KESSLER: A vegetarian at Louis’ Lunch

I’m by far the least vegetarian of any vegetarian I know.

For starters, I occasionally eat fish. This means that the correct term for my dietary preference is actually “pescetarian.” This is a term that I refuse to use because it sounds obnoxiously pretentious. You would judge me if I walked into Book Trader and asked which of the day’s soups were pescetarian. I would judge myself.

If I can’t see the meat, it’s not there. If I can see it and remove it, it was never there. Last Friday night at Chabad, I found a delightful bowl of matzoh ball soup in front of me. Then I saw pieces of something other than matzoh ball floating in it. I scooped them up. Chicken. Thankfully, a carnivorous friend offered my poultry chunks refuge in her bowl. I happily ingested the remainder of my soup, assuring myself that the stock was made of things that grow in the ground. Self-deception is such a wonderful tool.

Worst of all, I make exceptions. Since declaring myself a vegetarian at the beginning of last summer — admittedly because I thought I would eat healthier, though the moral arguments I’ve heard since have been a nice pat on the back — I’ve consciously broken my vow four times. The first was during Camp Yale, when I was still a newbie and succumbed to the powers of a late-night Wenzel. (I’ve since successfully transitioned to the eggplant variety.)

My second act of disobedience was a bit more predictable: Thanksgiving. Though the meat became less desirable after my parents named our turkey “iTurkey” — some homage to Steve Jobs whose implications I still can’t wrap my head around — it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a bird. I limited myself to a small piece. No seconds. No leftovers.

My third transgression came over winter break when I was travelling with my family in Thailand and was made aware of the fact that a certain beef dish at the hotel restaurant was something along the lines of “the best in the world.” The gullible tourist in me ate this endorsement right up, along with one bite of a pretty good, but certainly not life-changing, beef. No one in America would ever know.

I blame America for my fourth, and most recent, instance of misbehavior. More specifically, I blame New Haven. Allegedly (according to Wikipedia), the hamburger was invented in New Haven in 1900 at a little brick building called Louis’ Lunch. I could not leave New Haven without indulging in the historically significant ritual of lunch at Louis’. And though I joked on my way over that I would limit myself to the potato salad, there was no doubt in my mind as I entered the little red door on Crown Street that there would be meat with my potatoes.

If I were going to start a Bucket List therapy group, I would hold it in Louis’ Lunch. When I tell friends that I am going to make a trip to Louis’, most respond with something along the lines of “Oh, I’ve been meaning to go!” I end up there with two friends — a senior and a junior (precocious!) — who are also first-timers. After navigating through the French tourists, I see another senior friend sitting in a window booth. He too is on a senior spring-provoked excursion. He has no shame; he took a picture outside.

The potato salad does little more than help me pass the time as I wait for my burger, which I get with tomatoes and onions. I’m a little wary of the sign above the counter that says, “All Burgers are Cooked Medium Rare. If You Would Like Yours Well Done. Please Tell Us Prior to Cooking …” In my carnivorous days I was always a medium-well kind of girl. But when a lapsed vegetarian at Louis’ …

The medium-rare is worth it. The meat is perfectly pink and juicy, melting onto the bun toast. The tomato adds a hint of freshness; the warm onions, just enough sweetness. Together, they truly do cancel out the need for ketchup (writes someone who can’t even eat eggs without gobs of Heinz). I savor every bite, in part because it is really that good and in part because I know that, if all goes according to plan, I won’t be eating cows for the foreseeable future.

So, seniors, if you haven’t already, go get yourself a burger. If you’re a real vegetarian, I can send you a picture. I was too embarrassed to snap one outside, but I did sneak one of my fourth — and hopefully final — piece of exceptional meat.

Zara Kessler is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at


  • Ciarrai

    Funny I should find this mention of Louis’ Lunch so close on the heels of a friend’s description of it as a rip-off and tourist trap. I will bore you with the details in a moment, but I have to say that it is uncomfortable to find a Yale senior sounding so, I don’t know, ditzy? Are you a vegetarian or not? It’s one of life’s “pregnancy moments”, to coin a phrase. You either are or you aren’t. To get grimly serious for just a moment, while you contemplatethat yummy burger, flip on “Farm to Fridge” from Mercy for Animals and get in touch with reality. Leave Ditzyland. You won’t miss it, trust me. Oh yeah, my friend says that the burger was okay. It is not to be confused with a truly great burger, IHHO. Two slices of white bread do not a bun make.
    I wish you luck on your journey to being a vegetarian. I arrived there 28 or so years ago, found it to my liking and Louis’ Lunch is like water off a duck’s back to me. Watch “Farm to Fridge” and make sure to tell your friends about it and they, too, can leave Ditzyland and look at Louis’ Lunch in a whole different light.

    • piersonpiersoncollege

      It is not a pregnancy moment at all – or rather, it depends entirely on your reasons for being vegetarian. I feel perfectly justified in not eating meat most of the time, even in calling myself a vegetarian for purposes of ensuring there will be non-meat options available when I attend events [if not for me, for others to have that option]. My reasons for not eating meat are environmental, and so while I don’t usually eat meat, I do occasionally have a wenzel, or my mom’s meat tacos, or whatever food a host cooks especially when traveling in foreign countries. Conscientious consumption is a wonderful thing.

      • Ciarrai

        It must be nice living in that ivory tower where all concerns focus on your likes and dislikes. What about the suffering of animals in the hellish factory farms which produce 90, 95 % of the meat that people consume? You sound like a perfectly good Yale product. Concern yourself with “mom’s meat tacos”, eat ’em all, but what about the suffering of all those sentient beings whose natural instincts and desires are thwarted? Conscientious consumption is certainly a good thing, but it seems lacking in Ms. Kessler’s diary entry and in your self-concerned, prim offering. Try harder in the conscientious consumption: throw in a little compassion. If you can break away from daydreaming about your mom’s meat tacos, try to fit in a 12 minute video called “Farm to Fridge” which you can find at the Mercy for Animals website. It may awaken you to more important concerns than that occasional wenzel, mom’s meat tacos or offending your host when traveling in foreign countries. I have to admit that I always thought that Yale students were more enlightened and mature than they seem to be in actuality. Was I wrong? “Farm to Fridge” will help to sort out the real from the “mom’s meat tacos.”

        • Veritas

          Not everyone believes that animals are moral patients, but I’m sure that your contribution to vegetarianism’s reputation as extreme and ideological will make vegetarianism that much more popular and help further the cause of ending animal cruelty.

          By the way, many vegetarians occasionally eat meat, but good luck finding as high a concentration of people who would even call themselves vegetarians outside the Ivory Tower.

  • ms2676

    Is the piece about being a vegetarian, or about going to Louis’ for the first time? I am unable to tell. Either way, the burgers there are ok, but, I agree, it is a tourist trap for sure.

  • joey00

    If your a relapsing vegetarian maybe Louis Lunch is the place to avoid.
    .But was’nt that burger delicious ? mmm nothing says tasty like a student fatted on homegrown veggies, wait, hard to comment on this story. Did you inform the counter you are a vegetarian ? Make a scene ? I’m hungry , i want to rub my face in a medium rare burger now , Now,now beeyatch..They certainly did a job closing down the downtown burger comp for this place,i can’t think of any establishment that’s left that has a good burger.Archie Moores in East Rock..

  • acaandy

    Lets sum it up.
    It is a $7.00 mediocre burger with a slice of cheese; I did not see any “buns” only a very thin white bread , (maybe Wonder?) slowly rotating on the toaster, the burger was served to us one hour after ordering it.
    Thats what you get.

  • Frashizzle

    The hamburger was invented in 1917 in Wichita, KS, in a restaurant called “White Castle.” I should know, I went to White Castle with my friend Kumar last summer. White Castle invented the bun and therefore the modern hamburger. Louis’ Lunch is nothing but a hamburgersteak sandwich shack. (Further reasoning: a steak on bread = steak sandwich, a hamburgersteak on bread = hamburgersteak sandwich, hamburger on bun=hamburger proper).

    • jamesdakrn

      how was it getting high w/ Kumar?

      • haletinytea

        Thing… of … beauty!

  • ms2676

    According to the Library of Congress, Louis’ Lunch, in New Haven, Connecticut, is the original American Hamburger, being served since 1895.

  • GeoJoe

    TRAITOR!!! jk lol xoxo. but seriously, I hope you enjoy burning in omnivore hell :)

  • nick

    what is this article? i cannot believe that someone wrote this and then expected other people to read it.

  • up2015

    Oh, come on folks. She just wrote an article about how people should try Louis’ Lunch, which I found humorous and lighthearted. There is absolutely no need to criticize this so harshly…