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Louis’ Lunch

On the way to visit friends in Massachusetts, we made our first visit to hamburger Mecca:  Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut.

Exterior, Louis' Lunch 01/24/09

Exterior, Louis' Lunch 01/24/09

Louis’ Lunch is reputedly the birthplace of the hamburger.  From the Louis’ Lunch website:

One day in the year 1900 a man dashed into a small New Haven luncheonette and asked for a quick meal that he could eat on the run. Louis Lassen, the establishment’s owner, hurriedly sandwiched a broiled beef patty between two slices of bread and sent the customer on his way, so the story goes, with America’s first hamburger.

The place is legendary, having been featured on many a TV show about famous hamburgers.  Part of the legend stems from the way the hamburgers are made:  they grind the meat themselves and broil the patties vertically in the original (1895) upright cast iron gas grills.  The final product is served on toasted white bread.  The only options are cheese, tomato, and raw onion.   Ketchup, mustard, mayo, and any other condiments are forbidden.

Louis' Lunch lays down the law.

Louis' Lunch lays down the law.

We arrived at 12:15 PM, just after they opened.   The building is tiny.  The seating is very limited and was all taken.   There were three or four people in line in front of us.  The line moved fairly quickly and we placed our order —  two hamburgers with everything (cheese, tomato, raw onion) — and stepped aside to wait.  While waiting, I took some crappy photos of the interior:

Wooden mantle over non-working fireplace with years of carved names.

Louis' Lunch: Wooden mantle over non-working fireplace with years of carved names.

Table with "Velvet Knife" carved into it by visiting drunken post-grunge band.

Table with "Velvet Knife" carved into it by visiting drunken post-grunge band.

After about five minutes, someone got up from a tiny booth and we were able to snag it.  The place really started to fill up.  Quickly, there was a line out the door with at least twenty people standing outside.  It was so crowded that I had a hard time getting a good picture of the action:

Derek Jeter moonlighting as cook.  Note gas grills in background.

Derek Jeter moonlighting as cook. Note gas grills in background.

Then we waited . . .

 

And waited . . .

 

And waited . . .

After about 45 minutes to an hour, just as I was beginning to wonder if they had lost our order, my name was called.  The moment of (blurry) truth:

Exterior of burger.

Exterior of burger.

The blurry money-shot.

The blurry money-shot.

The burgers were flavorful, but could have used some salt.  Mine was on the medium-well side of medium-rare, though still juicy, while my wife’s burger was closer to medium-rare and jucier still.  I had a bite of my wife’s burger, and it was superior to mine.  My theory is that my burger was on the top of the rack in the vertical oven, while my wife’s burger was on the bottom, which meant that the juices from the burger on top dripped onto and “basted” the burger on the bottom.   The burgers were also quite small (I could have eaten two very easily).   Nevertheless, they were tasty and unique.

Louis’ Lunch most reminds me of the New York pizza institution, DiFara’s.  Both have a limited menu, single-minded focus, and long history.   Also, both can be inconvenient to the point of frustration, though this only adds to their mystique and charm.   Both represent a window into the past when life was less hurried.  It is a shame there are fewer and fewer places like these with each passing year.

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