When Luke’s Lobster opens its second Philly location on Friday, fans who’ve been to the first one will be wowed by the space.
Located at 17 E. 11th St., across from the forthcoming Market East project (and in the midst of what looks to become a thriving retail corridor), the new seafood shack is at least twice the size of the Rittenhouse one.
There’s still a nautical feel thanks to rough-hewn wood and a corrugated roof over the order counter, but the 35-person seating area practically gleams. Tables are made with reclaimed hemlock, but you’d never know since they’ve been polished to a smooth finish.
The upgrade makes sense. When the Maine and NYC-based company landed in Philadelphia back in 2013, the below-ground shop at 17th and Sansom was just the sixth or seventh outpost. This new one makes 23.
A few new items show up on the menu at this second locale. There’s a half-lobster tail available for $5 as a side, and a new seasonal salad (currently chilled lobster tail, arugula, blueberries and beans). But the classics are all still there.
The signature lobster roll goes for $17, not cheap but a good deal for what it is. Less expensive alternatives are available, stuffed with shrimp ($9) or crab ($13). There’s also chowdah and lobster bisque, plus Maine Root and Green Bee craft sodas and Cape Cod potato chips.
If you want to score your first taste from the new spot for free, there’s a contest you can enter.
Eponymous founder Luke Holden is a huge baseball fan, so he’s trying to get the Phillie Phanatic to swing by for the ceremonial first bite. Whether or not he does, the first 100 people to tag @LukesLobster and use the hashtag #LobsterPhanatic on social media will get a gratis lobster roll when they show up on opening day.
It’s been an impressive run for the company started by third-generation fisherman who was determined to bring great lobster rolls to venues outside his native New England. Holden is only 33 years old, but his restaurants now serve customers in 11 states, from Maryland to Nevada.
The reason for the success is traceable to one main (make that “Maine”) factor: High-quality lobster cooked to perfection every time.
There’s a trick behind the consistency. These fast-casual restaurants don’t buy lobsters from local seafood purveyors, then figure out how to cook, shell and store it themselves. They buy it from the Luke’s Lobster-connected Cape Seafood company.
Located in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where Holden grew up and his parents still live, Cape Seafood buys from longtime lobstermen and sustainable lobster collectives there. It then carefully processes the haul — separating the claw, knuckle and tail, for example, so each can be steamed for different lengths of time — flash chills the meat, has a team of 300 employees shell and pack the cooked seafood, and ships it out to stores.
According to Mike Holden, Luke’s 27-year-old brother in charge of opening new locations, the restaurants currently go through around 500,000 lbs. of lobster a year. But Cape Seafood also sells its prepared lobster to supermarkets and commercial caterers — to the tune of around 5 million pounds annually.
After opening day, Luke’s Lobster on 11th Street will be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.