These are terrible times to be a lobsterman.
Crustaceans' prices are as low as the ocean floor, thanks to the recession and misguided thinking. During the mid-2000s boom, food and drink prices were as inflated as a Macy’s Thanksgiving balloon. Pricey bottle service plagued Chelsea clubs. Burgers were constructed with rich Kobe beef, then finished with truffles and foie gras. And lobsters commanded a king’s ransom. Which is idiotic. Lobsters, like diamonds, are not rare. Or endangered. Lobsters are everywhere off Maine’s coast, man.
Nonetheless, restaurateurs have long touted these pin-eyed sea bugs as celebratory luxury grub. Happy anniversary, honey! Pass me the lobster cracker and a bib, please!
That’s great news in a gangbusters economy. But when times get tough, folks cinch their purse strings. Goodbye, sparkler-topped champagne. Sayonara, luxury condo with the gleaming Viking range. And lobsters, take a long walk off a short pier. Lobsters sank to $5 a pound at Fairway, with wholesale prices as low as $2 or $2.50 a pound—nearly half the $4.50 high. That piqued entrepreneurs’ interest. With prices rock bottom, it became cost-effective to cruise to Maine, buy crustaceans and bring ’em back to the big city.
This business model has been embraced by the excellent Luke’s Lobster, which gets its critters from owner Luke Holden’s dad, Jeff, who owns the seafood-processing firm Portland Shellfish. I first encountered Luke’s one night while boating up the East River. My girlfriend and I were on a PR cruise celebrating Portuguese wines. I’m a trueblue beer man. But my girlfriend likes cool Riesling and Chardonnay, so I gave in to the grape side. Food served: lobster rolls, courtesy of Luke’s.
“Grab me another one,” my girlfriend commanded like a field general, after having already tucked into two pinkie-size rolls. I understood her fervor. Instead of going buck-wild on mayo, Luke’s prefers a restrained, buttery swipe. This lets lobster sing, fleshy and firm. I nabbed another roll. She disappeared it in two shakes of a lamb tail. “I love lobster,” she moaned, like every good little girl reared in New England.
To replicate her happiness a few weeks later, we decided to visit Ralph Gorham and Susan Povich’s Red Hook Lobster Pound (284 Van Brunt St. betw. Verona St. & Visitation Pl., Brooklyn, 646- 326-7650). The couple founded it last year on a strict division of labor: He drives to Maine to buy lobsters; she serves rolls, either with homemade mayo or butter. They’re found at the Brooklyn Flea and Brooklyn Bridge Park, but in Red Hook, the twosome recently opened an adjoining, indoor seating area. Ah, shade: It’s compulsory in this summer of ceaseless sun.
After pedaling to Red Hook, arriving as sweaty and sticky as dirtbags in a porn theater, we ordered a lobster ($15) and a shrimp roll ($8). I wanted beer. The Pound sold none. “Can I bring a beer into the dining room?” I questioned, crossing my fingers. “Sure,” the cashier said, “we’re BYOB.” My heart lit up like the Empire State Building after dark. “I’ll be back in a minute,” I told my girlfriend, abandoning her like a baby-daddy with commitment issues. At a nearby bodega I bought Dogfish Head’s fresh, hoppy 60 Minute IPA, then returned to the dining room. It was a rustic looker, filled with picnic tables made from reclaimed wood.
“I love lobster,” she moaned, like every good little girl reared in New England.
Buoys dangled from the ceiling like nautical earrings. It was Maine by way of Brooklyn. “Man, this makes me happy,” I told my girlfriend, pulling on my piney beer.
“That makes me hungry,” she said, as our rolls arrived, sided with Cape Cod chips. The lobster was chock-a-block with claw, speaking resolutely of the sea. The shrimp was clean and fresh, not tasting of the gritty vein—a fine euphemism for the poop chute. “What’s for dessert?” my girlfriend asked, snapping up an errant shrimp.
“Follow me.” We slung seafoodfattened haunches over bike seats and steered to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie (204 Van Dyke St. at Pier 41, Brooklyn, 718-858-5333) for their summertime sensation: a mini key lime pie, impaled on a stick, dipped in chocolate and frozen. My girlfriend’s eyes went as wide as a pizza pie. “Patience,” I said, holding the dessert aloft as we headed to the nearby Valentino Pier. We sat on a bench and waved to Lady Liberty. Then we bit into ice-cold magic.
“This is the best dessert I’ve ever had,” my girlfriend said, moaning in a bedroom manner. “You get the chocolate, you get the tart, you get the pie, but it’s on a stick. A stick!” she said, taking another lick beneath the waning summer sun.