We dish up fun facts and tasty new recipes as the season for Maine’s crusty icon gets under way.

It may not yet be high season for old-fashioned lobster bakes and such, but Monday was the start of meteorological summer and lots of Mainers have lobster on their mind.

Locals are flooding The Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth before tourists drive them out. Lobster paraphernalia is moving front-and-center in Old Port shop windows. Lobster lovers are pining for the arrival of those sweet shedders in July.

Get ready for a season of lobster and beer and sand between the toes with our offbeat – and far from comprehensive – lobster guide.

STRANGEST PLACE TO BUY LOBSTER

Mainers are used to buying lobsters by the side of the road and other odd places, but how about picking out your dinner while you’re waiting for your prescription to be filled?

Walgreens in Portland sells live lobsters at two of its stores – one on Marginal Way and the one on Forest Avenue.

At the Marginal Way store, the lobster tank sits over in a corner near the check-out stations, underneath a sign that says “Imagine the possibilities.” Matt Gillam, the assistant store manager, says the lobster comes from Linda Bean’s company, and the tank is replenished at least every two weeks.

“We always keep them the cheapest price in town,” Gillam said.

Right now that price is $6.99 per lobster. The lobsters – all chicks – are sold individually instead of by the pound. SNAP benefits are accepted.

Gillam said tourists get the biggest kick out of spotting the lobsters in the store. “Some people just want their pictures taken with them,” he said.

And yes, you can buy butter there, too.

Stop by the Marginal Way store on June 19 between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and you’ll be able to buy a lobster roll for charity. Every year, the store holds a benefit for the Robbie Foundation, which buys adaptive equipment, assistive technology and other tools not covered by insurance for children with developmental disabilities.

Running neck and neck for the title of Strangest Lobster Store in Town? The former gas station on Forest Avenue (at Dartmouth) with the sign that says “Fresh Local Lobster.” Yes, an actual lobsterman supplies and sells the lobster, but we’re told he won’t be setting up shop this year until late June or early July.

BEST SUBSTITUTE FOR ICE CREAM

Are you one of those people for whom the bread in a lobster roll is an afterthought? Are you gluten-free? Carb conscious? Do you love a steamed lobster but hate all the mess?

Lobsterman Joe Lane, who opened his own food truck at 93 Elm St. in Damariscotta last July, has a treat for you: the Lobster Cone.

The Lobster Cone is the meat of about 11/2 lobsters loaded into a paper cone. The cone, which costs $18.50, has a side pocket that holds butter, mayo or one of Lane’s specialty dipping sauces, such as chive or tomato-basil. Two or three pita chips with sea salt come tucked into the cone.

“It’s like a scoop of ice cream,” Lane explained during a break from picking lobster meat. “I was going to try a real cone, but we couldn’t find one that would work.”

Lane comes from a longtime lobstering family (“Ever since they’ve been trapping lobster, my family was probably there”) and fishes on his boat, the Spirit of ’76, out of Pemaquid Harbor. His days are long, rising at 3:30 a.m. and getting back to Damariscotta by 10:30 a.m. so he can help with prep for lunch. The food truck is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. In the summer, Lane often doesn’t get home until 9:30 or 10 at night, then rises the next day to do it all over. How does he do it? “I take naps,” he said.

CLOSEST THING TO A LOBSTER POPSICLE

For the past 20 years, Susan Eklund has been cooking up a novelty at Susan’s Fish ‘n Chips at 1135 Forest Ave. – deep-fried lobster tails.

They are available only in summer (they’ll be back on the menu again this week) and only on Fridays and Saturdays. Each tail costs $4.99.

“I get a lot of calls for them,” Eklund said, “People will say, ‘Save me 10.’ ”

To make them, Eklund steams a whole lobster, saving the knuckle and claw meat for her lobster rolls. The tail is put on a wooden skewer and dipped in flour, then water, then fry mix. A minute or two in the fryer, until it reaches a golden brown color, and it’s done.

Some customers like dipping the tail in butter, others go for cocktail sauce or eat it plain.

How did the deep-fried lobster tail come to be? “When I first started here, I was bored,” Eklund said. “I wasn’t very busy. I said ‘What can I fry today, and what can I play with?’ ”

CRACK OPEN A COLD ONE ALONG WITH THE CLAWS

This hefty, handsome bottle opener, shaped like our favorite crustacean, is just the thing to take along to the lobster bake for opening that bottle of local craft beer that pairs nicely with a lobster dinner. It’s sturdy and, in a pinch, might work to break open a particularly large claw. The bottle opener is made by a Seattle-based company called True Fabrications and costs $7.99 at LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street in Portland.

AND NOW FOR A FEW RECIPES

If you want to do more with your lobster than just steam it, two new Maine-centric cookbooks have some ideas that go beyond mayonnaise and drawn butter.

Ben Conniff and Luke Holden, founders of the Luke’s Lobster restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Bethesda and Chicago, spent a couple of years traveling around Maine, exploring the state’s food traditions and gathering recipes for “Real Maine Food: 100 Plates from Fishermen, Farmers, Pie Champs, and Clam Shacks” (Rizzoli, $35). The book gathers their experiences and provides a pretty decent overview of Maine food, covering all four seasons and introducing readers to the fishermen and farmers who supply it. It’s not just blueberries and whoopie pies. Holden and Conniff learned to shuck scallops, and dug a hole for bean hole beans. They camped out at the Common Ground Fair, and visited with young farmers drying and grinding their own cornmeal. They learned about ployes, and used rolled oats from Maine Grains in Skowhegan to make cranberry-nut granola.

They didn’t forget the lobster. They share their own lobster roll recipe, and the recipe for a garlic-herb marinade they use on broiled lobsters. There are recipes for lobster risotto, lobster stew and lobster grilled cheese.

Asked for his favorite, Conniff pledged allegiance to Luke’s Lobster by replying: “I really stand by what we do in terms of its simplicity. I’m hard-pressed to say there’s anything better than just a steamed lobster, grilled lobster or lobster roll.”

Pressed further, Conniff admitted he has a taste for the Lobster Gnocchi with Summer Salad, a recipe from Portland chef Jeff Landry. He likes the fact that the flavor of the lobster is not covered up by the other ingredients. Plus, “One of the great things is the gnocchi is best made ahead,” he added.

LOBSTER GNOCCHI WITH SUMMER SALAD

Serves 4

FOR THE GNOCCHI:

1 pound large, high-starch potatoes, such as russets

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting

Zest of 2 lemons

FOR THE SALAD DRESSING:

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon minced shallots

2½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE LOBSTER:

4 lobsters

TO ASSEMBLE:

Fine sea salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups salad greens, such as arugula, spinach or mesclun

3 cups julienned or bite-size pieces assorted summer vegetables, such as zucchini, summer squash and red bell pepper

MAKE THE GNOCCHI:

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until a knife pierces them easily. Drain and let cool for 10 minutes. Carefully remove skins; the potatoes will still be hot.

Pass the potatoes through a food mill or potato ricer into a large bowl, or use a potato masher to mash them. (Do not use an electric mixer, as this make the potatoes gluey.)

Add the flour and zest to the bowl and begin to incorporate the mixture by hand. Using as little mixing as possible, combine the ingredients and lightly knead. Cut off medium pieces and roll them into ½-inch-diameter ropes on a well-floured surface. Using a sharp knife or dough cutter, cut each rope into ½-inch pieces. Line a pan that will fit in your freezer with waxed paper or parchment paper and put the pieces on the pan. If the gnocchi seems too sticky, use a little more flour. Place the pan in the freezer until the gnocchi are frozen. This step can be done up to 3 days in advance.

MAKE THE DRESSING:

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard and shallots. Add the oil in a slow stream, whisking continuously, until the dressing is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. The dressing can be made in advance and refrigerated, but should be served at room temperature.

MAKE THE LOBSTERS:

Steam the lobsters, then let them cool for 10 minutes on the counter and 15 minutes in the refrigerator. Remove the meat from the shell and cut it into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

ASSEMBLE THE DISH:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large cast-iron pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Drop the frozen gnocchi into the boiling water. When they float to the top, cook for 1 minute more. Using a slotted spoon, gently transfer the gnocchi to the pan of melted butter to brown lightly. Add the lobster meat to heat through and season with salt and pepper. The butter should have taken on a brown, not black or light golden, color and should smell nutty.

Divide the gnocchi and lobster among four plates or shallow bowls. In a large bowl, mix the greens and vegetables with the vinaigrette and top each portion of gnocchi with this salad. Serve immediately.

Brooke Dojny, cookbook author and Press Herald columnist, published a book about lobster three years ago, but she’s not done with it yet. Her new book, “Chowderland: Hearty Soups and Stews with Sides and Salads to Match” (Storey Publishing, $19.95), contains several lobster recipes, including Lobster and Sweet Corn Chowder.

“I make that a lot in the summer when corn is fresh and at its peak, and lobster is available,” Dojny said. “Lobster and corn are a natural pairing, and it’s so beautiful to look at the because of the pink and red lobster and the herbs and the yellow corn.”

The most daunting part of the recipe, she said, is cooking and picking the lobster and making and straining the broth, but Dojny says those can be done the day before to make prep easier on the day you’re going to serve the chowder. She also buys soft-shell lobsters when they’re available, which saves time because they’re easier to take apart.

Making the chowder can be turned into a little party, if you have out-of-town guests who want to learn how to pick lobster.

“Definitely if they’re a houseguest, that’s a good way for them to earn their keep,” Dojny said. “And it’s fun.”

LOBSTER AND SWEET CORN CHOWDER

You can substitute 1 pound of chopped picked-out lobster meat and 5 cups of seafood broth, clam juice, or a combination of clam juice and water for the live lobster and homemade broth called for in the recipe.

Serves 6

1 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed

4 live lobsters (1¼ – 1½ pounds each), rinsed

6 ounces bacon, cut into ½-inch dice (about 1½ cups)

5 tablespoons butter, plus more if necessary

1 large onion, chopped

1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

½ cup dry white wine

1 pound all-purpose potatoes, peeled and diced (about 3 cups)

2 cups corn kernels cut from 2 to 3 ears of corn (or 2 cups frozen kernels)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

2 cups heavy cream

¼ teaspoon cayenne

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring 7 cups water to a boil in a large soup pot and add the 1 teaspoon salt. Add the lobsters, cover, return to the boil, and cook, covered, until bright red and fully cooked, about 10 minutes per pound. Use tongs to remove to a bowl, leaving cooking liquid in the pot. Break off lobster bodies, rinse off most of the tomalley (green material), and add them back to the pot. Return to the boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl. Measure out 5 cups of broth, which will be tinted a pretty pale green from the lobster bodies. Meanwhile, pick out lobster claw and tail meat, chop into bite-size pieces, and refrigerate. (Can be done up to 24 hours ahead.)

2. Cook the bacon in a large heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crisp and the fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the cooked bits with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and reserve. You should have 3 tablespoons of fat; if too much, pour some off, or if too little, make up the difference with olive oil.

3. Add the butter to the pot and sauté the onion and celery over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and the 5 cups lobster broth and bring to a boil, stirring. Add the potatoes, corn, and thyme, return to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook covered until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the reserved lobster meat, cream and cayenne and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir in the reserved bacon bits and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the chowder sit at cool room temperature for at least an hour or, better yet, refrigerate overnight.

4. Reheat over low heat, adding more broth, milk, or water if the chowder is too thick. Ladle into bowls and serve.