Editor's note: Please welcome AHT's newest contributor, Noah Arenstein! Noah is a practicing lawyer, managing editor of food blog Real Cheap Eats, founder of sandwich stand Scharf & Zoyer, and now a professional burger reviewer. He's kicking off his New York burger reviews with the classic Peter Luger.
78 Broadway, Brooklyn NY 11211 (map); 718-387-7400; peterluger.com
Cooking Method: Broiled
Short Order: Dry aged, impeccable beef seasoned and served simply
Want Fries With That? Skip them and save room for dessert
Price: Burger, $11.50; w/cheese, +$1.50; w/fries, +$1.95; w/bacon, +$3.95; creamed spinach, $9.95; hot fudge sundae, $10.95
Notes: Burger available until $3.45 p.m. daily. Reservations recommended.
I consider myself a seasoned burger aficionado, but for the past few years I've been a mostly silent witness to the proliferation of gourmet, needlessly complex burgers in New York City. It's sad, really, when a cook is inspired to mask the meaty essence of a burger with guacamole, salsa or—God forbid—a red wine reduction. Instead, I subscribe to the Ron Swanson school of thought where the meat is the star, salt is the only condiment, and a plate is an unnecessary luxury. That said, Ron Swanson would find himself at home contemplating a burger from Peter Luger in Williamsburg.
Luger is a haven to the art of dry-aged meat, straddling the Orthodox South Williamsburg and the hipster-ridden North. While dinners are booked months in advance, lunch is a simpler proposition. The burger, served daily until 3:45 p.m., is exactly what you would expect from Luger: a study in simplicity.
The basic burger ($11.50) comes with just a slice of raw onion, and American cheese and bacon are the only listed add-ons. I'd recommend cheese, but if you insist on their absurdly thick-cut bacon, eat it on the side. The burger sits on a sturdy yet fluffy sesame bun that comes, according to the hostess, "from the bakery, in Queens." No further information seemed necessary, and despite more pressing, none was offered.
The patty itself is composed of trim from Luger's fabulously dry-aged beef, which is coarsely ground and formed into large, half-pound patties. A deep, brown crust is formed by cooking the patty under the same super hot broilers used on their steaks. While I've read enough independent accounts of unevenly cooked burgers to suggest a trend, both burgers ordered arrived exactly medium rare.
Upon first bite, the most noticeable aspect of the patty is the rough grind, which provides a steak-like chew, while preventing mealiness. The salting was impeccable, accenting the buttery, dry-aged funk of the meat, and the previously mentioned sesame bun did a professional job of holding in the juices (a fair amount, but far from a torrential leakage), while the bite of the raw onion balanced the fat.
Your waiter will likely encourage you to load up on sides, but he will wisely advise against smothering your burger. This is good advice. At a nearby table, a man demanded lettuce and tomato atop his medium well burger. Despite his friends' embarrassment, the waiter relented for a cost: $6, $3 each for lettuce and tomato. An extortionate amount, but well deserved for someone unable to appreciate the burger. Please don't be this guy.
Speaking of sides, fries (+$1.95) were merely acceptable, well seasoned but dried out (Luger's German potatoes are not available on the lunch menu). Meanwhile, creamed spinach ($9.95) could have used a bit more salt. Better yet, save room for a classic hot fudge sundae ($10.95).
In a time where many self-styled burger maestros subscribe to the theory that more is better (rather than simply just more) those purported burger conceptualizers would be well served by trying the Luger burger. Hopefully they'd learn that, just as Ron Swanson preaches, the true secret to burger making (if there is one at all) is balance and simplicity, and no amount of premium toppings will disguise fundamental beef weakness.