Luke's Lobster (93 E. 7th St., East Village)
Growing up in the relatively land-locked Midwest, I thought that seafood was simply anything that lived in the water. Don't get me wrong... Indiana does hot-buttered corn, granny smith apple dumplings with warm cinnamon sauce, apple butter, and pork tenderloin sandwiches better than anywhere else in the country. It's just that we didn't see much from the ocean hit our menus. Lake Michigan actually had a beach, and you couldn't see one side of the lake from the other. So when restaurants posted freshwater favorites such as trout, tilapia, and cornmeal-crusted catfish as the catch of the day, I was never really aware that any other seafood was available. Scallops were frozen and often dry, although my mom made delicious dijon-crusted shellfish bakes. Shrimp, lobster, and crab were so ridiculously overpriced that we only really ever ate them when vacationing somewhere near the ocean. It wasn't until my brother's girlfriend took us to visit her family in Maryland that I'd even heard of lobster rolls... and the minute I tried one, I marched right back up to the counter and ordered a second. Who knew lobster could taste so delicious when it was fresh?
When I found out that Luke's Lobster had opened in the East Village, I was instantly skeptical. 4 ounces of buttery and sweet lobster knuckle and claw meat for $14 seemed impossible. I've enjoyed several versions of the lobster roll since moving to the East Coast, but most are hot dog buns loaded with lobster salad, with just as much Miracle Whip and celery bits as actual lobster meat. Or occasionally, marginal quality lobster meat is masked by a brioche roll or some other gimmick. Where did Luke's fall on the spectrum of lobster rolls?
Luke Holden, owner, was born off the coast of the Maine, and even started his own lobster company while in high school. At Luke's Lobster, however, he teams with his father, owner of Portland Shellfish seafood processing company. With the heaven-divined father-son duo, fresh Maine lobster is delivered daily to Luke's in the East Village (and now the Upper West Side, as well), assuring the finest and freshest lobster meat available.
Because we don't make it to the Village every day, my friend and I had to sample a little bit of everything. Shrimp, crab, or lobster rolls range from $7 to $14, with half rolls available, as well. We tackled the Noah's Ark, a feast for two for $38. $19 per person gets each grubber their own shrimp, crab, and lobster mini rolls, empress crab claws, a bag of potato chips, and a soda.
Everything was mouthwateringly exceptional, and we debated ordering a second round. The buns are buttered and toasted, then drizzled with a slight slathering of mayo. The shellfish is brushed with a light glazing of lemon butter to amplify the taste of the sea, then sprinkled with a house blend of sea salt, celery salt, thyme, and oregano... just enough enhancements to bring out the succulent sweetness of the incredibly fresh shellfish. It was, by far, the best lobster roll I have ever enjoyed.
For beverage options, you won't have to worry if they carry your preferred cola, because they don't. At Luke's they serve organic, sugar cane extract sweetened, Maine Root sodas. We enjoyed refreshing bottles of blueberry and mandarin orange sodas, as well as sea salt and cracked black pepper potato chips.
The empress crab claws were tender and exquisite, and for $5, you can add 4 to any meal... I could probably have stayed and devoured empress claws all night long, if we didn't have more to tackle ahead of us.
Hurricane's soups and chowders is a small Maine business run by four family members. The clam chowder was full of plump clam medallions and potatoes. It was creamy and hearty, and exceptionally delicious. Because of the heat, we shared one cup, but next time, I'll probably order my own. It would only be better in a bread bowl, but the chowder itself was phenomenal. Hurricane uses seafood from Luke's father's business, so the soups are sent on the truck with the daily order from Maine. Never frozen, they use no artificial ingredients, no gluten, no preservatives, or MSG.
For dessert, definitely share a scoop of Gifford's lobster tracks ice cream. Using vanilla beans from Maine's heartland, the ice cream is swirled with decadent ribbons of fudge, and polka dotted with little red candy spheres filled with buttery caramel that explodes at a bite. They offer a few other flavors, as well, but the lobster tracks are sinfully delicious.
It's not a huge shop, just a small counter, some lobster traps and gear decorating the wall, and a few stools on the periphery if you are lucky enough to snag one. Just a few blocks from Tompkins Square Park, it's well worth the wait in line even if you have to take the order to go. But I guarantee that if you take one bite of the pure, buttery, tender lobster meat that there's no way your meal will make it to the park.