I have been to the Empire State Building. I have seen Independence Hall. I have stood on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial and climbed the Statue of Liberty.
And now, I have eaten at Louis Lunch.
For as long as I can remember, cheeseburgers have been my favorite food. I love them. I cherish them. “Super Size Me” made me hungry. So walking into Louis Lunch, the self-proclaimed birthplace of the cheeseburger, was a sort of religious experience for me. As an agnostic fat kid, Louis Lunch is my Bethlehem. Or something like that.
You walk in the front door of Louis’, and…that’s it. You’re at the counter. The interior has been carved up by generations of carnivorous drunks and college students. The tables and booths are bizarrely small, lending some support to the notion that we as Americans have ballooned up over the past 100 years. The grills are upright gas cookers that have been in use by the restaurant since 1898. You’ve never seen anything like them and you probably won’t ever again.
When it comes to ordering, the only thing you can order is a burger. The only toppings are tomatoes, onions, and some sort of cheese spread. The burger is served on white toast. Ask for ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce or anything else and you are excommunicated.
As for the taste – the burgers are super juicy and tender, and you can tell the meat is high quality as they grind their own beef in-house. The toast lends a satisfying crunch and the tomato and onion add cool, crisp texture and a little bit of extra zing.
Is it the best burger I’ve ever had? No – although it’s a damn good, freshly made, satisfying sandwich. But the real charm is in the atmosphere. The history. You’re sitting in a tiny little shack, right next to the grandson of the man who invented the cheeseburger. He’s using the weirdest grill you’ve ever seen. He refuses to use condiments or expand the menu. And yet the line is still out the door. Stubbornness in the restaurant business is refreshing to see sometimes - Louis Lunch believes in doing things a certain way, and that’s just how it’s gonna be.
More power to ‘em.