[Edit: As of 2018, Luke’s no longer has a nut-free kitchen. Almonds. In some grain bowl. Ick. Oh well.]
I’ll admit it: I’ve been actively avoiding Luke’s Lobster since I learned it was nut-free back in February. They have 13 locations, most in pretty convenient locations, but fuck—$17 for a single lobster roll? I know it’s lobster, but come on. That’s a lot! So I stayed away.
Still, the allergy information I got from Luke’s was pretty solid. There are no tree nuts (or peanuts) in any of their dishes, and their bread comes without any sort of “may contain” warnings. No one I’ve spoken to has wanted to make any guarantees about cross-contamination, but that’s standard for places that aren’t declaredly nut-free. So: Luke’s. Safe. Great. But I still didn’t want to pay $17 for an ever-so-small meal.
Last weekend, though, Sam and I really couldn’t figure out what to eat. It all started with a simple question: “What do you want for dinner?”—and two hours later, we still hadn’t gotten anywhere. I didn’t want Mexican; he didn’t want Japanese. Neither of us wanted to go to the one Chinese restaurant I can eat at, and I couldn’t talk him into cooking. In defeat, we went home—we’d been having this conversation on a bench on Houston Street—and agreed to just have a frozen dinner.
And then it hit me. Sam had been wanting to go to Luke’s since we’d first heard about it, and I…well, at that point, I was feeling pretty good about anything that didn’t need to be microwaved. “Put some pants on,” I told him. “I have an idea that I think you’re gonna like.” And that was how I ended up spending almost $40 on lobster rolls (two—only two!) on a Sunday night.
We went to the Luke’s on 7th Street (not pictured above—that’s the one on South William Street), which happens to be the smallest of the chain’s locations, Tail Cart not included. It’s a special kind of rustic-kitsch hell in there. There are about eight seats, and the walls are covered with sea-themed detritus. Sea, seafood…yes, I get it. But I did not appreciate having to wait 15 minutes in a shoebox that could pass for a Maine airport gift shop, six inches from the next person over, all for an expensive-ass snack-sized meal. (Oh, and the whole place smelled funny, too. Like a cheese shop, in a bad way.)
But I let go of all my ambiance-related gripes the second I bit into my lobster roll. The meat was fresh, and it came in large, satisfying chunks—and there was plenty of it, which was key. Plus, the bun was buttery and well-toasted (well-griddled, actually, which explains why it tasted so much like the bread on a good grilled cheese), and I wasn’t even upset when I ran out of lobster and had to finish the bun off by itself—it’s that good.
The seasoning (which I’m pretty sure is, like, 80% oregano) tasted a bit out of place, and I wouldn’t have minded if there had been a bit more mayonnaise involved, but there’s no denying that overall, the roll was good. That said, it wasn’t quite good enough to make me forget how much I’d spent—and it wasn’t as if I left Luke’s feeling particularly full, either. I’m not made of money, though, so I gathered all my self-control and got the hell out of there before I had the chance to find myself down another $20 with a clam chowder in one hand and a lobster tail in the other.
The Noah’s Ark (two half lobster rolls, two half crab rolls, two half shrimp rolls, four crab claws, two drinks, two chips or slaws, and two pickles—pictured above and below) is certainly a better deal. At $46, it feeds two—and doesn’t cost all that much more than two plain old lobster rolls. Our second time at Luke’s, we went with the Noah’s Ark, and we both left feeling far more satisfied than we’d felt the first time. All around, it was a win.
Again, the buns stood out—enough to carry me through an overwhelmingly boring crab roll. The shrimp roll was better, but not by much. Unsurprisingly, the lobster was the best of the three, but I did like being able to try all of Luke’s offerings. The pickle was a pickle (a good one, I guess), and the chips (Cape Cod) were chips, but the soda was not just a soda. Luke’s sells Maine Root, which is really, really good. I had the Mexicane Cola, and I was in heaven.
I do have a complaint, though, and it’s an angry one. The crab claws (listed on the menu at an absurd $8 for 4) were a joke. Too cold, too small, too bland, too expensive—all I could think was “how much less would this meal have costed if these stupid crab claws weren’t included?” Still, if you were to buy everything included in the Noah’s Ark on its own, it’d cost you around $20 more than you’d pay for the bundle—so I couldn’t be that upset.
Overall, I like Luke’s. For my bank account’s sake, I wish I didn’t, but I can’t help it. Their lobster rolls just taste right, and I can’t convince myself otherwise—so I suppose I’ll have to learn how to exercise some restraint. (Or not, because they have a loyalty program. For every 10 lobster dishes you buy, you get a free lobster roll—and the Noah’s Ark counts for two. I’m on my way.)
There are a bunch of locations in the city, but the two I’ve been to are located at 93 East 7th Street and 26 South William Street, respectively. I preferred the William Street location, literally only because all the sea-flotsam and Maine-jetsam took up a more reasonable percentage of space than it did on 7th Street—and I’m willing to fight anyone who thinks that criterion is illegitimate.