A few days ago, Ed Rindler, a quintessential New Englander, called to say he was making a run to Maine in a borrowed 18-wheeler that he planned to load up with 7,000 pounds of lobsters. Would I be interested in a few prime crustaceans?
At 8:30 a.m. yesterday, within 24 hours of scooping them out of the water, Ed, as promised, began unloading the delicacies at a designated spot in a parking lot on the outskirts of Arlington, kind of the way they do bootleg cigarettes from the Carolinas.
Folks, let me say that I don't get up before 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning for anybody. But a real, fresh Maine lobster in October just ain't anybody. It is most delicious, and if that wasn't enough, old Ed had dispatched another crew down to New Orleans to fly back with shrimp fresh off the day boat, not the flash-frozen stuff that comes off the night boat, and yet another crew to the coast of North Carolina for a load of those succulent steamer clams.
Now the catch to all of this is that you have to eat them like Ed says. No linguine with creamy lobster sauce. None of "Roger Verge's Fricassee of Lobster" in which the delicacy is hidden under Armaganac brandy. You have to eat Ed's lobster the Maine Way -- steamed in sea water (he provides the seaweed; you throw in " 'bout a dollop's worth of salt").
The result is exquisite eating -- unfortunately followed by a fit of depression. What on earth, you will no doubt wonder, have Washington area eateries been passing off as lobster all of these years?
Crisfield's in Silver Spring is one of the best we have around here. But even they can drown the lobster in butter sauce to disguise the sometimes dry side.
The Red Lobster restaurant chain has the best-looking lobsters on television. But no seafood commercial can make you hungry enough to forget that on a bad day, old lobster tastes like a rubber band.
Les Fruits de Mer? That's a nice seafood joint in Georgetown. It means fruits of the sea, but when their lobster is compared with Ed's finest kind, it might as well read Fruit of the Cardboard.
These days, a lot of people are into the Safeway stores with aquariums stuffed with lobsters. They may be fresh, but lobsters refuse to eat when cooped up in a glass box. And a lobster on a fast is likely to shrink even faster when thrown into the pot.
As for that place we call a wharf on the Southwest Washington waterfront . . . well, on a good day, yes, they do sell lobster of the quality that Ed provides. But unless you hit the number that week, and have money to burn, forget it.
By conventional means, it usually takes a Maine lobster three or four days just to make it down to Washington, then it may sit -- or even swim -- around for a day before you get to eat it.
What you get, fellow seafood lovers, it not lobster as it should be consumed. But since most of us don't know that, lobster wholesalers and restaurateurs do precious little -- aside from using tanks and aquariums -- to get us the best buy.
Ed and his people know this, and are trying to do something about it. Twice a year, in June and October, when lobsters are at their peak, his little operation, called "Finestkind," cranks up and cuts out the middle man. Ed deals directly with the fishermen, and as a result gets the pick of the critters and delivers them fast and fresh.
Yesterday, more than 1,000 people showed up at two Washington area sites to pick up their pre-ordered seafood from Ed's truck. Testimonials of satisfaction were the order of the day.
Short of going to Maine to catch your own seafood, catching Ed is Washington's best hope. Of course, the lobster wholesalers are not pleased with his idea one bit. Then, again, I am not too pleased with the wholesalers.
So here is Ed's telephone number at his house on Capitol Hill: 543-0311. Leave your address on his answering machine and he'll send you information about how to get a great lobster in a town that would rather you not know.