Consider the Cousins

“There’s a real sparkle to Columbus,” says Sabin Lomac from his home base of Los Angeles. “What we bring, which is an authentic experience, I think that fits into the fabric of the food scene you have established here.”

And with that statement, I can already see the exaggerated eye rolls of Columbus foodies loyal to an already over-saturated army of food trucks. How dare a couple of  out-of-towners try to infiltrate our lovingly crafted scene with something boosted under the auspices of Shark Tank? But hear them out, the experience they are selling is an “affordable luxury” that’s not exactly common to Ohio, and even to the most discriminate tastes, their lobster rolls are damn good.

Cousins Maine Lobster literally started with two cousins, Lomac and partner Jim Tselikis, wanting to leave behind the corporate grind to give the masses the same nostalgia that harkens back to their summers growing up in Portland, Maine, at family picnics teeming with freshly caught and cooked lobster, corn on the cob, and whoopie pies. After pitching the idea on Shark Tank, and winning over Barbara Corcoran, who then invested in the company, the cousins now have a very lucrative food truck venture, with spots in 15 American cities and plans for brick and mortar shops the world over, Columbus being the latest, was an easy fit.

“We are a very tight-knit company right now, and that’s what we planned from the beginning,” says Lomac. “When I was there at our opening I could tell that this is a city where people rely on word of mouth to get their recommendations. A lot of people were telling me that they just don’t have this there, so there’s a reason for the hype.”

Indeed, though there may not  be lobster caught on the shores of Olentangy or Scioto, when you visit a Cousins truck in landlocked Ohio, you’re going to get lobster directly from the source. Maine lobster, being one of the most sustainably harvested products on the planet, is what runs the business, and Cousins have taken great strides to ensure that quality in every one of their menu items. Tselikis and Lomac started simple, sourcing from the local lobstermen they’ve grown up with, but now employ eight of their own wharfs from Casco Bay southward down the Atlantic coast. It’s a model that couldn’t be replicated any other way.

“It starts with the best lobster in the world,” says Tselikis. “You’re going to get bread shipped from Maine for the roll. You’re going to get lobster, the entire lobster, tail, knuckle, and claw, cooked and shipped the minute it’s off the boat. A couple years ago you couldn’t get that anywhere else but Maine.”

Obviously the best way to try the lobster is in their signature rolls — served either Maine style (served chilled, with a touch of mayo) or Connecticut style (served warm, with butter and lemon). But beyond the  rolls, which is their bread and butter (loads of drawn butter by the way), they also have savory clam chowder and bisque, also shipped directly from Maine — as well as their decadent whoopie pies, which are a Maine delicacy that resembles a gargantuan soft Oreo in a variety of flavors. But if a roll is not your forte, they’ve also adapted their lobster to more Midwestern tastes, including lobster tots, lobster quesadillas, and some highly recommended lobster tacos.

Cousins has only been in Columbus for a little over a month, but in the few instances in which I observed the operation, there was a line down the street. Whether that was indicative of the fresh Hollywood sheen or the addictive New England manna they serve was yet to be seen. What is apparent is that the concept of “affordable luxury” ought to do very well in a part of the country that is new to the roll, and while they may very well grow to a point that becomes unsustainable and out of control, for now, we should embrace what Cousins does well, which besides the food, is provide the little things we ask for in a purely Midwestern dining experience.

“We pride ourselves on our customer service,” says Lomac. “That fits right into the hometown feel of Columbus. At our truck, you’re going to get  somebody who smiles, who says ‘thank you’ and genuinely appreciates your business. It’s Maine hospitality. It’s nothing fancy, no frills, but it’s exceptional service.” •

For a full menu and information on where Cousins truck will over the summer, visit cousinsmainelobster.com.

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