Line up for the Maine event
By Justin Rude
Friday, Aug. 5, 2011
At Luke's Lobster, the simple lobster roll is a family affair. Founder Luke Holden, 27, grew up helping at the family lobster-processing business in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, before studying finance and management at Georgetown University. A finance job in Manhattan followed, but when the economy turned south, Holden went back to his roots.
In 2009 he opened the first Luke's Lobster in the East Village to fix what he saw as a major flaw in New York's dining scene: a lack of good, reasonably affordable lobster rolls. In late May, after launching three more locations and a food truck in New York, Holden returned to Washington to open his first shop outside Manhattan, this one near Seventh and E streets NW.
The cozy restaurant, a block south of Verizon Center, remains a family operation. His younger brother, Bryan, is a manager, and the lobster, crab and shrimp are still sourced and processed by his father's company in Maine.
On the menu: Luke's Lobster has a focused menu. You can get a lobster, crab or shrimp roll; chowder; chips; Maine Root sodas; and whoopie pies. Like the menu, the Maine-style lobster rolls are kept simple. That means big chunks of knuckle and claw meat piled in a buttered and toasted split-top bun with a swipe of mayonnaise, a drizzle of melted butter, a kiss of lemon juice and a sprinkle of "secret spices" (of which a key component seems to be celery salt).
The small restaurant's 13 seats are split between a window counter and a communal table. It's worth fighting for one of those seats in order to eat your sandwich right after it comes across the counter. When the toasted bun is hot, it makes a nice, crispy contrast to the sweet and tender lobster. For the price, there might not be a better roll in town. The Red Hook Lobster truck is a close competitor, but the quicker service and indoor seating here win out over wheels.
Crab and shrimp rolls are equally well cooked and are less expensive than the lobster. For only $2 more than the shrimp, I would suggest the light, slightly sweet crab roll that uses shredded white body meat from North Atlantic Jonah crabs. If you can't choose, Luke's has you covered with a pair of specials: the $22 Taste of Maine and the $41 Noah's Ark. The Taste of Maine features a half-roll of lobster, a half-roll of crab and a half-roll of shrimp, plus a soda, a pair of Empress crab claws and kettle chips. The Noah's Ark deal doubles that and is meant to be shared.
By the bottle: If you just thought, "Wow, that sounds like great beer food!" you are not alone. Holden has applied for an ABC license and hopes to have bottles of Maine microbrews soon. In the meantime, you can order organic Maine Root sodas, which come in unusual flavors; go for the sarsaparilla or blueberry.
At your service: The interior of Luke's Lobster looks like a New England seafood shack. Customers order at one shingle-framed window and pick up at another, and the lines move briskly. The entire staff seems to be friendly, efficient and young.
Bottom line: Compared with a Corner Bakery salad, $18 isn't a exactly a cheap lunch, even with chips and soda included. But when the craving for a shellfish sandwich strikes, Luke's is one of the best in the area.