review by Biscuit Wakefield
Eaters of Portland!
I realize that Bryan, Hilly Town’s owner, asked me to review chocolate-chip cookies for this fine web site. I am sorry that my CCC reviews have slowed of late — the summer was busy, my garden was suffering, and other obligations interfered. I promise I will have more cookies to discuss with you soon but first, a brief detour into the world of the savory.
As I have mentioned previously, Mr. Wakefield’s boat business takes him occasionally to New York City. I accompanied him on a recent trip and while we were there we decided to visit Luke’s Lobster, a new spot run by a man whose family is from Cape Elizabeth. According to the New Yorkers, this place guaranteed a “real” Maine lobster roll at a reasonable price. I hear this is something of a rarity in New York, those poor souls! But is this “real” lobster roll really real, and is the price reasonably reasonable? Only one way to find out. Below the jump, you will see the results of my investigation.
(Luckily for all of us, Bryan Hilly Town arrived in New York for a music festival the week after I left. So he was able to drop by Luke’s with his camera and recreate my order. I confess, my little camera does not take very good pictures.)
It is remarkable how tiny Luke’s Lobster is. They say everything is bigger in New York but clearly this does not apply to real estate. I once read about a woman who lived in a 175 square foot apartment — I have seen SUVs larger than that! Anyway, unlike a good coastal lobster shack with benches and picnic tables, Luke’s is crammed into a small space just large enough for a few stools and a counter. Chips and the delicious Maine Root soda are available. The employees we met were very friendly. I think by now we all know the stereotype of rude New Yorkers is just that, a stereotype.
Decor included netting and a fisherman’s outfit fastened to the wall. We would call this touristy here in Portland but it was fun to see in the midst of Manhattan.
Mr. Wakefield and I shared a ginger soda and the “large” lobster roll, which was priced at $14. I do not know if they normally serve these cut in half, or if the friendly counter people were being considerate because they overheard us agreeing to share. The roll came in a plastic basket, lined with foil. The frilly white paper cups the halves were nestled in almost reminded me of the “cuffs” my mother used to put on lamb chops at Easter, does anyone else remember those?
Now, the part you are all waiting for. The lobster roll. I was pleased to see that the bun was a proper top-split hot dog bun, Country Kitchen brand (in my family we always buy Nissen, but close enough). It was lightly grilled and brushed with butter. The lobster meat itself was fresh and sweet, if a tad overcooked. The roll contained a restrained amount of mayonnaise. I for one am not overly fond of mayonnaise so this was a welcome feature. However, I must take issue with the seasoning. I believe a lobster roll needs nothing more than good lobster, a proper bun and a restrained amount of mayonnaise. At Luke’s they add several shakes of celery salt [EDIT! And oregano, and thyme! Good Lord, that’s what I thought when I was eating it, but I couldn’t believe anyone — let alone a Maine native — would do that to a lobster roll!]. To me this adds an unwelcome vegetal flavor, and speaking of my mother, she would never have put celery salt [or oregano! or thyme!] on the lobster rolls she served us. I know some “traditional” lobster rolls include seasoning so perhaps it is just a matter of personal preference and family tradition. But be warned if you, like me, fall in the anti-seasoning, anti-celery salt [and oregano! and thyme! on lobster rolls!] camp.
As for the price, is it reasonable? Well, according to the menu our roll contained 4 oz. of meat, so at $14 it cost $3.50 per ounce. Last I checked that’s about the price per pound at the fish market on the pier. On the other hand, you have the costs of transportation and storage to consider.
Bottom line, Luke’s makes a tasty sandwich (despite the celery salt), and the owners are to be commended for their efforts to support the Maine lobster industry and offer New Yorkers an alternative to the highfalutin’ lobster rolls elsewhere in the city. But is this “real Maine”? Of course not. It is real East Seventh Street. It occurs to me that searching for a “real Maine lobster roll experience” in New York City is as fruitless a quest as searching for a “real New York bagel experience” in Winter Harbor. Is it not a comfort, though, that in this age of cultural homogenization there are still some reasons to embrace the differences between places?