Typical of Yale, the night was filled with beautiful people engaging in philosophical discussions. But in conversations more befitting cattle conventions and girls’ locker rooms than New Haven restaurants, Will Perkins, Paul Sciarra, Mark Marion and Ian Mills discussed meat.
Entrusted with the mission of finding New Haven’s best burger, these Silliman seniors undertook a “Tour du Meat,” judging Louis’ Lunch, Gastronomique and Educated Burgher for taste, presentation, service and ambiance.
The tour began at Louis’ Lunch on Crown Street. The small rectangle of bare bricks was filled with varied seating arrangements, including a bar and partitioned benches with built-in wooden trays that have been darkened by a century’s worth of carvings. Photographs and antique guns hang from the walls, and the kitchen and preparation area sit behind the bar, giving the room a mixed personality reminiscent of a brick oven kitchen, a pub and a 1950s suburban kitchen. Behind the bar, owner Jeff Lassen talked easily and affably with customers in the home of the world’s first hamburger.
“There is definitely something to be said for authenticity,” Marion said. “For ambiance, Louis’ takes it.”
After a short time, four medium-rare hamburgers arrived with tomato, cheese sauce and onion on toast, soaked with juices from the meat. The burgers were initially hailed for their simplicity and texture and the unique method of serving hamburgers on toast. The sandwiches were gone in minutes, leaving juice-soaked paper plates.
“There is a good ratio of meat to bun here,” Perkins said.
Not all were convinced of the benefit of such simplicity and complained about the lack of spice in the meat.
“These are pretty simple — almost bland,” Sciarra said. “There’s not enough salt.”
The group decided the lack of taste was mostly due to Louis’ ban on ketchup and mustard. Other offerings included potato salad and a variety of desserts, and for four dollars, the burgers were hailed as a good deal.
The group then moved to their next eatery, Gastronomique, a four-month-old restaurant on High Street, where menus hang outside the door in a wooden shoe, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu choices included omelettes, chicken pate, ostrich and the “High Street Steak Burger.” The interior of the restaurant was decorated like a French bistro, but the miniscule venue offers only takeout.
“The fact that you can’t sit down to eat is a bummer,” Perkins said.
Copper pots hung from the ceiling and dried flowers and ornate French country art decorated the walls while two cooks bustled around in chef hats. The group appreciated the atmosphere, although they remained outside to throw snowballs at passing drivers while they waited for their burgers. Owner and chef Marc Woll sat behind the small counter and took orders, while other Yale students arrived and addressed him by name.
Rather promptly, burgers were served up in plastic takeout boxes, with tomato, mesclun greens, onions and grated swiss cheese. Some opted to add mayonnaise and ketchup. Because of the limited standing room inside the restaurant, the group found another place to enjoy their burgers.
“This is an excellent burger — I like the salt and pepper in here,” Marion said.
The Gastronomique hamburger, which boasted many more toppings than Louis’ burger, drew mild criticism for its large size, which some said was almost unwieldy. It seemed difficult to keep the burger together at times.
“Even if the meat were a few less ounces, it would still be filling,” Mills said.
But on the whole, the group said they appreciated the size of the burgers. The uncooked onions were lauded for adding more taste than Louis’ cooked ones, and the burgers’ other distinctive toppings were also recognized.
“It’s not the manliest burger in town, but it has everything. The mesclun greens give everything that little more sophisticated touch,” Marion said.
Both Louis’ and Gastronomique were praised for their personal atmosphere and friendly service.
“Those places, you feel like you would get to know them if you went often enough,” Marion said.
After 15 minutes of exchanging not-so-subtle puns about getting enough meat, most of the group had finished the large sandwiches — but few as zealously as Perkins, whose burger was largely on his face and in his lap. Satiated, the group moved to the Doodle, unhappily surprised to find it closed at 6:30 on a Friday night.
“Well, I’m not sure I would trust the Doodle with meat,” Sciarra said.
Instead, the group crossed the street to Educated Burgher to order up the last set of burgers.
The service was very fast, but rather unfriendly. Sciarra called the ambiance “austere,” and others observed that it resembled a cafeteria.
The soft rolls fell apart, and the meat was unimpressive despite being smothered with toppings of mushrooms, cheese, cooked onions and bacon. With the tasters almost full, these burgers disappeared a little more slowly.
“They make up for the poor burger quality with extra toppings,” Perkins said. “This is an insubstantial bun with too much cheese.”
But it was the only place that served alcohol.
In the end, the four eloquently summed up Educated Burgher’s burger.
“This tastes like up dog,” Mills, Sciarra and Marion said.
What’s up dog?
“Not much, man.”
In the end, Gastronomique and Louis’ lunch were contenders for the title, splitting the group in the final decision. They were both appreciated for different reasons: Louis’ for its “simplicity” and Gastronomique for its “garden party” burgers. If nothing else is certain, for once, Yalies got enough meat.