Each of the three lobster roll-eating experience I've had in my life has been memorable for different reasons. First was my dinner at Pearl Oyster Bar over three years ago with Kathy. Our newly lobster roll-enriched palates were ready to bow down and offer sacrificial goats to the perfectly buttered and toasted squishy buns overflowing with mounds of fresh mayo-bound lobster chunks. It was damn good. Even on our college student budgets, we thought it was worth the $22 price tag...as a very occasional treat. So occasional that we have yet to go back, thus preserving that experience as "one of the best sandwiches we would ever ingest."
Second was at Mary's Fish Camp, again with Kathy, but that's where the similarities end. Instead of a heavenly buttered bun laden with lobster chunks blessed by the sea, we got an anemic roll lacking in butter, and lobster chunks missing whatever magical flavor was present at Pearl Oyster Bar. Even the shoestring fries were disappointing, which is quite a feat considering that fried carbs with a high ratio of crispy surface area-to-innards are almost guaranteed to be delicious. Except at Mary's Fish Camp.
Third was last week at Luke's Lobster, a three-week-old counter-service seafood joint in the East Village featuring seafood from Maine, which, of course, includes lobster rolls. The tiny space paired with a line out the door meant there were no seats left for me, Christine, and her boyfriend Adam, so we got our dinner to go and carried it down the block to Tompkin's Square Park.
And that's why the soundtrack to our cold, tree-obscured-moonlit dinner was the rustling of scurrying rats and the mostly incomprehensible conversations of the homeless men around the chess tables we repurposed as a dining area. Not that I'd say either factor negatively affected our dinner—it was just a memorably atypical environment. "Remember that time we sat near that trashcan and all those rats popped out? And then we ate lobster rolls? Yeaaaah."
A "large" (but quite dainty, which makes me wonder what the small looks like) lobster roll will set you back $14. For two dollars more I went with the lobster schooner, aka "combo meal," consisting of a lobster roll, a bag of Miss Vickie's Chips, a pickle, and a Maine Root drink. The supplementary fried potato matter and gassy drink made for a stomach-filling meal that the lobster roll alone wouldn't have fulfilled.
This lobster roll was quite different the ones I had from Pearl Oyster Bar and Mary's Fish Camp, the biggest difference being the lack of mayo as a binding agent; instead, the bun only contained large, tender lobster chunks sprinkled with a blend of celery salt, thyme, oregano, and black pepper (thanks for the info, Village Voice). As much as I love mayo, I didn't miss it too much here. The nicely toasted and buttered bun was great. Although far from mindblowing, it was a simple, tasty sandwich that just about satisfied my lobster roll curiosity. I wouldn't recommend eating it outside in the cold though considering that the sandwich is devoid of heat.
Was the sandwich's tastiness worth $14? Um. Well. There's a reason I've only eaten three lobster rolls in my life: They're freakin' expensive. I could stuff myself silly for $14 at so many other restaurants that I can't justify eating a kiddie-sized $14 lobster roll again. But in range of lobster roll prices in New York City, $14 isn't bad. I called Pearl's and Mary's to get their latest lobster roll prices: $27 and $30 respectively. Are those sandwiches (and fries) $13 and $16 more delicious? Mary's is definitely not. Pearl's might be. But I'm not a big enough fan of lobster to go back anytime soon to find out.
We also shared an order of Empress crab claws, four for $5. You may not be able to tell from the photo, but they're super tiny. We thought they would've benefited from some sort of seasoning.
I can't say I see myself going back to Luke Lobster—I'm just not into lobster enough to want to pay for it, except for the sake of the occasional lobster roll tasting. But if you do like lobster and you're in the East Village, you may as well give it a shot.