IN THE DOWNEAST DERBY for Most Ways To Fix Lobster, Ruth and Wimpy’s Kitchen in Hancock seems to be the clear-cut winner. Although various other eateries hereabouts claim this distinction, Ruth and Wimpy serve lobster in ways literally too numerous to calculate.
Their menu, which lists 32 combinations, is merely the beginning.
“Let’s see,” Ruth muses, “We have lobster newburg, a lobster salad plate, a lobster combo which includes a cup of lobster stew and lobster roll, lobster fondue, a Maine seafood sampler with lobster, lobster stew, lobster chowder, lobster bisque, lobster scampi, and assorted seafood dishes that include lobster. Oh, and we also have baked stuffed lobster as well as baked stuffed lazy lobster.”
Mind-boggling as all this might be, it’s hardly the finale. “We’ll mix and match about anything,” Ruth points out. “You can have lobster with steak or with fried clams or fried shrimp, with haddock, or with just about anything else. Whatever you want, we’ll find a way of figuring it out.”
Ruth paused, deep in thought. “Oh, yeah, I almost forgot,” she continued. “We do a jumbo lobster roll which we think is the best around. We use no fillers, we don’t add celery and stuff, no lettuce unless they ask for it. It’s just lobster and a little bit of mayonnaise. We’ve actually had people come back and ask for more mayonnaise, since we want it to be almost entirely fresh picked lobster meat.”
For Ruth and Wimpy, lobster is serious business. The lobster they serve is fresh as can be; they pick all their own lobster meat. This is no small task. During summer, they keep four-to-five hundred pounds of lobster in their outdoor tanks. They recently invested in a new titanium cooling system, a state-of-the-art, highly efficient means of circulating water. Ruth says it keeps everything nice and cool at a regulated temperature and requires fewer water changes.
“We’re always showing kids around, letting them see the lobsters,” Ruth Says. “We usually have some big ones, three-and-a-half pounders. We have had them at nearly five pounds. They’re legal so long as they aren’t too long. The really big ones need to be short and fat.”
Ruth says that right now they deal mostly with Sorrento Lobster. “They treat us real well,” she says.
Neither Ruth nor Wimpy are strangers to lobstering. Both have families that go way back in Maine. Ruth’s family, the Moons, were from Hancock. Wimpy’s people, the Wilburs, held sway in Waltham.
They bought their restaurant in 1990. Before that, for 20 years, Wimpy drove tractor-trailers. Ruth says that the two of them went cross-country by truck several times, although mostly she stayed home to raise two kids. Originally, the business included a motel, but they shut it down a few years ago. Now their son Tyke runs an auto repair business there.
Their second year in business they had Wilbur built. The fiberglass monster is the work of Joe Rizzo, an artist who now works out of Brooklin, Maine. The original plan had been to include a giant ear of fiberglass corn and some clams, but this never was completed.
Ruth says that while Wilbur has often been described as 20 or 21 feet long, he actually checks in at a mere 11 feet. “People like to exaggerate,” she points out. Over the years, more than a few publications have featured Wilbur, including Roadway Express, a big national trucking company, which in 1998 held that Wilbur was one of the 12 most interesting things in the entire country.
Recently, Ruth, Wimpy, and Wilbur were spotlighted in The Countryman Press’s book, “Favorite Seafood Shacks: Eating Up the Coast From Connecticut to Maine.” Describing Wilbur as the “world’s biggest lobster,” they put him at an even 20 feet.
Word about Wilbur has gotten around. Over the years, many celebrities have shown up, evidently to see for themselves. Sometimes they’ve autographed menus for the wait staff. Ruth says their guest book hits almost every country, including several she had never heard of. “I’ve had to look them up,” she says. “It’s been a real good geography lesson.”
Evidently, Ruth and Wimpy’s is a good place to work. Ruth points out that a lot of their crew have been with them for many years. Seven or eight employees have been with them for over a decade. One waitress has been with them for 15 years, another for 13 years. Has a cook that’s been with them over 13 years. Their son Layn has been with them almost the entire time. He now manages the kitchen and does anything else Ruth needs.
“They’re a good crew,” Ruth says. “They’re good with people. It can be a tough kitchen. When you have over a 100 items on your menu, it can be hard. We do just about every dish to order. Sometimes when people say they want to get in and out in 20 minutes, we have had to suggest that they try some place down the road.”
During weekends and holidays reservations are suggested. A big Friday night fish fry always fills up. They used to be open year round, but three years ago when electricity and fuel prices got out of control, they began shutting down for the first few months of the year.
Wimpy is a collector. He has a great license plate collection and also many signs and posters. “People love to come in and see what he’s added recently,” Ruth notes. “Customers often make donations to his collections.”
For one reason or another, Ruth and Wimpy’s has attracted many auto buffs. On summer evenings, there often are so many antique cars and custom hotrods in their lot, it seems like an organized auto show. It’s not that; it’s just a spontaneous gathering of like-minded auto lovers.
You pretty much have to conclude that car people are also lobster people.