The Behind the Scenes series entails insight from behind the chef’s counter and a restaurant’s outlook of its past, present, and future.
Recently opening its first Chicago storefront in the loop, Luke’s Lobster offers its fresh and sustainable East Coast fish to the hungry mouths on LaSalle Street.
After moving to NYC and experiencing an abundance of overly-dressed and overpriced Lobster rolls, Luke Holden knew he needed to make a change. Since then, he and his Father Jeff, have created a brand that trucks (literally) pure and delicious hand picked Maine Lobster to the rest of the U.S. – well at least in NYC, Boston, D.C., Jersey, and now Chicago, for now.
Aiming to be served “Maine-styled,” each 1/4 lb of Lobster meat is served chilled inside of a buttered and toasted split-topped (lightly) mayo-filled bun, with a dash of lemon butter, and secret spices.
Although slightly more pricey than the other Lobster rolls around town ($16), the quality and the flavor balance of the Lobster is well worth the extra dollar bills. The lobster meat is not being drowned in mayo, spices, or suffocated within the buttery bread. Not to mention the ratio of Lobster to bun is ideal – It’s the textbook definition of getting you bang for your buck.
Playing second fiddle to its tail, Luke’s “slaw” is a tasty and light accompaniment. Made with an nontraditional mayo-less sauce (poppy seed vinaigrette), the slaw is both delicate and delicious.
Being fortunate to meet Ben, a friend and longtime partner/manager of Luke’s, I was able to pick his brain for a behind the scenes look at Luke’s in the Windy City:
Out of all of the locations in Chicago, why the Loop as its first storefront?
We love so many of Chicago’s neighborhood, but we felt the Loop was where we would reach the most people. We want the whole city to come to love what we do, and the Loop is one place where people from a huge diversity of neighborhoods come together. It’s also an area that we felt was in need of great seafood, in a casual, fun environment. Everyone we talked to in the Loop had a few places that they liked to go for lunch but craved more options, and more quality seafood.
What has been the biggest struggle since opening?
Wishing I were here more! We have a fantastic team here, and with a GM with tons of restaurant experience, and an AGM who came from Luke’s in DC, and I trust them absolutely. But when you open a new shop with a new team in a new city you love, it’s hard to remember you have the rest of the company to look out for as well, and can’t always be in Chicago.
How “fresh” is the inventory and where are the items sourced from?
Just as fresh as our other locations. It’s only a few hours more on a refrigerated truck-which has no effect on the seafood at all. Our seafood is all fished sustainable, the lobster is coming from harbors in Maine or Canada when the Maine season is inactive; the crab is caught in Massachusetts and Maine; our shrimp is caught in New Brunswick.
Is there something that you wish you had done differently upon opening?
I wish we had a better understanding of the licensing process so that we could have opened with a beer license. We are still working through the red tape on that one, but are looking forward to serving beer from Maine and from our local partner, Revolution, in a few months.
What makes Luke’s different from other local lobster vendors?
We own our own lobster company in Maine, which means we have control over every part of the process: from buying at the docks to preparation, packing, and transport. That means, unlike other lobster vendors, we can trace every lobster back to the dock where it was caught, and we’re deeply knowledgeable about the sustainability regulations that make our guests feel good about what they’re eating and the industry they are supporting. It also means we’ve been able to master every part of the puzzle and get or guests the freshest, most tender, sweet lobster they’ve ever eaten.
What types of deals do you offer regularly?
We offer a $3 combo with any roll, which gets you an organic, fair trade soda from Maine, a pickle, and the choice of either a bag of Cape Cod potato chips or a homemade poppy seed vinaigrette slaw. It’s a great way to round out your meal with sides that do justice to how good the roll is.
Food Photos: Aimee Gasior