Although only a tiny fraction survives to adulthood, an American lobster can live for almost 100 years. Nocturnal creatures that can turn to cannibalism, they even eat their own shells after they molt (helped along by the teeth in their stomachs). They were once so plentiful in New England that they were used as bait and fertilizer. Although the term “lobster red” refers to sunburnt beach-goers, they only turn scarlet when you cook them — and in their natural state, they can be yellow or even bright blue.
They’re also supremely delicious — so much so that seafood company Luke’s Lobster has decided to make a play in the land of Dungeness crab and cioppino.
“We are a Maine-bred lobster shack,” says Ben Conniff, president of the restaurant group of which Luke’s is a part. “The inspiration is the coast shack we grew up going to on the coast. Our mission is to bring lobster in as faithful a rendition of how you get it as possible.”
To that end, they’re opening up in the historic Bourdette Building on Second and Mission streets later this fall. A magnificent outlier, it’s the only commercial building of its scale in Downtown San Francisco to have emerged intact after the 1906 earthquake and fire — an auspicious environment, to be sure. But the renovation of the landmarked building is extensive.
“We’re taking back a lot of previous materials from past restaurants,” Bryan Holden, chief development officer, says. “A lot of stucco, several different layers of tile that’s been placed on tile — bringing it back to its original douglas fir studs.
“While we were demo-ing the storefront last week, we found an old bottle of whiskey tucked into the wall,” he adds. “It was empty — or at least, the contractor said it was empty by the time we got there.”
Working with the historical commission, Luke’s has restored the molding, windows, and transoms to what they looked like in 1904. The restaurant is expected to open this fall, serving lobster rolls with melted lemon butter, mayonnaise, and a secret seasoning, along with shrimp rolls, lobster corn chowder, salads, and more. (There is a crab roll, but it’s made with an Atlantic species, Jonah crab.) For the most part, this represents Luke’s standard menu, but with beer and wine specific to the region. What do these lobster aficionados pair theirs with?
“I look to a light and citrusy Belgian, like an Allagash white,” Holden says, referring to the esteemed Portland, Me., craft brewery. “Or something that’s on the lighter side, like a lager or ale, a kolsch or a nice pilsner — or an American blonde ale. You don’t want a double IPA or imperial porter that’s going to slap you in the face and leave your taste buds numb.”
Same goes for wine, where the goal is a crisp complement to the seafood, not a “15- or 16-percent Cabernet.” (They favor dry Rieslings from Upstate New York’s Finger Lakes.)
A socially conscious B Corp, Luke’s certification grew out of the Maine lobster fishery’s decades-long commitment to guaranteeing the viability of its own future, and a signboard lets you know whether the day’s catch came from Point Judith, R.I., or Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.
“Bryan’s dad Jeff has been in the business for more than 40 years,” Conniff says. (Bryan is also Luke’s brother.) “We’ve watched a fishery flourish under sustainable management practices put in place by lobstermen long before the concept of ‘fishery sustainability’ even existed. We’re talking the late 1800s — and we have so much appreciation for the effort that lobstermen put in, going out every day and throwing back three lobsters for every one” that they keep.
Shipping lobster across the continent while retaining its taste and texture sounds challenging, but Holden stipulates that Luke’s method ensures no degradation in quality. The company picks the knuckles and claws in a cold room and individually seals each quarter-pound so that it stays, in his words, “unassailable.”
Sounds like it’s going to be like a backyard lobster bake in Ogunquit.
Luke’s Lobster, Opening fall 2018 at 90-92 Second St., lukeslobster.com