When someone grows up near the iconic Portland Head lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine—which you've probably seen a gazillion times on greeting cards and magnets—they likely know a thing or two about lobster rolls. Twenty-five-year-old Luke Holden, an investment banker by day, grew up on fresh lobster rolls in Maine and noticed a lack of them (especially ones that aren't $34) in the city. Thanks to a little slump in the financial world, he had some time to mock up a business plan earlier this year.
With the help of his dad Jeff, who owns the respected Portland Shellfish seafood processing company, Luke is opening Luke's Lobster this Thursday in the East Village in a teeny space next to Caracas on E. 7th Street. The menu—on the wall near a Maine seaside mural painted by a family friend—will feature four-ounce lobster rolls ($14), two-ouncer minis ($8), as well as shrimp and crab rolls ($7 and $8), seafood chowders, empress crab claws ($1 each) with Maine-imported cocktail sauce, and fresh-caught seafood sold by the unit.
Though many lobster rolls claim to have little filler or none at all, Luke gets a serious look on his face when he insists that these really don't. After buttering and toasting the traditional hot dog-style buns, they get a swipe (note: not a blob or a clump) of mayo, just enough so it melts, then comes the fresh lobster, seasoned with a shake of salt, pepper, and celery salt. This isn't a wet pile of seafood glop—the bread stays crunchy because the tender meat hunks are so fresh and intact.
It helps to have his pops around, who also supplies crustaceans to the Fulton Fish Market and the Lobster Place in Chelsea Market. He'll keep the lobster stocked fresh year-round, except during the impossible few months between mid-January and March when they'll have to resort to frozen. "I've been eating lobsters my whole life and can barely taste the difference. My dad, on the other hand, can sniff and know." But for the lay lobster eater, it will still be a wad of deliciousness.
So, 2 a.m. lobster rolls anyone? Since the E. 7th Street block stays up late, Luke's Lobster will keep the bun presses hot until the wee hours on weekends. During the day, they'll serve a special lunchtime combo with a four-ouncer lobster roll, a few claws, Kettle potato chips, and a pickle.
93 E. Seventh Street, New York NY 10009 (at First Avenue; map)