Lobster Rocks 

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Luke's Lobster
93 E 7th St, 212-387-8487
Price Range: $4-$20
Rating: L L L L L

You know the mark of an excellent meal. It's one you find yourself craving the day after you eat it. You probably think about it once a day, or more. Newly opened Luke's Lobster will serve you a meal like that: shrimp, crab and lobster rolls devoid of frills. Just super-fresh, sweet meat thickly piled on a griddled white bun, atop a smear of mayo and underneath a silk sheet of melted butter. I've been craving this meal ever since it ended.

 Owner Luke Holden's family owns a shellfish company in Maine; the upshot, of course, is that he gets fresh shipments daily, and diners get to chow down on the previous day's catch. The meat speaks for itself–I daresay it's better than the lobster rolls I've eaten in Maine, which were on the bland side. Of course, you can forgo the mayo and butter if you're a real purist.

 Not surprisingly, New Yorkers are snobby about lobster rolls. They're always pitting this one against that one, "too much mayo" here, "bread not toasted enough" there. Hey, if it's good, it"s good. And don't try to compare a Luke's lobster roll to one from veterans Pearl Oyster Bar or Mary's Fish Camp. Luke's isn't lobster salad on a roll; it's just succulent lobster meat with a fairy's touch of salt and pepper, oregano and celery salt.  But here I am getting caught up in a lobster lecture. It's not all about the lobster, people. In fact, Holden says the shrimp roll might be his favorite. I can see why–the small, firm Gulf shrimp are chilled and sweet, and I went gaga over the moist and decadent Jonah crab roll.

 A $20 bill will get you half portions of the shrimp, crab and lobster rolls (each filled with a solid two ounces of meat), along with a meaty, flavorful Empress crab claw, a bag of Miss Vickie's chips, and a Maine Root drink. While I'd like to see the infinitely better Cape Cod chips represented, the Maine Root handcrafted soda might have been the best I've ever had (I sampled the Ginger Brew and Root Beer; Mandarin Orange up next).  Luke's currently only has about half of their full menu available: look for lobster tails, knuckles and various chowders and bisques in the near future, along with a beer license that'll allow you to take a Maine microbrew six-pack to go.  The employees' plain, preppy tees and the single Maine beach shot framed in driftwood pushes the theme that simple things are indeed the best. Nestled between the Caracas locations, I'm betting Luke's little pale-yellow philosophy becomes a New York institution of its own.

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