Sunday, May 26, 2013
CAPE ELIZABETH -- Most tourists who come to Maine aren't about to go home without eating lobster -- and they're not going to be deterred by high prices.
Prices on the menu board at Day's Take-Out in Yarmouth on Thursday.
Portland Press Herlad photo by Greg Rec
Jack Burke selects lobsters for a customer at Free Range Fish & Lobster market in Portland.
High prices? At a time when low prices have sparked an international dispute?
By the time that bright red lobster lands in front of a customer in a Maine restaurant, those low dock prices of $2 to $2.50 a pound are a distant murmur, rather than the issue that's causing all the shouting by lobstermen in Canada, who fear that their livelihoods are threatened by cheap Maine lobster flowing to processing plants north of the border.
A case in point is the Lobster Shack at Two Lights, where diners can savor their seafood on picnic tables overlooking -- when the fog lifts -- crashing waves on, yes, the rocky coast of Maine. On Thursday, the lobster rolls and lobster dinner were going for market price on the big menu board posted where diners line up to place their orders.
A smaller board just inside the door offered the detail that the market price was $14.99 for a lobster roll and $18.99 for the dinner.
Cynthia Geary, a Portland native who lives in California, had no idea how much she had just paid for two lobster rolls -- one for her and another for son Collin -- and three sodas, until she dug out the receipt showing $37.
Geary confessed that she hadn't paid attention to the cost, because the trip to the Lobster Shack is a regular feature of the family's Maine vacations and also because someone was standing in front of the sign noting the prices when she went in to order.
"I thought it was kind of expensive," she said. "I feel taken advantage of. It says market price, and I thought market price was $2.99."
Nearby, military retiree Bill Thompson of Manchester also said he paid no attention to the price of his lobster roll -- his friends from Florida were paying.
"That's crazy," he said of the price they shelled out. "But it was good," he said.
Carol Hart, who picked up the tab with her husband, Terrell Hart, said vacationers know pretty much everything is going to cost a lot, so you don't necessarily blink at a lobster roll for $14.99, even when a whole lobster can be had for $3 or $4 at a local lobster pound.
"When you're at a place like this, and you're on vacation, you just spend," she said over the sound of a foghorn.
Katie Porch, who owns the Lobster Shack with her husband, Jeff, said she's not getting her lobster right off the boat and has to go through a dealer, who adds a mark-up to the price. She also noted that her lobster rolls are filled with fresh meat, but she buys it cooked and picked by the dealers, which adds to the price.
Cooked lobster meat is going for about $24 a pound, she said, a price other restaurant owners in the area confirmed.
A few customers have pointed out that lobster prices are near record lows, Porch said. "I keep hearing that, too," she said.
Porch wouldn't say what she's paying for lobsters, but noted that prices for most other seafood has shot up this year and some products -- crabmeat, for instance -- are hard to find for any price.
Porch said she cut the price for the lobster meal from about $25 a month ago, when she could no longer get more expensive hardshell lobsters.
Steve DiMillo, owner of DiMillo's Floating Restaurant on the Portland waterfront, agreed.
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