By Richard Campbell
Serving a fresh lobster roll is deceptively simple, and you know this is true because so many times when restaurants try it, they yuck it up with fillers and nonsense. With three generations of lobsterman behind him and dozens of restaurants, Luke Holden’s product is the real thing. Readers may already be familiar with this signature restaurant, from the downtown and Back bay locations, so the new location opened in the Seaport this past Wednesday, doesn’t offer a lot of surprises.
Tantalizingly fresh, big pieces of lobster stuffed in a smallish bun and not real cheap, but consistent pricing at $18.00 bucks- Luke’s is very consistently good. The absolutely to die for lobster mac and cheese puts you into a head spin of buttery goodness for $15.00, and the large clam chowder $9.00 is just fine. In other words, this isn’t your everyday lunch if you are a working stiff, but a pricy treat from a restaurant that finitely controls where it’s product is caught, processed and prepared. While you might find a much more of a sophisticated menu, and similar quality for lesser price on floor one of Legal Seafood’s Harborside; here you dispense with the waiter and tips, allowing a speed business lunch to impress the uninitiated.
For the staff of Luke’s Lobsters, coming back near the Boston fish pier was like old home week- despite the “fancy” digs. Though from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, they’ve been involved in the Boston seafood market for generations. The neat thing about this opening was meeting the family, and talking with the Lobster Ladies. Who knew that the company was so large? I remember seeing them in Maine and DC, but goodness gracious, with 26 locations this is a lobster empire. All things considered, Luke himself keeps a pretty low profile for someone who shares an empire with his business partner, Ben Conniff. Given that they opened the first restaurant in New York in 2009, they obviously have that entrepreneur thing down pat. Having met his father, Jeff, I know where that easy going Maine lack of attitude comes from.
But talking with Lobster Lady Krista Tripp, the owner of the lobster boat F/V Shearwater, put the industry in perspective. As a fourth generation “fisherman” she started lobster trapping when she was 13 in Spruce Head and hasn’t stopped since. Fifteen hour days pulling 400 plus traps doesn’t seem to have made a dent! We talked about the water getting warmer in New England, and Canada has market dominance, and though there are restrictions on our side, she seemed like most of the Maine “lobstermen” resourceful and confident of the future.
The same could be said for Merritt Carey, who plays real down home but her CV reveals she has done everything from law school to sailing in the America’s cup, and is the Director of operations for Acadian Seaplanes, along with substantial responsibilities in the Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s COOP, the first fisherman’s co-op to be vertically integrated with a restaurant group and processing company- in which Luke had a definite hand. I have every reason to believe that the Lobsterwomen that make up the rest of the “calendar girls” would be as much fun to meet.
If you buy one of their calendars the proceeds go to the Maine Lobsterman Community Alliance, a non-profit that supports a sustainable lifestyle through education, research, and charity. The serving staff on hand were congenial and efficient, as they provided taste tests on opening day. The restaurant is small, but cozy, and trimmed out with Vermont aged barn wood. They are badly in need of some more modest priced lunch specials specifically designed for flinty New Englanders, if they want to draw crowds in the increasingly competitive lunch scene of the Seaport District. There is a smart simplicity in presentation that bespeaks the origins of the company.