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August 13, 2011

Zabar's lobster salad wasn't — "Isn't crawfish in the lobster family?"


That's the premise that Saul Zabar, the 83-year-old president and co-owner of Zabar's, has been operating under for at least 15 years — until "Doug MacCash, a reporter from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, stopped at Zabar's while vacationing in Manhattan last month."

Wrote James Barron in yesterday's New York Times front page story, "'Lobster salad on a bagel: Why not?' [MacCash] wrote on Aug. 1 on the newspaper’s Web site. 'It was delicious, but the pink/orange tails seemed somehow familiar.'"

"He checked the label. 'Wild fresh water crayfish?' he wrote. 'Really? At $16.95 per pound?' He photographed the label [top], just to be sure."

"Mr. MacCash had discovered a fact of New York culinary life that New Yorkers had not: There was no lobster in the lobster salad at Zabar's."

Zabar got a call from the Maine Lobster Council.

"Dane Somers, its executive director, had heard about the lobster salad that lacked any lobster. Mr. Somers said The Bangor Daily News had called, asking for his reaction."

"He said this kind of problem came up about a dozen times a year. 'Sometimes it’s using lobster substitutes,' he said. 'It might even be a different species of lobster, such as a warm-water spiny lobster. We call people up and say, 'Gee, this just doesn’t look quite right if you realize there’s no actual lobster in the product.'"

"After he said something like that to Mr. Zabar, Mr. Somers said, Mr. Zabar told him that New Yorkers would not understand what crawfish was, but that it was in the 'lobster family.' To Mr. Somers, that was like saying trout and minnows were in the fish family."

"But by then Mr. Zabar had had enough. 'We really didn’t think that we were doing anything that was not completely up and up,' he said, 'but there was an element that might be confusing, and with all this stuff going on, I decided now's the time to clarify. 'So he changed the name on the label from 'lobster salad 'to 'seafare salad' [below]."


"Mr. MacCash, back home in New Orleans, laughed when he heard about the name change. 'It tickled me to have traveled from New Orleans to New York in order to eat crawfish,' he said. 'When I’m in New York, I try to get those things that we dont' readily get here. I thought I was getting myself an up-east treat, and it turned out it was a bayou staple.'"

"Still, he said, 'It was good; I ate every bit.'"

This contretemps reminds me of a similar kerfuffle that happened here in Charlottesville about 10-15 years ago.

It seems that Bodo's Bagels, a revered fast food destination in Podunkville, had featured chicken Caesar salad since it opened back in 1988.

It was very popular.

Until someone investigated and found out it wasn't chicken but, rather, turkey.

Brian Fox, the legendary founder-owner of Bagel's, initially said the equivalent of "So what? It tastes good, people like it, so we'll call it what we want."

He pointed out that turkey was cheaper than chicken and this let him charge less for the salad than he'd otherwise have to.

He also noted that if anyone asked, his staff always told the questioner that it was turkey rather than chicken.

But the truth-in-labeling crowd kept beating on him, relentlessly writing about the misrepresentation until he finally gave in and started calling it turkey Caesar salad.

You could look it up.

As I recall, the back-and-forth took months, as opposed to Zabar's giving in after only 10 days or so.

Once word is out it's only a matter of if, not when, the truth will have its way.

Best to just say sorry, mea culpa, give in and move on.


August 13, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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Ok, well, someone needs to tell Zabars that crayfish don't live in the sea, as they are freshwater creatures.

Posted by: Rocketboy | Aug 17, 2011 7:44:25 AM

Zabar's lobster salad wasn't — "Isn't crawfish in the lobster family?"

Yes, Indeed! I know this because I am allergic to all crustaceans (shrimp, crab, lobster, and crawfish (crayfish))

I get really large reactions to very small amounts of them, so I avoid them entirely. These reactions can involve swelling lips, which are too close to my throat...

Posted by: terrence | Aug 13, 2011 2:13:40 PM

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