New Haven, CT: Birthplace Of The Hamburger?

Like baseball, the Internet, and competitive sock darning, no can seem to agree who the hell invented the culinary delight we call a hamburger. Was it some jag out in Wisconsin, or was it that doofus in Texas? No one knows for sure. I guess there was just too much other crap going on in the late 1800s (the period from whence most of these claims stem) for anyone to properly document the first dead cow between two slices of bread. Damn you, Nelly Bly!

One of the more famous establishments that likes to tout its alleged invention of our favorite greasy indulgence is Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, CT. According to local lore (which they keep several printed copies of underneath the glass table tops in their dining area), one day in 1900 a frenzied businessman rushed in to the eatery and ordered a meal on the run. Under pressure, Louis broiled up a burger, slapped it between two slices of white bread, and an American institution was born. Ever since then, Lou’s (as New Havenites call it) has been slinging their famous creation to visitors from all over the globe.

As a bona fide connoisseur of junk food culture, I couldn’t pass up the chance to hop on the Metro-North and check out this purported burger Mecca when I first learned of it last week. As a guy who once drove nine hours from Florida to Alabama to get a few cans of soda, two hours on a train for a boigah was nuttin’.

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The first time Lou’s visitor should be aware that the building itself is criminally small. An excess of three people near the counter area will cause severe congestion whilst waiting for your food and/or available seating (good luck with the latter; you pretty much have to circle people like vultures until they get the hint you’ve deemed their meal officially over). It can seem a little tense, but customers generally seem to be in a good mood. Most are bemused: Are we really at the birthplace of the hamburger? I don’t know, holmes, but you’ve been hogging that valuable bench real estate for twenty minutes too long now. Give grandpa some rest already.

So the deal here is you go to the counter and tell one of the employees you want a burger. They will respond with, “Cheese, onion, tomato?” Those are the only three dressings you can get on a Lou’s burger. Oh, and they don’t do buns – only white bread. The buck against tradition is part of the charm of this place; one posted sign admonishes “This is not Burger King – you don’t get it your way, you get it MY way or you don’t get it at all” while another warns diners not to even think about asking for ketchup (the red paste is famously verboten at Lou’s).

Once you’ve placed your order, the wait begins. There’s only one guy manning an ancient-ass stove, so it can take damn near forty minutes for you to get your grub (especially if a large crowd of tourists are ahead of you in line). You can keep yourself amused by secretly mocking the locals; Lou’s is right on the edge of the Yale campus, and I don’t mind telling you there were plenty of well-coiffed, rugby shirt-wearin’, Lexus-drivin’ prep monsters hanging around while I was there not even givin’ a shit who knew they were playing with Daddy’s money. These folks made Carlton Banks look like Eazy-E. But hey, I ain’t hatin’. The world needs lawyers.

On a scale of one to ten, I’d give the Lou’s burger itself a very generous seven. That’s mostly the novelty of it. The meat is juicy but nothing special, the distribution of cheese was shockingly conservative, and the onion was fucking raw (I heard a regular say they refuse to grill the onions during the heavy lunch rush; guess I chose the wrong time to come). The thing was certainly filling, though. I could have gone the rest of the day without food after my Lou’s burg (I didn’t, of course, because I’m a fat pig who knows no limits).

Stray observations:

– Lou’s is part of the Red Sox Nation. They had a fake wanted poster for Johnny Damon, citing “treason” and listing one of his aliases as “noodle arm.” I openly snickered at this poster and considered suggesting one for Bill Buckner. Thankfully, I kept my trap shut and was able to use all of my teeth to eat my lunch.

– Some ten or eleven year old kid sitting across from me was having a conversation with his legal guardian about Coraline when he suddenly blurted out, “Tim Burton is A GENIUS!” with the kind of enthusiasm usually on display in deep jungle cults. For some reason, this pained me deeply. Moments earlier, the guardian was on his cell phone with someone and he repeatedly asked, “How’s Cleveland?” in a voice loud enough for fallen Civil War soldiers to hear. I almost choked to death as this was happening.

– Did you know Henry Winkler went to Yale? They don’t have a statue of him there or anything – I looked it up on my phone while I was wandering around the campus. Fonzie went to Yale! Kinda puts a whole new perspective on that shark jumping thing.

– On the train ride to New Haven, the guy next to me was watching some movie in his iPod that looked like the most boring shit ever. It looked like Denzel Washington in an afro wig hugging a young girl over and over again in various domestic settings. The screen was kind of small, so who knows. Maybe it was really Shrek the Third or something.

– I think I found a way to make some extra money this Spring:

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