Let me tell you the Ben Sargent story. Ben (pictured at right) is a New Englander, around my age, living in a Polish-owned basement studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. At some point, he decided there are no good lobster rolls in New York City. Strike that, no authentic lobster rolls. Ben says that every aspiring New York chef puts their own imprint on the basic clam-shack mainstay,* sullying its purity with exotic ingredients and preparation methods. While he admits some variations are worth trying, there’s no topping the classic: lobster chunks, largely intact and uncut, cooked until tender, mixed with a wee dollop of Hellman’s mayo, served in a buttered, grilled hot dog bun. That’s it.
So he started making lobster rolls in his apartment, using a “secret lobster source” from the piers of Red Hook. At first he only served them to his friends, but word-of-mouth spread and he started selling the rolls to curious outsiders. People would send him a text and if he was around, he’d sell them a roll, passed through his apartment’s mail slot (wrapped of course).
This venture was illegal, as Ben’s dingy galley kitchen was certainly not up to code for commercial food preparation. He started giving interviews to whatever media outlets would have him, framing it like he was breaking the law to help the deprived people of NYC. So noble! (I suspect Ben’s motivations are less-than-pure: he trumpets on one clip that he is single and looking to mingle.)
Well lo and behold, all the media attention brought the Board of Health to his door, where they promptly shut him down. Surprise surprise. BUT! Unwilling to admit defeat, Ben started a secret lobster roll delivery service, highly clandestine and modeled after the drug runners on The Wire.
This is where me and Tom Dudley come in.
(Yes, to be cont.)
*I don’t totally agree with Ben’s prejudice, as my dinner with Ruth Reichl (ha) boasted a very traditional New England-style lobster roll. It cost twice as much as I’m used to but c’mon- it’s the West Village, not West Hyannisport.