UPPER WEST SIDE — The crustacean cops say there's something fishy about the lobster salad at Zabar's.
The Maine Lobster Council recently asked the iconic Broadway deli to stop labeling the dish as "lobster," because it's actually made with crayfish and not the premium-priced ocean dweller.
The slap, first reported by West Side Rag, came to light when a columnist from the New Orleans Times-Picayune sampled the seafood salad — as a bagel topping, no less — while visiting Zabar's from the Big Easy.
The Cajun journalist thought he tasted something familiar, and he was right: Though labeled "lobster salad," crayfish is the first and only seafood on the product's ingredient list. Crayfish is a distant freshwater relative to lobster found on Southern menus.
When the Maine Lobster Council caught wind of the seafood switcheroo, executive director Dane Somers phoned Zabar's to politely ask the store to stop using the word "lobster" in the salad's name.
Somers said harvesting lobster sustainably is extremely costly and difficult, and when someone says a product is lobster that isn't, it sticks in a fisherman's craw.
"If you try to dilute that by calling something else Maine lobster, we're not going to allow that," Somers told DNAinfo, despite the fact that the product was never advertised as containing lobster specifically from Maine.
"We're proud of the job we do, so don’t come in and take the credit for what we've developed as this brand and this species."
In response to the fish row, deli owner Saul Zabar said he's changing the name of the mayonnaise-based dish to "seafare salad." But the premium price will stay the same — $15.60 a pound. He estimated that a real lobster salad would cost more than $20 a pound.
"We try to do everything in a straightforward manner, and I don’t want anybody to feel that they were being confused," he said.
Zabar said he wasn't trying to mislead anyone, and that the eatery has been selling the salad for years, receiving only a "couple" of complaints during that time.
"We had some customers who felt it was inaccurate, though the ingredients are clearly marked on the package," he said. "[Crayfish is] the first thing you read on the list."
Zabar said crayfish, langoustine and lobster are all part of the same seafood family. He said he uses crayfish in the salad because it's much easier to get than lobster.
The deli owner noted that Zabar's gets its crayfish from a supplier that uses a picture of a Maine lobster on its box. But he said that didn't influence his labeling practices.
Zabar chalked up the mislabeling to regional attitudes about seafood, saying that a New Orleans native and a Maine resident probably have different ideas than New Yorkers about proper names and uses for crustaceans.
"People here, they might think of lobsters as creatures that can bite you," he said, "like that scene in 'Annie Hall' where they’re chasing it around the kitchen."