Ralph Gorham is a missionary.
But he’s not selling God. His entry to heaven comes from faith in only one thing: the sanctity of eating lobster.
With true missionary glee, Gorham is spreading The Word as best he can. Earlier this month, he turned a rundown storefront on Van Brunt Street into the Red Hook Lobster Pound, a simple establishment that features two large tanks, a counter and a scale.
On the curb out front is the real guts of this husband-and-wife operation: the Chevy Avalanche that Gorham drives every Thursday night to Maine, fills with hundreds of pounds of lobsters and ice, a drives back to Red Hook.
Gorham says that this unsophisticated method — drive, buy lobsters, drive back — is the only way to ensure that his customers are eating a lobster for dinner that had its own breakfast in the icy Atlantic.
“Six and a half hours from the ocean to your plate,” he said. “I buy the lobsters fresh off the boats in Maine, load them up and drive like hell back here.
“I have a radar detector, of course,” he added, when a grizzled reporter reminded him that it’s about 300 miles to Maine, a journey that takes six hours only on paper.
The reason Gorham risks speeding tickets in Connecticut is simple: You need to eat a lobster.
“It’s summer and if you ask people, they’ll say that the best meal of their life was a fresh lobster, an ear of corn and a beer with their friends,” he said. “People think they can’t afford a lobster, but for $30, you and your wife can eat like kings — and still have a little left over for beer.”
The low overhead — Gorham owns his building so there’s no rent, and the main expense is the $200 in gas for the round trip — keeps his prices relatively low, typically $9 or $10 per pound.
Those prices can beat the two-year-old Fairway Market down the street — except when the gourmet Goliath decides to take a bath on crustaceans and sells lobsters for $5.95 a pound.
Not that we’re complaining.
“We are literally giving them away right now,” said Tony Maltese, the seafood director for the five-store chain. “But that’s what you do in summer. Everyone wants a lobster. I sold out in Red Hook at 4 pm yesterday [Tuesday]. They’re moving!”
It’s not just the prices that are putting lobsters on area plates (OK, those prices, which continue through May 25, help). There’s just something about the first hint of summer that sets of Proustian alarm bells.
“It happens for anyone who grew up in the northeast,” said Michael Paritsky, who owns Blue Ribbon and Blue Ribbon Sushi on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. “To us, Maine is vacationland and the picture in your head is that seafood shack with the perfect lobster. It’s psychological — a comfort food. That’s not true for people in Atlanta.”
Paritsky serves the king of crustaceans several different ways, including one recipe that once drew animal rights protesters, but says that most people love them straight up: boiled.
Maltese likes his on the barbecue. “I cut it down the middle into two pieces, spread our herb marinade on it, and grill them,” he said. “I really think it’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”
They taste better now because of the bad taste being left in our collective mouth by the foul economy. Turns out, America’s fiscal malaise is great for lobster lovers. Prices are down one-quarter to one-half because the demand for such expensive delectables has softened.
“Normally, there’s a shortage of lobster, but with the economy so bad, restaurants aren’t selling as many, so there’s a glut for the rest of us,” said Maltese.
But people still think of lobster as an impossible splurge. That’s where Gorham comes in.
“I’m telling everyone: come here and have a lobster,” he said. On a summer night, it is the best meal you’ll ever have.”
Red Hook Lobster Pound [284 Van Brunt St., between Pioneer and Verona streets in Red Hook, (646) 326-7650] will be open Friday–Sunday this weekend, but is closed on Memorial Day. Place orders in advance; Fairway Market [500 Van Brunt St., near Reed Street in Red Hook, (718) 694-6868] is open every day; Blue Ribbon [280 Fifth Ave., at Garfield Place in Park Slope, (718) 840-0404] is closed on Mondays.