Harlem: Chez Lucienne's Cheeseburger, the Best in the Neighborhood
308 Lenox Avenue between 125th and 126th street (map); 212-289-5555; chezlucienne.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Big, juicy, and well-cooked. Just don't go for the Kobe.
Want Fries With That? Yes. Excellently crisp, golden-blond French-style shoestrings.
Price: Burger and fries, $12.95; w/cheese, +$1
Up until Red Rooster showed up a little while ago, Chez Lucienne was the designated elegant eats spot in my hood. Not that the food is particularly stunning. It's serviceable and friendly, and it's got great dog-friendly outdoor seating, which for most nights, is good enough for me. The one truly disappointing thing I had there last summer was the burger, which was strangely mushy. But the last time I glanced at the menu, I realized my mistake. I'd ordered the more expensive Kobe Burger, rather than the regular burger.
As long-time readers of AHT should know, it's almost never a good idea to order a burger with the word "Kobe" in the title. As Adam put it in his excellent burger style guide, "a Kobe burger is always, always a bad idea."
When cooked rare to medium-rare, as most chefs who put these on their menus usually recommend, the texture inevitably renders as mushy. It's like moist cat food on a bun, with the meat oozing out the sides and back as you try to eat the burger. Why turn a glorious piece of beef into minced meat?
And that's exactly how the Kobe burger at Chez Lucienne is.
But the regular burger is the best burger in lower Harlem/Morningside Heights I've found to date.
A prime example of a well-constructed sandwich, it's made with a moderately-sized 6-ounce patty of juicy, beefy grilled meat that comes cooked perfectly medium rare as ordered, topped with butter lettuce, plenty of sliced red onions, and a generous four slices of awesomely salty and crisp pickles. I'm almost tempted to say that with those pickles around, you don't need any condiments at all, but I rarely turn down mayonnaise when it's offered.
The soft and buttery sesame seed bun has a distinct housemade quality to it, but doesn't suffer from the problem of being overly crusty or firm like most homemade buns are. The only complaint I have is that when I ordered cheese on mine, it came with a full four slices. One would assume that it's to compensate for the fact that they charge $1 for American cheese.
The generous bucket of fries the burger comes with are excellent as well. Seasoned with a hit of black pepper and parsley, they're light blond and crisp with a fluffy, steaming interior.
Just remember to avoid the Kobe.