The composition of an authentic lobster roll is a subject of great debate. While I do not have a degree in lobster roll science, I did once consume five samples over the course of a three-day trip to Boston, and I've eaten my fair share in various other venues over the years.
Some will tell you that the lobster roll originated in Connecticut, where hot chunks of lobster are bathed in warm butter and served on a split bun. With no mayo in sight, this is frequently called "fisherman style." Proponents refer to the mayo variety as a "lobster salad" roll.
Further up the coast, aficionados swear by the cold marriage between lobster and mayo, with maybe a little celery to give it crunch. I've enjoyed both variations, but, to me, if the balance is there, and it tastes like a life achievement has officially been unlocked: it's an "authentic" lobster roll.
Such is the case with the lobster roll at 167 Raw. Fresh chunks of New England lobster are elegantly dressed in a light aioli, dusted with chives, then nestled inside a buttery, warm split-top bun. The balance of flavor is perfectly satisfying. Chef Sean Rieflin has crafted a roll that's worth talking about. Some credit needs to be given to Butcher & Bee for creating the fabulous split-top bun which Rieflin slathers with butter and toasts right before filling it with the mouth-watering lobster.
That filling starts with live lobsters. Considering our crustacean friends aren't trawled from the Charleston waterways, $18 for a roll that's flown in from New England, then cleaned and cooked, and requires one or two lobsters to get a third of a pound of meat — well, that price isn't unreasonable. A side of chips adds a bit to the value.
167 Raw defines itself as more of a market with a café than as a restaurant. In fact, if there's one problem with the space located across from Harris Teeter, it's that there's not enough seating (seven chairs to be exact), but we're perfectly fine with eating on the go. Directly inside the door there's a display case showcasing fresh fish, scallops, oysters, and clams, all ready to purchase and take home. Behind the case, the walls are made up of shiny, bright white ceramic tiles, and a few chalkboards display the daily selections. In addition, there's cocktail sauce, corn salsa, smoked fish pâté, beer, and wine. Oysters are available on the half shell at $2.50 a piece or $27 a dozen (half-off during happy hour) and most recently were Pemaquid Points and Beausoleils. Succulent jumbo shrimp are $2 a piece.
The owners and chef are not willing to sacrifice quality in order to fill orders. For example, while a $22 sampler typically includes clams, oysters, and jumbo shrimp, on one visit we were served a second type of oyster instead of clams, which, at the time, were not up to their standards.
While those incredible lobster rolls take center stage, don't overlook the tuna taco ($6). Traditional or not, it's a winner. It's simple: fresh seared ahi tuna, pickled red onion, a few sprigs of cilantro, and a drizzle of spicy aioli inside two grilled corn tortillas. In between the tortillas: a small swipe of guacamole. Each bite rewrites all we know about fish tacos. The tuna isn't masked with over-exuberant amounts of bold flavors. It's left to shine on its own merits. The crispy oyster ($6) and carnitas ($5) tacos aren't bad either.
As a repeating special, you can occasionally get a roll featuring swordfish ($15). An ample filet of fish hits the grill to order before meeting the toasted split-top bun we've come to love. Red onion, green goddess dressing, fresh cilantro, chives, and Sriracha sing in unison as the swordfish harmonizes in butter bliss. It was good enough to warrant the question: cold lobster roll or warm swordfish roll? We still haven't made that decision, but we did learn that any fish on display is fair game for a roll. All you have to do is ask. How's that for a special?