If it's Tuesday, it must be time for another review from Nick Solares. Nick is also the publisher of Beef Aficionado, his blog that explores beef beyond burgerdom.
1850 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90027 (at Russell Avenue; map); 323-667 0062; fred62.com
The Short Order: The Jucy Lucy here is not modeled on the famous cheese-stuffed burger at Matt's Bar in Minneapolis but on the burgers at In-N-Out. The Jucy Lucy here, though, is like an In-N-Out burger on steroids. And tastes even better
Want Fries with That? They come with, but if they didn't, you could skip them. They're not as crisp or flavorful as they need to be
Price: $9.63 for the Jucy Lucy
Fred 62 is named after its owners, both named Fred, both born in, you guessed it, 1962. Back in 1997, designer Fred Sutherland and chef Fred Eric collaborated to create what they call a "retro-kitsch diner" in the burgeoning Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angles. There is a distinct possibility that such ambitions can result in a trite, tiresome, and contrived restaurant that focuses too much on the kitsch and not enough on the food. Fortunately Fred 62 avoids most of the culinary pitfalls and turns out some inventive twists on classic diner fare.
The decor is an interesting mix of traditional diner trappings (a long counter divides the room, replete with classic soda fountains), along with a cheeky, low-brow slant (the servers all have racing stripes to match those of the leather booths that resemble cars seats). The building is painted in shades of green, orange, and yellow, giving it a rather gaudy and cartoonish look. Like I said, low-brow. Aesthetic misgivings aside, I was here to eat what the menu modestly bills, as "the worlds greatest hamburger sandwich."
I won't keep you in suspense. I don't think it is the world's greatest hamburger, but it is nonetheless very good--certainly one of the best burgers I have had in L.A. The burger in question is called the Jucy Lucy, but it is nothing like the one that has been reported on here at AHT extensively, which is actually filled with cheese before cooking. Fred 62's Jucy Lucy might not be filled with cheese, but it does at least live up to its name.
The Jucy Lucy is in fact nothing short of an In-N-Out Burger on steroids. The massive custom-baked golden bun is squishy yet robust enough to hold the large patty and mountain of toppings. The coarsely shredded lettuce, red onion, and brightly colored tomatoes are all somehow kept in place by the homemade Russian dressing, which has the perfect combination of sweetness and tang. Not that the toppings are even necessary, as the beef has an amazingly deep and complex flavor, closer to steak than even an above average burger. The griddle-cooked beef is served commendably medium-rare by default; clearly there is pride in the custom beef blend here, but they did give me a perfectly rare burger with a nice amount of char, as I requested.
Good Enough to Eat Plain
Unlike most of the burgers I sampled in L.A., the Fred 62 can stand on its own without any adornments. Indeed a young lady sitting next to me had it right. She ordered a plain cheeseburger. While the toppings were very good, the beef is so scrumptious and the bun so perfectly suited for the task that it is all you really need. When I asked Cory, the counterman, if the burger was chuck, he coyly replied, "Oh, no, we use the good stuff," without elaborating further. Some things must remain a secret, I suppose, but I believe them when they call it a steakburger. This is some high-quality beef.
Having eaten the relatively diminutive In-N-Out Burger the day before, I had a clear memory of their fresh burgers. The Fred 62 burger more than evoked the In-N-Out experience; it was indeed a supersized version. The flavor was also supersized. While In-N-Out's ingredients are all fresh and beyond reproach, the custom beef blend at Fred 62--not to mention the homemade dressing and outstanding bun--are clearly superior.
I realize the comparison might seem unfair, considering that In-N-Out is fast food, but there are plenty of high-priced burgers out there that In-N-Out handily trounces. Pound for pound, I think the Fred 62 burger is a bargain at only $10--and it comes with fries. Said fries were not particularly impressive, despite the lovely origami paper contraptions they're served in. They didn't have the requisite crispness nor the flavor that you can get elsewhere--like at In-N-Out, for example.
Worth the Price
The fact that the burger cost only $10 brought in to stark relief just how expensive food in NYC has gotten, even when compared to L.A. Example: I had the Lure Fishbar burger recently that Adam tried back a while back. The chef at this Manhattan seafood restaurant took inspiration from In-N-Out. The burger at Lure now costs $17. And while I liked it, there was simply no comparison between it and Fred 62's Jucy Lucy. The Fred 62 burger was hands down superior in every regard. A better bun, more faithful to the original, with better toppings and beefier beef. It might be on the more expensive side for L.A. burgers, but it's well worth it. I'd gladly pay $17 for this burger in New York City.