Taste of Maine, Luke's Lobster Credit: Mike Sula

Things I don’t get: lobster rolls.

I don’t understand why anyone enjoys smothering the inherently sweet, alabaster flesh of this noble bottom feeder with cheap white bread. Hot drawn butter I get. But mayo? Blech.

I’ve been to the mountain too. Waited in line at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset—the Down East Hot Doug’s—where 45 minutes and market price gets you a whole picked lobster on a buttery roll, and where they at least have the decency to serve the mayo and butter on the side. Still leaves me flatter than a Penobscot rhotic.

But for some reason I keep trying, and naturally I tried Luke’s Lobster, the first midwestern outpost a of the NYC-based minichain. Luke’s talks a good game. They buy from independent lobstermen and steam and freeze the meat on the spot before shipping it out to counter-service stores in New York, Pennsylvania, D.C., and now Lasalle Street, where just a few stools offer street views and most of the business is takeout. That at least gives you the opportunity to watch the small assembly line where workers squirt hot butter on the sandwiches with turkey basters, a sight that will inform my fantasy life for a long time to come.

Terroir, Luke's Lobster
Terroir, Luke’s LobsterCredit: Mike Sula

You can tell precisely where the lobster came from, which would be interesting to compare and contrast points of origin if you’re close enough to make Luke’s a regular part of your rotation. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, grew some fairly tasty arthropods when I dug into one, but I preferred the shrimp roll instead, filled with thin, sweet, snappy crustaceans. Luke’s also offers a crab roll (the least appealing of the three), but what’s nice about them all is that the bread is very much subordinate to the flesh, pretty much just a vehicle to get it to your mouth hole. A mere swipe of mayo goes on the rolls, which, apart from a slightly too-liberal dusting of celery salt, allows the shellfish to express itself relatively unburdened.

You can try all three in a $23 Taste of Maine sampler, which includes three half rolls, soda, chips, a pickle, and two stringy, wet Jonah crab claws that wouldn’t make acceptable seagull bait.

Luke’s rounds things out with New England clam chowder and Bang Bang honey pie, but the focus is pretty much on shellfish sandwiches, which here in the midwest are far better than they need to be.

Credit: Mike Sula

Luke’s Lobster, 134 N. Lasalle, 312-982-2977, lukeslobster.com