Say Philadelphia, and the mind immediately goes to Philly cheesesteaks. What doesn’t come to mind is lobster and seafood in general. Pennsylvania does not have any coastal exposure to the Atlantic Ocean, and there is no Cape Cod or Boston or Bar Harbor in the state.
It took a native of Maine to bring the good stuff to Philly. Luke Holden was a financial analyst in New York City, earning a nice income at the young age of 25. Noting that he couldn’t find a decent, affordable lobster roll in NYC, he and Ben Coniff, who Luke met on Craig’s List, pooled their resources together and started Luke’s Lobster in New York’s East Village in 2009.
Location: There are two locations in Philly, both convenient to City Center. I ate at the Market East location at 17 S 11th Street #4223, just a few minutes walk from the Loew’s Hotel. Their original location in is in Rittenhouse Square at 130 S 17th Street.
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Menu: The is the menu item Luke’s is known for. It’s a quarter pound of chilled, wild-caught lobster in a split top bun with lemon melted butter, mayo, and Luke’s secret seasoning. Always fresh, tender, and tasty, the lobster roll is a can’t miss choice.
Other seafood options include a crab roll and a shrimp roll. You will also want to try their great soups – clam chowder and lobster corn chowder. In addition, Luke’s serves a delicious Wild Blue Salad with mixed greens, chilled lobster, pickled wild blueberries, red cabbage, white beans, sunflower seeds, and honey balsamic dressing.
Luke’s is known for their unique offerings of beverages. Try Luke’s Blueberry Lemonade, Maine Root Ginger Brew, the Green Bee Lemon Sparkling Water, or one of their other refreshing concoctions for a nice change from your typical drink choices.
Thoughts: On this cool, dreary fall day, a fresh lobster roll and hot chowder from Luke’s made the perfect meal. The lobster was light and tender, with just enough butter to bring out the flavor. The roll was fresh, and the Blueberry Lemonade was refreshing. The shrimp and crab were also great – in fact, the shrimp roll was my personal favorite.
The décor gives Luke’s the feeling of being on the coast. Photos of fishermen at work, fishing nets, and boats at sea add to the seaside ambiance. They even have a lobster cage set up in the dining area, ready to catch any unsuspecting crustaceans drifting by.
That first tiny shack in New York City has grown into 29 locations. Luke’s also has its own seafood processing plant, generating over 30 million in sales. In addition to becoming financially successful, Holden and Conniff are zealots promoting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. The company has become a certified B-Corp, one of only 17 restaurants to be certified.
One of the things that really impressed me about Luke’s is their emphasis on serving seafood straight from the source, pure and simple, without any fillers. They work directly with fisherman and cut out the middleman. This enables Luke’s to pay the fishermen a fair price and still keep the price low for their customers.
Luke’s father earned his livelihood as a fisherman, and Luke’s early days were spent around the family business. This exposure to the lifestyle and business of fishing gave Luke a true appreciation of how everything is tied together, from the boats that go out, the operators and their families, and the process of preparing the fresh catch for a spot on the customer’s table. His commitment to fishermen, businesses and coastal communities is real.
Somehow, that genuine commitment to the quality of the food, to the people, and to the environment make that lobster taste even better.
Next time you’re in Philly, do try the cheesesteak. But then sneak on over to one of Luke’s Lobsters locations and savor some fresh lobster, crab, or shrimp. You’ll be glad you did.
Prices: A Lobster Roll with a side and a drink will set you back $19. Crab rolls are $16, and Shrimp Rolls are $12. The popular Luke’s Trio, which includes smaller versions of a lobster roll, crab roll, and shrimp roll with chowder, is $21. A Wild Blue Salad is $20, and chowder is $7 for a cup and $10 for a bowl. Prices are very reasonable compared to other restaurants selling high-quality lobster and seafood.
Disclosure: The author was hosted for a meal at Luke’s Lobster in Philadelphia.
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