Nora Ephron, who died last year, was a newspaper reporter, essayist, screenwriter, director and playwright. She also was an excellent home cook and was constantly on the New York City new restaurant radar screen.
Her last play,” Lucky Guy,” opened a few months ago on Broadway. Tom Hanks, making his Broadway debut, is the star.
Last week, while watching “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, Hanks spent nearly 30 minutes speaking about his great friend Nora with Tom Brokaw. The conversation quickly turned to food.
“I called Nora and told her about a new lobster roll place on the Upper East Side,” Brokaw recalled. “She said, ‘Oh, Luke’s Lobster.’”
Ephron knew each and every brand new restaurant in Manhattan and beat everyone to the door.
Ironically, I lunched at Luke’s Lobster the day before the broadcast. The Rittenhouse Square location is on South 17th Street in the below-ground space that housed Bonte Wafflerie & Café.
Regular readers of my column know I adore sandwiches, when they are properly built. The lobster roll is to Maine what the hoagie and cheesesteak are to Philly.
Maine is the lone New England state I have yet to visit, but I have enjoyed lobster rolls in Boston. The Oyster House builds a delicious one with lobsters and rolls flown in from the Pine Tree State.
Luke’s Lobster is a marvelous addition to our fast-food culture. The small bill of fare is posted on a blackboard. You give your order, receive a number and within a few minutes your meal is ready. It can be packed to go in an easy-to-tote paper shopping bag.
The description on the menu says it all: We make our rolls Maine style. The seafood is served chilled atop a buttered and toasted New England-style, split-top bun with a swipe of mayo, a sprinkle of lemon butter and a dash of our secret spices.
I ordered the lobster roll ($17), which included a bag of Cape Cod chips, a kosher pickle and your choice of a Maine root soda. Root beer, ginger beer and blueberry were among the favorites, but I opted for a San Pellegrino.
Lobster is one of my favorite foods. The good people at Luke’s steam Maine Lobster to perfection and use sweet claw meat for their rolls. It is chopped into bite-sized pieces and stuffed into the split-top roll. I remember a reasonable facsimile of this bun used at Howard Johnson’s for their fried clam sandwich.
I joined three business people at a comfortable wooden table. I took a bite and was in lobster heaven. Less is more here. There was not any chopped celery in the lobster mix. There truly is just a wisp of mayo, so the lobster is the star that shines through. One man squeezed a bit of Sriracha on his sandwich but I nixed the thought. I wanted to enjoy this all-American creation straight.
I sampled a good-sized portion of steaming hot New England clam chowder ($8). There are a number of versions of this classic floating around the country. I did not detect any bacon, salt pork, celery or even onion. The disposable cup was filled with a creamy broth that imparted a light clam juice flavor. Potatoes, which the cooks cut into tiny cubes, are a necessary ingredient. I would have liked to have seen more clams in the soup. They too were cut into a tiny dice, but were not one bit chewy.
Shrimp rolls ($10) and crab rolls ($14) also were offered along with a soup of the day such as spicy crab chowder.
Luke’s Lobster may have started in Maine, but it’s a fine taste of New England right here.
Three-and-a-half tips of the toque to Luke’s Lobster.