Brooklyn: Well-Crafted Burgers at Fritzl's Lunch Box in Bushwick
Fritzl's Lunch Box
173 Irving Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11237 (map); 929-210-9531; fritzlslunchbox.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: A worthy pub-style burger in a neighborhood lacking in good burger options
Want Fries With That? Absolutely
Price: Hamburger, $8; cheeseburger, $9; fries, $3 with a sandwich
In residential Bushwick, the steamroller of gentrification rolls forward, bringing rising rents and new amenities to a section of the neighborhood where even the whisper of a hip coffee shop or a cozy restaurant sprouting among blocks laden with nail salons, hopping barbershops, and laundromats would have been unbelievable only a few years earlier. Fritzl's Lunch Box opened this spring on one of these blocks, just around the corner from the Dekalb Avenue stop on the L train. Fritzl's is the creation of chef Dan Ross-Leutwyler, whose previous cooking experience includes Roberta's, The Breslin, and Resto, among others. Though its opening is yet another signal that gentrification will soon breach Ridgewood and Queens, its wayward location means that crowds are manageable and prices are still comfortably low.
Fritzl's is narrow, seemingly squeezed between its neighbors. The walls are painted a pale yellow and a long wooden bench parallels the arched, white ceiling. A lone bookshelf holds an eclectic collection of cookbooks, but the restaurant is otherwise relatively plain, making it feel more spacious than its dimensions. The effect is pleasant, seemingly closer to a comfortable bungalow in Hilton Head than north Brooklyn. It's especially sunny during the day, when doctors and nurses clothed in scrubs from nearby Wyckoff Heights Hospital crowd in for lunch.
The menu is divided into sections ranging from snacks to "pastas and plates," but the focus seems to be on sandwiches, including a fried chicken sandwich ($8) and fried bacalao ($9). But I'm here for one reason, laser-focused on my goal. Ross-Leutwyler makes a fine burger, setting a new standard in an under-served neighborhood. At only $8 ($9 with cheese), it's a bargain. Patties are close to six ounces and made of a combination of chuck and cheek, which Ross-Leutwyler estimates to be about 75/25 meat to fat. Ross-Leutwyler grinds it himself, throwing slightly more chuck in the mix. The cheek hails from Pineland Farms in Maine and is a leaner (but more flavorful) cut, so Ross-Leutwyler combines it with a fattier piece of chuck, which comes from grass-fed and grain-finished California vintage beef. Together, these bi-coastal cuts result in a beefy, tender patty whose rough grind holds a steak-like chew.
On my first visit, the beef was cooked correctly, but its texture was a little too soft. A return trip revealed tighter meat cooked to a rosy medium rare with a burnished brown sear. Both times the patty has been perfectly seasoned. (Before you hate in the comments over rare/medium rare, be aware that low lighting and a crappy camera mean that color correction makes the meat appear more magenta than IRL.)
According to Ross-Leutwyler, he wanted to emulate the original Resto burger. Some similarities are apparent (they're closely sized and the Resto burger famously incorporated beef cheek), but Ross-Leutwyler has made version 2.0, Americanizing the original. Here, the patty is cooked on a griddle and topped with two slices of sharp, sufficiently melty, extra-sharp cheddar, then slipped between a toasted, sesame-studded "Big Marty" bun whose bottom is spread with a "Special Sauce" (but really a charred miso aioli) and finished with a housemade relish made up of finely chopped pickles and onions. The pickles are a little too sweet, but they can't detract from what is a well-balanced, extremely satisfying burger.
The kitchen is also adept with the fryer. A seasonal appetizer of beer battered asparagus with sweet and sour sauce ($7) was light on the breading, ensuring that the vegetable was the star. Fries ($4, $3 with a sandwich) are killer. Ross-Leutwyler says he was inspired by the thrice-fried fries at The Breslin, but to me, the similarity seemed much closer to the Belgian-style fries at Resto. Their crisp, well-seasoned crust gives way to soft potato innards. If only I could get the fries with Special Sauce instead of just ketchup (it never hurts to ask).
Dessert is straight from Pies & Thighs. Banana cream ($5.50/slice) comes studded with Nilla Wafers and a rich, buttery crust.
As a Bushwick resident, it's exciting to find any new restaurant in the neighborhood, let alone one that serves a burger as meticulously crafted as Fritzl's. Previous tutelage under renowned NYC beef whisperers has taught Ross-Leutwyler well—he's engineered a complex, yet deviously simple burger that's among the most satisfying of the year.
About the author: Noah Arenstein is a practicing lawyer, freelance writer, and co-founder and managing editor of Real Cheap Eats, a site dedicated to finding the best dishes under $10 throughout NYC. He can also be found at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg on Saturdays, making "Global Jewish Sandwiches" for Scharf & Zoyer. Follow him on Twitter @ChiefHDB.