June 2, 2022
The hamburger was invented at Louis’ Lunch in 1900. The Library of Congress says so.
Except they didn’t.
But it really doesn’t matter.
So here’s the deal. According to the Library of Congress, Louis Lassen is the inventor of the hamburger. In 1900, a gentleman walked into Louis’ Lunch, and being in a terrible hurry, Louis cooked some ground steak scraps and put them between two pieces of toast. I have no beef with the story, but searching old newspapers, you can find hamburger sandwich references dating back to the 1880s. Here’s a favorite of mine:
Growing up in St. Louis, I was taught the hamburger was invented at the 1904 World’s Fair along with the ice cream cone. It turns out this isn’t true either, but the World Fair did help increase its popularity, making it America’s favorite sandwich. So who invented the hamburger? No one knows.
Here is what Louis’ Lunch has that no one else does: they have been making hamburgers longer than anyone. For more than 100 years, four generations of Lessen’s have served their creation to the people of New Haven, CT. The restaurant was founded in 1895. The building they are in dates back to 1917. But it’s more than that, they cook their burgers with cast iron vertical broilers from 1898 and put it between two pieces of bread that take a ride through a toaster from 1929. Even if the hamburger wasn’t invented here, you are most certainly eating a bit of history.
The burgers themselves are served with tomato and onion, but never ketchup. Never. They have a strict no ketchup policy. You can get cheese and if you want to, and if you want to sound like a regular, order it “Cheese top and bottom.” For a side, it’s potato salad. For a drink go with a root beer or a birch beer. For dessert there’s pie.
There is nothing like eating at Louis’ Lunch. It doesn’t matter if they invented the burger or not, what matters is you are eating something special. The world was different in 1900. The man inventing a new sandwich in Connecticut was unlikely to know about the woman eating a hamburger on the street corner in St. Louis. I fully believe Louis came up with the idea, I just think so did a bunch of other people. However, when you eat at Louis’ Lunch, you come the closest you can to the experience Americans had four generations ago when they tasted their first hamburger. That’s an experience not to be missed.