They’re ba-ack: Grace Church lobster rolls return

A dedicated team of seniors pumps out the Vineyard’s best lobster rolls.

Volunteer Debby Bessette holds up a lobster roll, served with chips, sold to patrons at Grace Church. — Photo by Michael Cummo

For over a quarter-century the hard-working crew at the Grace Church parish hall has been shelling out towering sandwiches of plump lobster meat to the masses, every Friday in season. Last Friday marked the annual return of the highly anticipated lobster roll special, as hundreds of seafood-hungry patrons flocked to Woodlawn Avenue in Vineyard Haven for some good bites for a good cause.

Only in a place like Martha’s Vineyard can a church hall become a foodie destination, and the parish has the awards to show for it. For the past eight years, the church has held the coveted Martha’s Vineyard magazine “Best of the Vineyard” honor for the best lobster roll, most recently beating out runner-up the Net Result for the 2014 award. When I asked longtime active Grace Church member, and chairman of the Lobster Roll Committee, Lorraine Clark just how many awards they had, she said, “I can go and count the pictures on the wall; do you want me to?” referring to the proud display of plaques on the parish hall’s wall.

The popular rolls have made a name for themselves off-Island over the years as well. They are frequently mentioned in online food blogs and travel websites, including the Hungry Native, Trip Advisor, Frugal Traveler, and more. A New York Times travel writer once suggested that if visitors had only 36 hours to spend on the Island, this was the second-most-important thing to do (a sailboat ride was first). The Boston Globe has also noted the lobster roll experience.

At a reasonable price of $17 for a generous roll, chips, and a beverage, it’s one of best values for a sandwich on-Island too. And if you’d prefer to take it to go, they’ll give you a hearty portion of lobster meat in a container with a roll on the side at the same price.

The Island institution churned out more than 16,000 lobster rolls last year, and they’re prepared for more of the same this year. While their season started two weeks late this year, they’re still expecting an impressive turnout. The kitchen crew and the “lobster ladies” behind the scenes are no spring chickens, either. The dedicated people who work tirelessly shucking lobster and preparing the meals are mostly in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Ms. Clark, 78, said, “We’re very proud of what we’re doing, and what we’ve accomplished over the years. We have good help, and we’re hoping we continue with a good year this year. We are not kids doing this; there’s a man who works here that’s 92, several people who do it are 87, 88.”

The team begins preparing early afternoon on Fridays, keeping the lobster roll recipe simple

with fresh lobster, mayo, and pepper, without any fillers. All rolls are made to order, and if someone has an allergy or special diet, they’ll accommodate. While the price went up to $17 last year due to increase in costs for lobster and other supplies, the organizers are adamant they they will keep the sandwiches packed with lobster, and will not skimp on the meat or sell smaller sizes.

If for some crazy reason you’re not in the mood for lobster, no worries, the church offers hot dogs and an impressive pie selection as well, often including lemon meringue, apple, blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, banana, coconut, or chocolate cream.

Grace Church lobster rolls: another great reason to celebrate Fridays.

Grace Church Parish Lobster Rolls, 36 Woodlawn Avenue, Vineyard Haven. Every Friday through September, 4 pm to 7:30 pm. Lobster roll, chips, and beverage, $17; hot dog, $3; slice of pie, $4. For info and advance orders, call 508-693-0332.