When it comes to tried-and-true New England summer activities, nothing beats chowing down on a lobster roll. And in Portland, Maine, lobster restaurants are hardly in short supply. Still, for visitors to this famed foodie city it can be hard to find a summer seafood spot that does it all: namely, offer the comfort of air-conditioned indoor dining on scorching-hot days while serving up terrific seafood at prices — and with ocean views — befitting a classic seaside shack.
A new contender for checking all those boxes is Luke’s Lobster, a seafood company that recently opened its first location in Portland (its 40th worldwide). So with all the lobster that this town already has to offer, how does Luke’s measure up?
A Visit to One of the Newest Portland, Maine, Lobster Restaurants
Whether you’re a lifelong resident of Portland, Maine, or just visiting for a weekend, it’s easy to find plenty of top-notch food in this city. That’s why I was surprised to learn a new lobster restaurant had opened right off busy Commercial Street. Aren’t there already enough lobster shacks in Portland? I wondered.
I decided I had to go investigate. So I went down to the waterfront to meet up with Ben Conniff, Luke’s Lobster cofounder and a Portland resident, and to check out the restaurant’s new digs (and, of course, try the lobster).
The lobster shack, updated
Perched at the end of the Portland Pier, Luke’s Lobster sits with its feet in the harbor, boats bobbing on every side. If the building weren’t so new, it might look as though it, too, could drift out to sea. It’s a remarkable waterfront location, especially given that a year ago the pier was “literally falling into the harbor,” according to Conniff, who has rolled up on his bicycle to meet me here. Luke’s Lobster worked in partnership with the pier’s owner to rebuild it, and as a result the restaurant is actually integrated into the working waterfront: While you’re eating dinner here, local lobstermen are unloading their catch right below you. As Conniff puts it, you’re dining “in the midst of it all.”The aesthetically simple building has two levels (each with its own bar), an upstairs balcony with standing tables, and a patio right on the water. The interior feels airy, with vaulted ceilings, white walls, wooden beams, and huge windows. The two bars serve a number of local beers, which customers can order while they wait for a table.
How it all began
Ten years ago, Ben Conniff was 24 and working as a freelance writer in New York. He had no food management experience, let alone any clue that he would help launch an international seafood company. But everything changed after he stumbled on a Craigslist ad by Maine native Luke Holden, who after taking a job on Wall Street had found himself disappointed by the lack of authentic lobster rolls in the city. Holden and Conniff partnered up, and in 2009 they opened the first Luke’s Lobster location in the East Village. In October 2019, Luke’s Lobster will celebrate its 10th anniversary. The company has locations across the United States as well as in Japan and Taiwan. To this day, according to the website, Luke’s Lobster is “proud to be able to trace every pound of seafood … back to the harbor where it was sustainably caught.”
Digging into the menu
Looking over the Luke’s Lobster menu, I saw that it was simple but covered all the classics: lobster rolls, seafood platters, chowders. We ordered fried clam strips, a lobster roll, two kinds of fish sandwiches, a salad, and some Allagash beers (when in Maine, right?).
The food was delivered on modern white enamelware. The fish sandwiches looked scrumptious, with seeded golden buns perched on top just so. The salad was a visual standout, sprinkled with vegetables in a trio of colors. Then there was the lobster roll.
The base: a buttered and toasted bun. New England–style, of course. Inside, a thin smear of mayo. A healthy amount of cold lobster meat nestled into the crook. On top, a touch of lemon, a splash of butter, and a sprinkling of secret spice blend.
I took a bite and found the lobster fresh and well-seasoned, and the bun exceptionally grilled. The verdict? Undeniably delicious.
Still, how will Luke’s Lobster stand out among a slew of restaurants already vying for the title of “Best Lobster in Portland, Maine”? I think it comes down to the unbeatable location, along with a polished aesthetic that seems custom-made for Instagram.
So next time you’re looking for a bite in Portland’s Old Port, consider wandering down to the pier to check out Luke’s Lobster. Maybe by then, as Conniff hinted, the restaurant will be offering public tours of the lobster tanks. Oh, and brunch! That’s in the works, too.
Is Luke’s Lobster on the list of Portland, Maine, lobster restaurants you’d like to check out?