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Louis Lunch

263 Crown St., New Haven, CT - (203) 562-5507
Posted By Michael Stern on 10/22/2007 10:34:00 AM
A small brick building with school-desk seats and an ancient wooden counter with years' worth of initials carved into it, Louis Lunch cooks hamburgers in fat-reducing metal broilers that predate George Foreman’s Lean Mean Grilling Machine by almost a century. A handful of freshly-ground steak is hand-flattened into a patty and placed inside a wire holder inside a vertical iron oven that holds the meat suspended between two heat sources. As the patty cooks, the grease drips off it and the meat sears. When it is done, the hamburger is removed from its wire holder and placed between two pieces of toasted white bread.

Hamburgers come on toast at Louis Lunch because when Louis Lassen began serving them in his little lunch wagon about a hundred years ago, there was no such thing as a hamburger bun. In fact, it is possible that there was no such thing as a hamburger. Some culinary historians believed that this is where the hamburger was invented. There are those who attribute it to the tartars or to the Earl of Salisbury or to sailors from Hamburg, Germany; but Louis Lunch devotees contend that it was born of Louis Lassen’s thrifty nature. The hamburger was his way of doing something useful with the leftover trimmings from the steak sandwiches he sold at his lunch wagon.

Whichever origin is true, Louis Lassen is an essential stop on America’s burger trail. The hamburgers are moist and crusty, available with a schmear of Cheeze Whiz, if desired; and the place itself, now run by a fourth generation of the Lassen family, is a vivid taste of culinary history.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
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One cheeseburger, with Louis's works, which are onions (grilled into the burger as it cooks) and sliced tomato.  Ketchup is forbidden at Louis lunch.
"One cheeseburger, with Louis's works, which are onions (grilled into the burger as it cooks) and sliced tomato. Ketchup is forbidden at Louis lunch."
Michael Stern





Louis Lassen III explained to us that he once tried to use a machine to make the burger patties, but it ruined their flavor and texture.  Today, as in the beginning, each hamburger is hand-formed.
"Louis Lassen III explained to us that he once tried to use a machine to make the burger patties, but it ruined their flavor and texture. Today, as in the beginning, each hamburger is hand-formed."
Michael Stern


Bread for burgers is still toasted the old-fashioned way at Louis.  Of course, there are no buns for burgers ... because hamburger buns had not yet been invented when Louis Lassen invented the hamburger.
"Bread for burgers is still toasted the old-fashioned way at Louis. Of course, there are no buns for burgers ... because hamburger buns had not yet been invented when Louis Lassen invented the hamburger."
Michael Stern


These metal broilers are what give Louis Lunch hamburgers a succulence inside their crunchy exterior. Note how a knife is used to keep the door latched on the left broiler.  That's been the technique for at least the three decades we've been eating Louis' burgers!
"These metal broilers are what give Louis Lunch hamburgers a succulence inside their crunchy exterior. Note how a knife is used to keep the door latched on the left broiler. That's been the technique for at least the three decades we've been eating Louis' burgers! "
Michael Stern


The original Louis Lassen at his lunch counter some time in the 'teens.  That's the SAME counter at which customers dine today.
"The original Louis Lassen at his lunch counter some time in the 'teens. That's the SAME counter at which customers dine today."
Michael Stern


Vintage graffiti scratched into a Louis table. Graffiti on the counter dates back almost a century!
"Vintage graffiti scratched into a Louis table. Graffiti on the counter dates back almost a century!"
Michael Stern


Freshly-painted Louis on a bright winter day. Jeff Lassen told us that the family now owns the property on which Louis sits, so no matter what sort of urban renewal happens around it, Louis is not going anywhere.
"Freshly-painted Louis on a bright winter day. Jeff Lassen told us that the family now owns the property on which Louis sits, so no matter what sort of urban renewal happens around it, Louis is not going anywhere."
Michael Stern


Louis Lunch is tiny.  Expect to wait for a seat during lunch hour.
"Louis Lunch is tiny. Expect to wait for a seat during lunch hour."
Michael Stern



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