Lobster rolls, lobster mac and cheese, lobster grilled cheese sandwiches, lobster BLTs, lobster pie, lobster tail. That's a lot of lobster. Expect all that, plus whole belly clams, fried haddock sandwiches, scallops by the pint or quart, and peel-and-eat shrimp, when Maine Shack opens at 1535 Central Street in LoHi on Tuesday, July 30.
Drew Ryan, a Maine native, is the mastermind behind Maine Shack, having envisioned the project several years ago as a way to bring a taste of his home state to Denver. He teamed up with Culinary Creative, which includes Juan Padro, Katie O'Shea and Max MacKissock, to bring his vision to life, turning the former Uber Eats location into a haven for New Englanders looking for a reminder of East Coast lobster and clam shacks, and for the rest of us who just want a casual option for good seafood. John Caprio is also a partner in the endeavor.
Ryan has filled the space with all things Maine. Murals of lighthouses decorate the walls, lobster traps (both vintage and modern) form a chandelier suspended from the vaulted ceiling above the dining room, and every knickknack on the tables, shelves and walls was sourced from Maine. Even the lobster-shaped paper towel dispensers on each table and the utensil baskets at the counter were made by inmates of the Maine State Prison.
"That's a channel marker from Monhegan Island, where my family used to spend time every summer," Ryan explains, pointing to a brass fixture with green and red lights.
Another New Englander, Craig Dixon, heads the kitchen. In addition to six years as the chef at Cafe Options, which was operated by Work Options for Women, he has also worked at other restaurants in the Culinary Creative group, including Bar Dough, and has friends and family back home in the lobster and clam industry. In fact, he grew up working at his parents' clam and roast beef sandwich shop. So in addition to all the seafood, you'll find roast beef sandwiches on the menu, some dressed with a tangy-sweet condiment called "barbecue sauce" in Boston's North Shore, even if it bears little resemblance to Southern barbecue sauce.
Maine Shack sources lobster from Greenhead Lobster out of Stonington, Maine. Dixon explains that Maine's lobster industry has been self-regulated for decades and has done a great job of building up lobster fisheries to the point where the population has increased and prices have started to drop. "We're selling lobster for the same price here that you'll see in Maine," the chef notes.
Lobster rolls, the star of Maine Shack's roster, come in four styles, ranging from $20 to $23. For that price, you get a quarter pound of claw and knuckle meat on a buttered and grilled roll. Choices are naked (just lobster on a roll, with mayo or butter on the side), the Maine Shack (with mayo, lobster juice and drawn butter), brown butter (simply lobster and butter), and the Fancy (more of a lobster salad on a roll).
You can also order the Lobsterado: a Maine Shack with a four-ounce lobster tail on top, which will run you $34. Dixon points out that the mayonnaise used on the lobster rolls is made from rendered beef fat, giving a rich, silky texture and a slightly nutty flavor.
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Other East Coast favorites include clam chowder, clam dip with housemade kettle chips, baked beans and fried clam rolls. Dixon notes that while lobster prices are fairly stable, the cost of whole belly clams fluctuates, since they're hand-harvested by soft-shell clam diggers using special rakes (you can see examples hanging on the dining room wall). Because of this, the fried clam roll is the only "market priced" item on the menu.
While Ryan and Dixon recall drinking Shipyard or Harpoon in their younger days (when they could afford the fancy stuff), New England's beer scene rivals Colorado's, so you'll see a few Maine beers on tap and in cans, including from Peak Organic Brewing, Oxbow Brewing and Seadog Brewing. Wine on tap and in cans will also be available.
Starting tomorrow, Maine Shack will be open every day but Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. lunch and from 4 to 9 p.m. for dinner (and until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). Hours of operation could expand in a few weeks. Call 303-997-2118 or visit the restaurant's website for more details.