I visited the birthplace of the American hamburger.
Louis Lunch, open since 1895, invented the hamburger in 1900 when a patron demanded a quick lunch and Louis Lassen slapped a few steak trimmings between two slices of white bread. Thus, the hamburger was born, and very little has changed since that fateful day.
Since then, people have flocked to the tiny New Haven eatery, with only a few seats and even fewer menu items. Everyone who went to Yale has certainly eaten there – every politician, actor, and head of state who ever spent undergraduate or graduate years at Yale sat at the lunch counter that you can occupy this very day.
The history is seeping out of the cast-iron hamburger grills, the same ones used since the day the burger was invented. You can practically taste the history the moment that you walk in and smell the hearty aroma of grilled meat.
Don’t expect fries here, and – whatever you do – DON’T expect ketchup. Don’t even ask for it, lest you be forcibly ejected from the premises. This is all about the meat.
Some of the best deli style potato salad I have ever had. Thick, creamy hunks of potatoes in a mayonnaise dressing with slices of hardboiled egg. Spiced only with salt, pepper, and the slight bite of chives, this is all about the glory of potatoes – textually and tastewise. Rich and a little heavy, it is a fantastic specimen.
Hamburger with everything – cheese, tomato, onion
This is all about the beef. It’s as close as you will get to eating a steak on bread. Louis Lunch uses a custom blend of 5 different cuts of fresh meat, hand rolls the patties daily, then cooks them in those old-fashioned grills. The patty is coarse and lightly salted – it is really just the taste of meat. Buttery, iron-y, almost funky in its meaty heft. This is a power-filled burger that is all about the meat. Ignore the soft white bread, the strong white onion, and the somewhat mealy tomato – these are just there for show. The cheese, velvety smooth in texture, is also delightfully melty and provides a wonderful counterpart to the bite of the burger.
The burgers are small, they are not highly seasoned, and they are fantastic.
This ain’t the best burger in America. I like my burgers with some condiments and a side of fries. What it is, is cheap food, courteous service, and undeniably a lifetime experience. I ate at the place where the burger was invented. That’s incredible to me. And it made the burger, good on its own, fantastic.
I can’t recommend this place highly enough. I plan on making the pilgrimage again very soon, and getting 2 burgers this time.