Story by Chelsea Moore
Photographs by Yetta Reid
every morning before dawn, the tide rolls in, seagulls glide through the air in search of breakfast, and Enea Bacci arrives at the bay. Before the line of customers and the rush of the lunchtime crowd, he sits alone in his boat to breathe the salty air, perfumed with the smell of fish, and soaks up the beauty of the sea. He is, after all, the owner of Lobster Landing — a tiny shack on the Connecticut coast — and anyone who has been served one of his lobster rolls will agree: Bacci does it best.
Meeting Bacci feels like being reunited with an old friend. His weathered face and brown hands tell tales about the years spent beneath the sun, working in the salty breeze. His sense of humor, infectious laughter, and love for life instantly categorize him as the sort of person most would want to count among their friends. And almost as if to further endear people to him, his Santa Clause beard, red bandana wrapped around his head, and smooth Italian accent help turn strangers into friends.
Born and raised in Piedmont, Italy, Bacci’s passion for making good food began before he was even born. His family has been in the restaurant business for five generations, so when he was seven years old, it was nothing short of a rite of passage to learn how to peel potatoes. His grandfather taught him the art of cooking vegetables, a task he now navigates with ease.
“Once you learn how to cook, it’s with you for the rest of your life,” he noted. “So is the passion for food.”
His love for good food and his zeal for life is what led him across the
Atlantic to open three restaurants. He left Italy and moved to Connecticut in the 1970s when he got a job in the publishing industry.
Ten years later, he realized his life was not headed in the direction he wanted, and decided to quit his job and start working for himself. Together with his wife, he opened Nina’s Diner, a successful small town diner offering eight dishes. His secret was only serving a few dishes, but perfecting each one. After he and his wife separated, he closed the restaurant and opened his own Italian place named Bacci.
Years later, he and some friends were on a cruise to Nantucket and happened to sail through Clinton, Connecticut, where he spotted a for sale sign on a tiny shack on the water. It was here that he first dreamed up Lobster Landing, and knew the shack had to be his. He and the owner settled on a price, and in 1995, he started making lobster rolls.
The 100-year-old shack embodies Bacci’s personal motto of living simply. Customers eat on plastic white picnic tables, and walk on a blanket of broken seashells. The name “Lobster Landing” is spelled out on the top of the shack, and the “o” has become characteristically crooked, a landmark of sorts in Clinton. And although the paint is chipping off the shack, it adds to the imperfect and endearing feel of the place, making people want to return time and time again.
Lobster Landing sells (and arguably, has perfected) three dishes – lobster rolls, sausage and pepper rolls, and hot dogs. Bacci knows that some people are averse to seafood, so the last two items on the menu are designed for them.
The shack sells soda, lemonade, and bottled water, but doesn’t have a liquor license. Instead they are BYOB, and have wine glasses to hand out to customers upon request. They love when people arrive with salads, fruit, beer, and wine in tote, ready to order a few lobster rolls and enjoy the view of the ocean.
Bacci noted that the difference between Lobster Landing and other lobster rolls is the meat and the bread. Rather than warm the lobster meat in butter, he melts the butter on a double-boiler (to avoid acidity) and then drizzles it over the meat, adding a squeeze of fresh lemon as a finishing touch. His bread is delivered from Vermont several times a week.
His team begins collecting lobster every morning at dawn, and only fishes five miles south, east, and west of the shack. Each roll contains the meat from one lobster. Lobster Landing is open eight months a year, from just after Easter to December 31st so Bacci and his second wife Cathie divide the first three months of the year between Florida and Italy, recharging from the busyness of the year. In the summer season, he and his staff of ten students pull twelve-hour days, working every day of the week. As the days grow shorter, hours are cut back and the outdoor dining area is situated underneath a heated tent.
Although he cooks lobster every day, Bacci only eats it “once in awhile.” He prefers to make big bowls of pasta, craft homemade paninis, or order a pizza for the whole team. He even grows some of the ingredients in front of the shack. He loves that his team has become like a big family – “we are known as the Bacci people,” he said, eyes twinkling as if he were about to laugh at a joke. The familial nature of working at the shack has led his employees to return each summer, with one girl even having worked there for eight years. Watching the way the team interacts reveals the way they thrive on this little community built on the water.
Bacci’s favorite part of his venture is the freedom that accompanies it. And, he added, the variety of people he meets from all over the country.
“For me, to come down here is not work,” he said. “It is true happiness.”
His happiness affects more than just his team, touching each person dining at the shack. Upon arrival, guests are introduced to lobster rolls that do more than just fill bellies – they bring people together from all over the country and seem to possess a quality few other places do.
Perhaps it’s Bacci himself and the way his personality colors the whole place. Or maybe it’s just summer fever. Call it what you will, but the shack has grown to become a source of pride in the state. Eating a lobster roll from Lobster Landing has an iconic connotation, and if people are vacationing, they will almost assuredly be brought to Clinton for a lobster roll or two.
Twenty years ago, Chicago-resident Bill Graham met Bacci and has since become good friends with him. Graham’s family’s home is conveniently situated near Lobster Landing, his favorite place to eat. When he comes to visit, he often first drives to the shack to get a lobster roll and say hi to Bacci, and then afterwards, goes to his own house. Their playful friendship has been developed over years of laughter, a flood in the shack, and plenty of lobsters.
“I think people crave something timeless, and come down here to search for that,” Graham said. “People talk to each other here instead of looking at their machines.”
As Graham took his first bite of lobster roll for the season, he closed his eyes, savoring the moment. “Perfect again!” he exclaimed. “Unbelievable! It’s like coming off the hot tennis court and taking that first drink of beer.”