Lobster rolls have always been a bone of contention in New York. Wait, speaking of lobsters and bones, I have to tell you a story. There it was, a few years ago, in the first month of AZ (restaurant) being open, and I and the general manager are working in the dining room. It’s a Saturday night, what is in the local industry referred to as B&T Night, for “Bridge and Tunnel” – i.e., the folks who come in from either Long Island or New Jersey. It’s a mildly disparaging term meant to indicate a certain lack of, shall we say class or sophistication. Obviously, before anyone gets upset, there are plenty of sophisticated folk in the ‘burbs and plenty of idiots in the city, but it’s the nature of things to generalize. On Long Island-heavy nights in particular we’d also refer to the folk as “The bigger the hair the closer to god” crowd – I’ll leave you to figure that one out on your own.
So there’s a party of 8 or 10 sitting at a couple of tables pushed together, and in the mix there’s a bottle blonde with a bottle tan with hair piled so high that Paula Deen would be jealous, wearing a skimpy sequined outfit that she might have looked good in 30 years younger prior to being rescued from a life of pole dancing at the local strip club by her pinky-ringed, gold-chain festooned, shirt open to the navel husband, who likely wouldn’t have looked good in that getup 30 years earlier – then again, no one does. One of the chef’s signature dishes was a lobster tail, removed from the shell and skewered on a lemongrass stalk, grilled and then serve up with whatever the various accompaniments were. After the plate arrived, said blonde started waving her hands in the air while her dining companions clearly tried to get her to stop, pulling her hands down and such – we knew something interesting was going to be up. The GM headed to the table, I was a few feet away, as she cursed us and the chef out with a mouth so foul it was unbelievable. But we walked away, with her plate in hand, in hysterics… how come? Because she’d encountered the lemongrass skewer and she’d never been so affronted in her life, nor found such incompetence, as to have been served lobster still on the bone….
None of this went through my head when I wandered into Luke’s Lobster in the East Village to sample one of what has in the last year or so been touted as New York City’s best lobster roll, by more than one reviewer. I just felt like sharing the story – don’t want all these food posts to get to dry on you.
The place is a literal hole in the wall. A kitchen that makes most apartment kitchens, even in NYC, look spacious, and a mere half dozen seats crammed in at a wooden counter. Plastic cutlery, everything served sort of to-go style, even when eating there, torn fish netting draped about and pounding gangsta rap on the stereo system. The much touted clam chowder was a must to try, and it’s really quite good, though perhaps a bit overly thickened. Still, the flavors are right on. I can’t say the same for the Maine Root Blueberry soda (which isn’t what I ordered, but what I was served and didn’t realize it until after I opened the bottle), tasting of nothing but sugar – I couldn’t tell it was blueberry flavor – nor for the kettle cooked chips from the clearly very planned out Miss Vickie’s Premium Kettle Chips – which, despite their folksy packaging and notes to give them a call or drop them a line and let them know what you think of their product turn out to be simply repackaged Frito-Lay kettle chips (on reading the fine print at the bottom of the bag), nor are they “all natural” as claimed unless it’s simply based on that some of the chemicals listed on the pack happen to be plant-derived. And the quantity of saturated fat in one little bag is pretty much past the daily limit you should consume when you’re trying to put on an extra layer of insulation for the Maine winter.
But, on to the lobster roll itself. Served on a “split top bun”, it’s really more of a thick piece of bread toasted on the outside and slit open, lots of butter on the outside, and the merest wisp of mayo on the inside, barely enough to consider a wisp. The lobster is left pretty much unadorned and un-anythinged – the website claims “a swipe of mayo, a sprinkle of lemon butter and a dash of secret spices”, and they truly mean those minuscule quantities – there was no real evidence that any of them were there. Still, the lobster is fresh and limited to claw and knuckle meat, but really it needs some kind of condiment – I appreciate the generous quantity of it in the roll, but would prefer it had something to add some flavor to it. I can’t say I didn’t like it, but I wouldn’t bother to return. Just not my style, though clearly quite popular with folks for whom it is.