Luke's Lobster, literally a
hole-in-a-wall in the East Village, specializes in New England style
chowders and seafood sandwiches, being particularly known for their
lobster roll. Their reputation is also one of being a good value,
which appears to be enabled by two things: existing as a
hole-in-a-wall in a relatively inexpensive part of the city and the
owner's having a father who owns a lobster processing plant in Maine.
Being an avid lobster and seafood enthusiast, I and a friend ventured
down from mid-town to check it out.
I originally intended to just
get a lobster roll, but when I saw that the Maine shrimp season was
underway and they also had crab rolls, my friend and I decided to
split a “Noah's Ark” for $38, which consisted of 2 small lobster
rolls, shrimp rolls and crab rolls as well as 4 Empress crab claws
and 2 drinks and 2 bags of chips. We also ordered a small shrimp &
corn chowder each.
The chowder came out first.
Extremely hot, we needed to wait for them to cool down before we
could physically eat them without burning ourselves. As they cooled
to merely hot, the flavor improved from initially one note –
cream flavor – to a bit more complex and enjoyable chowder flavor.
When the “ark” arrived,
we each had 3 small sandwiches: shrimp, crab and lobster along with
Empress crab claws. I tried the shrimp first. This was tasty and
satisfying. For someone on a tight budget, this probably represents
the best taste to price value ratio, as a full sandwich sells for $7
compared to $9 for the crab and $14 for the lobster roll. The crab
roll, on the other hand, was quite bland and relatively tasteless
despite a liberal application of Luke's proprietary spice powder. I would
not order this again. The claws, however were tasty and satisfying. I
finished with the lobster roll, which was good and a
good value, especially considering that it was essentially all
lobster. Unfortunately though, it was neither revelatory nor anywhere
near the class of the best lobster rolls I have ever had.
the sourcing connections of Luke's Lobster and their on-line claims, I expected more from the
lobster roll than it delivered in terms of flavor. I repeat, it was
a good value, but it did not make me swoon the way the very best lobster rolls have.
Considering the close Maine connection, I had to wonder why,
relatively inexpensive or not, the lobster roll at Luke's was not a
swoon-inducer, as I expected it to be. Given the small size of the storefront and no lobster
in sight as well as the rapidity of service, I asked where the
lobsters had been cooked. It turned out that they had been fully
cooked and processed in Maine at Luke's father's processing plant.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been had I read their website more closely than I had, but this surprised me and raised a
question in my mind: Would the flavor and depth of the lobster have
been better had the lobsters been processed right out of the ocean as
these apparently were and then shipped and prepare pre-cooked or
would the lobster quality have been better cooked on-sight even if it
meant that the lobsters would have been days or potentially even more
from their ocean home? Clearly the latter, requiring more space and
other considerations, would be more expensive for the business,
directly impeding the restaurant's ability to sell the product as
inexpensively as they do. Just as clearly, there is no question, in
my mind at least, that the best quality lobsters come direct from the
sea and are cooked and served as close to their harvest as possible.
Once again, this method, while superior, would be
inconsistent with the business model of selling an inexpensive
lobster roll in NYC. As a result, my conclusion is that for their
apparent goal of selling a lot of lobster (and other) rolls at very
reasonable prices, their way of doing it probably represents the best
way of doing so outside of doing it right on the lobster piers of
For the money, Luke's Lobster makes a worthwhile stop for a quick
and reasonable seafood meal if in the East Village, however, it is
not in my opinion worth making a special trip to from
elsewhere in the city, unless one is seriously jonesing for lobster
and can't afford to spend more for a better rendition.