While doing some historical research at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, last month, we took one of our lunch breaks at a fabulous little spot called Louis’ Lunch. This burger joint has been around since it started out as a lunch wagon in 1895, and it holds the title of the oldest hamburger restaurant still in operation in the United States. The menu is simple—burgers, chips, and soda. The burgers are more like burger sandwiches on two slices of white bread rather than on a big, thick bun. Each burger is made to order, which accounts for the crowded atmosphere as hungry customers wait in lines that creep around the restaurant and out the door.
The Web site for Louis’ Lunch claims that their “burgers are made fresh daily; hand-rolled from a proprietary blend of five meat varieties and cooked to order in the original cast-iron grills dating back to 1898.” The Lassen family, who has owned and operated Louis’ Lunch for four generations, “hold firm on their desire not to offer any condiments. The Louis Lunch experience is about the taste and simplicity of a fresh burger grilled to perfection. Cheese, tomato, and onion are the only acceptable garnish.”
A cheeseburger with tomato and onion (known as the “Cheese Works”) was precisely what I ordered. The bread was nice and toasty, the meat was perfectly cooked, the onions were just right, and the tomato was a thin slice of delight. All these components were held together with gooey melted cheese. I enjoyed my Cheese Works immensely, all washed down with a ginger ale made from a soda company in East Haven called Foxon Park.
As we dined, a sign above us indicated that we should not expect to get things our way. Rather, we would get things their way, and we would like it:
Apparently the person I was with didn’t take the sign seriously enough and attempted to ask the cooks for ketchup. They told her it was a bring-your-own-ketchup place, which seemed to perturb her a bit. I, however, was very satisfied without any ketchup at all.
For a reasonably priced, delicious, and historic burger you should definitely check out Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut. And even when the line is out the door, it’s still worth the wait!