On a beautiful and breezy spring Saturday morning, customers crowd around Salt River Lobster's stand at the Kensington Farmers Market. An involuntary "ooh" of delight is heard as co-owner Andrew Beardall opens one of the 20-plus seafood-packed coolers to reveal a cache of soft-shell crabs. "You gotta love it when customers make yummy noises," says Beardall.
Beardall and business partner Don McGee park their truck, with its refrigerated lobster tank, and set up their coolers and commercial scale here every Saturday morning. Fridays used to find them on the campus of the National Institutes of Health, until post-9/11 security concerns forced them across Old Georgetown Road to the Bethesda Community Store. Wherever they go, loyal customers find them.
"This is the most amazing fish," said Maureen O'Connell of Kensington, a regular at the Kensington spot. "You can't find fish this good anywhere else." Even a few seafood-shy kids take to the fish -- at least some of it. "Salmon is the only fish I eat, but it's really good," says O'Connell's 11-year-old daughter, Danielle. (The farm-raised salmon is $8.99 per pound, wild is $13.99. Prices fluctuate.)
The business's name comes from the river that runs through founder Mike McConnell's back yard in Boothbay, Maine. The lobsters, which McConnell ships, come from the coast nearby. But the business sells more than just lobster, priced from $8.99 to $10.99 per pound. There are sea scallops the size of golf balls ($13.99 per pound), shrimp ($8.99 to $12.99 per pound), cod fillets ($8.99 per pound), catfish ($5.99 per pound) and soft-shell crabs in season ($4.99 each), which Beardall says will likely be available through July.
Of all things, Beardall, 34, is allergic to shellfish: "I'd love to eat it, but I can't." There are plenty of folks who can and love to, though, and by 8:40 a.m., both Beardall and McGee are busy weighing fish and doling out cooking tips to customers, most of whom they know by name. ("We've got some basic recipes in our heads and cookbooks in our truck," says McGee, 54.)
"Everything we started with this morning," Beardall says, "will be gone by this afternoon."
Salt River Lobster: At the Bethesda Community Store, 8804 Old Georgetown Rd., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays; and at the Kensington Train Station at the end of Howard Avenue, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays only. To place orders or to check prices, call Don McGee, 301- 865-3139, or Andrew Beardall, 301-869-8555; see www.saltriverlobster.com.
-- Matt McMillen
Matt McMillen last wrote for Food about El Patio Argentine Cafe in Rockville.