As all good things must come to an end, so too must the Burger Quest. Ironically, it ends at the beginning. Louis Lunch in New Haven Connecticut. Ground zero for ground beef. Louis Lunch has the distinction of being the first hamburger joint in America. The story goes that in 1900 a businessman ran into the New Haven lunch wagon and demanded a lunch to go. Louis Lassen, the proprietor, slapped together a blend of beef trimmings between two pieces of toast and sent the harried gentleman on his way. Thus the hamburger was born.
At Louis Lunch, little has changed in one hundred-twelve years. Their hamburger is a proprietary blend of five different cuts of fresh ground beef. The menu is limited. Hamburger or cheeseburger. Tomato, grilled onions or both. On toasted white bread. That’s it. No condiments and don’t even ask because they will look at you like you are an idiot. You can get potato chips, or potato salad. Drinks are soda or water.
We walked into the restaurant and were struck by how tiny it is. About the size of a small living room. The place was packed wall to wall with people. There was a large table for communal eating on the right, a small table on the left and some curious pew looking chairs with a tiny table attached to the chair. The walls were a dark tobacco color. Curiously out of place were some antique firearms hanging from the roof. The windows were an interesting Tudor diamond pattern. Every conceivable surface was covered with initials, names poems and such carved into the surface. The tables, chairs, walls, window muntins; everything. I immediately wished I had brought my knife to mark my territory.
You don’t have to ponder the menu too much to figure out what you going to have. I took more time figuring out my potato chip order. My wife and I ordered two cheeseburgers (American cheese; what else) with onions and tomatoes; cooked rare. We managed to get a seat and sat down to wait. And wait. And wait. We waited about a half an hour. The hamburgers are cooked to order in in four gas fired cast iron vertical braziers that date back to the original store. Since they can only cook four burgers at a time, bring something to amuse yourself. Like “War and Peace!” One guy next to me celebrated two birthdays that same day!
Finally they called my name. Here comes the big moment. This was a good sized burger as far as burgers go. Some of the reviews I read said the burgers were tiny. I didn’t have a scale but it appeared to be about 5 ounces after cooking. The toast was perfectly browned. I took one bite and wow, I was stunned. The burger was perfectly cooked rare, it was very juicy, and had a lot of flavor. The meat had great texture and you could tell the meat was fresh. The onions added a nice sweetness and the tomato contributed just a touch of sour. This burger stands on its own. No need to dress it up with sauces, condiments, pickles or truffles. The burger is the star.
We slowly finished our meal and sat and chatted savoring the experience. Yeah, there are sexier burgers out there, but for a unique experience, get yourself down to Louis Lunch.