane turkey-fryer burner. So the smell stays out of the house afterward and the stinky shells stay out of the house in a virus-free backyard. Woo hoo!
Then, we kept doing it. Four times this spring, unlike any other year. Each meal was still cheaper than going out for burgers at a restaurant, but we had to do the work, obviously. No one waited on us or handed out bibs. But who needs that, anyway?
Can’t wait to go back. A woman named Tessa helped us at Cape Ann Lobster. On Mother’s Day, they even included a bouquet of flowers for mom with the order. Now that’s adapting to the market.
There are other wholesalers in town who I’m sure are reacting too and going direct with deals. Whoever you favor, support our lobster companies, folks. Eventually, they will get back their cruise ships, restaurants and Chinese importers. But now is the time to step up, do yourselves a huge favor and help keep the wheel spinning. Our fishing boats have taken mortal blows this past decade, let’s ensure our lobster fleets stay solvent. Now pass the butter and the lemon!
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is an actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine and producer of “The Chicken Shack” community access TV show.