Saturday, May 26, 2007

National Burger Month Day 26 - Lucky Burger

Six degrees of Luck

In a very round about sort of way Lucky Burger is partially to blame for the creation of this blog. About a year and half ago I happened upon Lucky's Famous on Avenue A in the East Village. The first time I ate the burger there I was intrigued, it tasted more like a hot dog than a burger having a distinct smoky, spiced flavor. There was also a mayonnaise type concoction called "Lucky sauce" that mirrored the meat in having a smoky taste.

An original Lucky Burger from Ave A

In addition to the aforementioned sauce Lucky burger came dressed with ketchup, mustard, chopped onion, tomato, lettuce, pickles and Cheddar on a Martin's potato roll. At its best I thought it was a very good sandwich indeed. I normally don't go for exotically flavored burgers but for some reason Lucky burger had a certain je ne sais quoi. At its best the contrasts of both texture and flavor was wonderful - the spongy compliance of the buttery sweet potato roll countered by tart the crunchiness of the pickle and onions themselves countered by the tender beefy succulent patty produced a unique burger experience. The beef was intensely juicy, much more so than its rather lean looking fine grind would indicate. I felt everything was in perfect proportion. I admit that it was a unique, some might say even an acquired, taste. I think that the first one that I ate was so good that I was always aware of the burgers true potential so I stuck with them despite occasional missteps. I ended up eating at Lucky quite frequently.

During one of these visits I met owner and creator of the burger Noah Max. He claimed that the burger was "cold smoked" and marinated overnight. He would not reveal the type of beef he used but said it was fresh, never frozen and was cooked on a searing griddle. I suspected it was mostly sirloin. Noah said he took two years to develop his recipe and it certainly seemed that the choice of ingredient was deliberate rather than just a case of copying the next guy. Certainly the uniqueness of the sauce indicates this but I must admit that I generally don't like "special" sauces anyway and took to ordering without, the smoke flavor was intrinsic to the beef anyway.

In further conversations with Noah he mentioned a negative review he received in A Hamburger Today, a blog with which I was unfamiliar with but with which I was soon enthralled. Although I liked Lucky's I also empathized with Adam Kubans experience, I order my burgers rare but on the occasions when they came otherwise at Lucky's they were mealy and dry. And quality control was definitely an issue on Ave A, unless Noah was there personally the burgers where not always so great. In any event discovering AHT was great and inspired this blog.

The Lucky of today

Then one day Lucky was gone, at least on Avenue A, but a new one sprang up almost instantly on west 52nd. Sans Monsieur Max and much further from Beef Aficionado headquarters than before. Would the burger remain intriguing enough to keep me going back? Unfortunately not. Despite some decent efforts on a few visits the original recipe has strayed sufficiently from its origins to be a different steer altogether. The Lucky sauce is now even more overpowering than before, perhaps because the beef seems to have completely forgone the "cold smoke" technique. The burger has also changed shape becoming much thinner and more spread out. Rather than the plump juicy crispy patty of yore on my visit today I witnessed the cook pressing down with all his might on my burger. Sure it was rare and the outside charred but it had no juice at all. Too bad because the original was distinct enough for inclusion in my burger diet. On the plus side the newer Lucky's maintains the standard of using fresh ingredients and the restaurant is very clean. I never bought the hype that it was the "best burger on earth" but I thought it a pleasant diversion. The NYC burger landscape has changed so much with a new joint opening almost weekly in the last year that 52nd St is too far to depend on luck alone for a decent burger.

Lucky's Famous
370 W 52nd St
between 8th and 9th Aves

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