A Visit To Louis' Lunch - the Place Many Agree Invented the Hamburger

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Louis' Lunch

Opening in 1895, Louis' Lunch put itself on the map in 1900 with what they claim, and many agree, was the invention of the burger.  As Louis' explains:

"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."

I had been wanting to try this burger for some time, and a ride back from Foxwoods was the perfect opportunity.  One hour into my trip, I came upon New Haven, veered off the exit, and let my Garmin lead me to Louis'.  The restaurant is a very small self-standing building that looks misplaced around all of the more modern buildings.  It has an inviting charm, and I stood outside for a moment imagining what it must have been like 100 years ago.  I opened the door to this small place to find that it was PACKED.  Apparently, lunches are usually busy, but I chose to come on a holiday week, and the place was bursting with people. 

When you first walk in, the experience can be somewhat confusing.  There is a small counter, behind which two people are frantically cooking burgers.  There are 3-4 small tables, people everywhere, and no clear way to place your order.  Eventually, one of the two people behind the counter took a break from her work to take a long list of orders.  Basically, you can get burgers, chips and drinks.  They also had a special side salad of the day.  Burgers are cooked medium-rare unless ordered differently.  They come with cheese spread, tomato and onion, though I had mine without tomato.  The burgers are served on white toast, and cut in half by the chef (which I know many burger lovers would take issue with as the juices now have a means for escape.)

Most interesting are the broilers.  They are antique upright cast iron broilers that look to be 100 years old, but are now gas powered.  These things are great!  The burgers are placed on metal racks with the onion already in place, turned upright, and placed into the broiler.  The broiler doors are then shut.  The three broilers provide a continuous supply of fresh burgers.

I was disappointed that the restaurant was so crowded because I did no have any chance to converse with the staff.  My burger took nearly an hour to come out, and I am disappointed to report that I did not love it.  The burger tasted more like meatloaf than a burger.  Luckily, I enjoy meatloaf, but it was not what I had been looking forward to.  The meat was dry, and the flavor was wanting.  I want to believe that this was just an aberration, and hope to get back there one of these days to try it again.  (I should tell you that Rev from Burger Conquest had been there the week before, and loved it.  So, I am going to chalk this one up to them being overcrowded and overwhelmed.) 

Despite my experience, I think every burger lover owes Louis' a trip, if for nothing else, to thank them for this great American sandwich.  I will definitely be back on my next trip north.  Cannot wait to give them another chance.

Louis' Lunch
261-263 Crown Street
New Haven, CT 06510


dry burger

A dry burger at Louis' is very unusual, in my experience. The beef is ground downstairs and brought upstairs in batches and has always been very fresh and tasty. Though they are no strangers to a busy rush hour, a full hour wait means it was a pretty crowded day at Louis'. Forty minutes or a half hour at lunch time, fifteen minutes in the afternoon, is much more typical. Also, I know that the cutting-in-half step is controversial, but in my opinion, almost always gives a better burger experience, not just at Louis' - you are eating from the juicy middle out instead of from the edge in, and I almost always like that better. After noticing this at Louis' I started doing it to all my burgers! I'm glad that Louis' got a chance to be sampled by BOTM - the place is indeed a classic. When they are super-busy you don't get a chance to soak up the family flavor of the place - the Lassens are still in charge, and there is usually a lot of local gossip and chit-chat going on behind the counter when it is less busy. Try mid-afternoon next time maybe.

dry etc.

You are right.  It's not really all that special.  But you get a strong whiff of the arrogance of the owners, if you ask for ketchup, which they refuse to provide.  Or if you otherwise criticize the precious creation they claim as theirs alone.  What, they came up with the vaccine for polio?  Just like Sally's pizza, also in New Haven.  Lots of other places in town with good or great food, without the long lines, the hype and the attitude. 

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