The Early Word: Luke's Lobster in the East Village
The large (four-ounce) lobster roll
It's not often that a new restaurant's tag line includes the confession that the place's cooks aren't actually so skilled. "It doesn't take a great chef to make a great lobster roll," pronounces the Luke's Lobster website. What it does take, says Luke's, is perfect lobster. That's just about right, although there are certainly many ways one might mess up a lobster roll, even one with quality meat inside.
Owner Luke Holden grew up in Maine, and apparently launched his own lobstering company while in high school (he's still only 25). His father owns a processing company called Portland Shellfish, and has longstanding relationships with the lobstermen in the area. That means that Holden can get the shellfish to New York quickly, and without a middleman--which keeps prices relatively low. The large (four ounce) lobster roll is $14, the crab roll is $9, and the shrimp $7.
As for that meat, Luke's really does use beautiful seafood--one bite of both a lobster and a crab roll made that obvious. But how are the rolls as a whole?
Luke's crab roll
Although they're not quite perfect, we'd go back for them anytime. The buns are the proper, squishy, buttered and toasted hot dog sort, and the portions are ample. Most importantly, the sandwiches feature big, lovely chunks of ultra-sweet lobster, or a mounded heap of delicate crab.
There is some trouble with assembly, however, proving that you do need a cook to make a lobster roll after all. Because you can order your roll moistened either with melted butter or mayo, or with no fat at all, the restaurant keeps the portions of meat dry. Then the cook simply sticks the pre-weighed meat into the bun, and squirts on both mayo and butter (the odd default), one or the other, or neither.
So instead of lobster that's pleasantly, lightly slicked, the bun's bottom sags with a load of butter and mayo while the lobster stays dry. The seafood and the choice of fat (in our opinion, it should be mayo) needs to be mixed together before being stuffed into the bun. The crab fared better in terms of mayo-dispersion. Both could have used a touch more salt, but were topped with a tasty (if unorthodox) sprinkle of Old Bay.
For $4 extra, you can get any of the three seafood buns (lobster, crab, or shrimp) in a lunch box, which includes one small, sort of sad empress crab claw (left), a Maine Root soda, and a bag of Miss Vickie's chips (even if you don't usually eat soda and chips, know that these are very good soda and chips). Is it worth it? Not quite. But we can see the appeal, especially if you are extra hungry.
Minor assembly issues aside, it's awfully nice to have a place for a good lobster roll fix in the East Village.
93 East 7th Street 212-387-8487
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