Hamburgers are my sole excuse for not becoming a vegetarian. When it comes to food, a good burger and fries is my #1 guilty pleasure.
I used to say that if I was facing execution, my last meal request would be a McDonald’s #3, super sized and hold the soda. But that was long before burgers became the food trend of the moment! Burger outposts have been multiplying faster than bunnies—and so have the number of excursions I’ve made to check out an ever-growing list of “best burger” claims. From White Manna to the Shake Shack, Johnny Rocket’s to In-N-Out Burger, Cheeburger Cheeburger to Jackson Hole, Burger Joint to Corner Bistro, Five Guys to Five Napkin Burger, there isn’t an all-beef patty I won’t try.
Jim and my son Jake are willing accomplices on these amazing, surprising and delightful culinary adventures. And sometimes we invite friends and family to come along. Such was the case on Saturday, when a group of eight of us headed to Brooklyn to sample the highly touted burgers at arguably the area’s most revered “temple of beef”: Peter Luger Steak House.
Luger’s sits unceremoniously under the Williamsburg Bridge, and the quality, ambiance and service are legendary among carnivores. Most rate the steak the best they’ve ever eaten, the ambiance shockingly casual, and the service less than friendly. Stories abound about rude maitre d’s and waiters who’ve walked away in disgust if the table’s order isn’t up to snuff. (This seems pretty absurd, given that the day we were there the “steak for two” was priced at $85 and everything else was a la carte. But what do I know?) Rumor has it that ordering a “Luger-Burger” is considered nothing short of sacrilege—so I could hardly wait to see what happened when our entire table did exactly that.
I was definitely disappointed when our waiter didn’t bat an eyelash. Maybe the side orders of potatoes and creamed spinach and a half dozen Brooklyn Lager’s helped us save face. Or the fact that we went for lunch, not dinner. Unfortunately, none of the above prevented me from being disappointed in the burger. The quality of the half-pound of meat was fantastic and it was cooked precisely medium-rare. But the bun-to-burger ratio was weighted too heavily towards the bun, and the cheese and slab of onion added nothing of value.
So what was there to love about Luger’s? The company. Jake, several of his closest friends, one friend’s fiancé, Jim, and his oldest daughter, had all decided that the search for the perfect hamburger was as good an excuse as any to create a special occasion. At 26, Jake has a full life of his own. Being with him and any of his friends usually only happens at the occasional Yankees or Red Bulls game. So what a treat it was to spend a few hours talking, laughing and trading reviews with such an illustrious group.
For the record, none of us thought it was worth a return trip (unless you're ordering steak.) And Jake and I still put the Shake Shack at the top of our list. But as we said our goodbyes and headed off to enjoy the gorgeous afternoon, I knew that this burger experience would rank among my most memorable ever—for reasons far more important than the lackluster cheese.