In 1951, Clara and Charles Harris bought an unused Second World War barracks building in Dayton, on the outskirts of Yarmouth, N.S., and opened The Sea Food. Its reputation for serving fresh seafood spread far and wide.
Eventually, the couple changed the name to Harris’ Seafood Restaurant although many people still referred to the now-closed diner by its original name.
After about five years in business, Clara decided to add her mother-in-law’s recipe for creamed lobster to the menu. It didn’t sell. But as soon as they changed the name from “Creamed Lobster” to “Lobster Nova Scotia Style,” it became popular.
Clara recounted the story of how the sandwich got its name in her first cookbook, Life, Love and Lobsters: An Anecdotal Collection of Recipes from Harris’ Seafood Restaurant, self-published in 1974.
Gracie Grant was a local customer who often dined at the restaurant and always asked to have Clara’s creamed lobster on toast. She asked Clara one night why she didn’t put creamed lobster on toast on the menu. Clara replied that she wouldn’t know what to call it.
Grant said, “You have a cold lobster sandwich on the menu, why not call this a hot lobster sandwich?”
It didn’t take long for the Hot Lobster Sandwich to become a customer favourite; other restaurants added variations to their menus and now you’ll find the dish throughout Southwest Nova Scotia.
Another popular menu item was “You Hook’em We’ll Cook’em.” Sports fishermen would bring catches like trout, sea bass, and halibut to the restaurant for Clara to prepare.
One night, a gentleman asked her to come outside to see the catch he wanted for supper. He had a nearly 350 kg tuna in the back of a trailer. He didn’t expect her to cook the entire tuna, but he did want a tuna steak.
In Life Love and Lobsters, Clara wrote, “For 34 days in a row, people stood in line to have dinner, some waiting several hours, even with a reservation.”
In an average summer, she served 25,000 meals each month. “Once people learned we could cook” Clara wrote, “they booked most of their parties, including weddings, at the restaurant. Many of them supplied their own china, crystal, and silver and I have them to thank for teaching me the fine art of serving such elegant dinners.”
Joesy Pidborochynsk moved to Yarmouth from Alberta five and a half years ago. “That first time having a hot lobster sandwich was not only heaven, but an explosion of flavours,” she says. “The fresh lobster, the cream, and how it was seasoned were like nothing I’d ever tasted before. I’ve travelled and sampled many dishes but none have made such an impact. It was memorable. It was the memory of finally coming home.”
Clara Harris’ Hot Lobster Sandwich
The winter lobster-fishing season is on in Southwest Nova Scotia. Celebrate this traditional catch with a classic sandwich. If you’re out of season, you can substitute frozen lobster meat.
- 2 cups (375 g) fresh or frozen lobster
- ¼ (57 g) cup butter
- 2 tsp (10 ml) white vinegar
- 2 cups (500 ml) light cream
- Sauté lobster in butter for one minute, stir in vinegar, stir in cream.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Heat until hot.
- Serve on toast.
Clara often said that the secret to making this sandwich was the vinegar because it enhances the flavour of the lobster, and it also helps thicken the cream.