Lobster Haven is a great little hole-in-the-wall on Hillsborough Avenue just outside of Oldsmar in a nondescript strip mall, although I'm a bit puzzled by the name since it doesn't really seem to be much of a haven for the lobsters. Perhaps "Lobster Kill-Shelter" would be a more accurate appellation.
A bona fide "hidden gem", there is little about the exterior to reel you in (forgive the pun) if you are simply a passing motorist....except for maybe the skeletal remains of an odd, lobster-esque metal structure that I think a banner used to hang from that said "Eat More Lobstah". Nonetheless, it proved itself to be a true destination restaurant for simple seafood lovers who appreciate quality and don't need white tablecloths and linen napkins to be happy (this is a Styrofoam plate and plastic basket kinda place). Howdy...c'mon in!
While the interior is pretty simple and consists of a retail seafood display and wooden tables with paper place mats, efforts clearly have been made to cuten it up in the dining areas. In other words, a non-typical (for a casual seafood restaurant), eclectically kitschy ambiance does exist and you don't feel like you're just sitting in a butcher shop eating your meal. Our server was friendly, informative and honest in her descriptions when we asked questions about the preparation style of the somewhat limited menu offerings. Food took a little while to come out, but the place was surprisingly busy at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon, we were in no hurry and everything presented was clearly freshly prepared...so we didn't mind.
First up, The Big Easy starter (crab meat, homemade guacamole, pico de gallo and shredded lettuce served with tortilla chips for dipping). It can be ordered made with either "krab" or "crab", and since I have no tolerance for that strange "krab" shiznit, we paid a small upcharge for the real deal. Not a morsel of this unique and fresh-tasting dip remained after our foursome had our way with it.
We also sampled the Smoked Fish Spread. Described as being homemade and house-smoked, its piscatorial species of origin apparently varies by day. I was a little bummed initially to hear that Lobster Haven would be serving smoked salmon spread, but redemption came in the form of a creamy-yet-sturdy, sweet, smoky and totally non-fishy-tasting (salmon can sometimes be a little over the top in that respect) rendition that had a nice little kick of heat on the back-end. I loved the smooth texture as well as the fact that there was none of the "mayo overload" that one frequently encounters in this ubiquitous local snack. I also bestow Sweet Polly's Coveted Bonus Points for the fact that it was served with buttery Captain's Wafers and not cheapass Saltines. Another all-around crowd-pleaser.
My "little" brother was psyched that snapper was a Catch of the Day and leapt right on that. The generous slab was well-executed...served grilled and lightly seasoned with no degradation of moistness. A large ear of corn on the cob and some exceptionally tasty garlic smashed new potatoes came with his entree. The other choice would've been a house salad for an additional $1.99. Side dish selections are minimal here, but as far as I'm concerned, it's better to do a few things really well than to try to generically be all things to all people. That's what Red Lobster is for.
Bro's significant other opted for the Crab Cake Sandwich. LH describes their crab cake as "soon to be famous", a statement I usually find boastful and generally lacking product support on most menus. In this case, it might actually be justified. The hand-picked crab meat patty was golden brown on both sides with minimal binder (i.e., tons of bread crumbs mitigating its crustacean goodness). Cradled on a soft roll with honey mustard and Cape Cod chips, it was about as fine a crab cake as I've ever tasted and Kim didn't leave a single morsel on her plate for a doggy bag. Sorry, Billy...guess you're cooking again tonight.
I had already set my heart on the Signature Lobster Roll and was not deterred. Once I ordered it, I was given options: $14.99 for previously frozen lobster, or $21.99 for fresh. I don't have the opportunity to enjoy fresh lobster that often, so for a $7.00 difference it was no-brainer. Simple yet sumptuous, the only ingredients were a slathering of mayo, a lettuce leaf and what must've been half a pound of lobster chunks nestled on a tender roll. I was seriously looking for a way to unhinge my jaw because there was no way to nibble on this monster. Of course, Underdog was quick with an off-color comment when I actually verbalized this (my eyes may now be permanently stuck in the rolled position for all eternity). Oh...and as for sandwich sides, there are only two (cole slaw or potato salad). I told our server that I preferred crunchy, lightly dressed slaws so she thoughtfully suggested that I should probably order the potato salad. As it turned out, the cole slaw was indeed heavier and wetter than my style. The mustard-based potato salad was cold and good, albeit standard issue.
Since I was buying, UD went top-of-the-line and ordered the 1.5 lb. lobster dinner...leaving him officially obligated to "put out", if I haven't forgotten the Ten Commandments of dating. This scarlet beauty came with the two standard sides along with melted butter for dipping.
Bottom line: Lobster Haven is a great spot for casual seafood dining. Prices are quite reasonable, all things considered. Our total bill (which included everything above plus 6 bottles of domestic beer and three sodas) came to $125 prior to adding a 20% gratuity. Good times!
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.