The past few years have been good to Los Angeles burger lovers. Led by chains like Umami, Stout and The Counter, the city has experienced what can only be described as a full-fledged burger renaissance. A confluence of factors -- the increasing casualness of dining out, the rising popularity of comfort food, a budget-friendly price point -- have made the business of gourmet burgers a booming one. Who could complain, right?
Yet as much as we enjoy the patties made from Wagyu beef or grass-fed free-range cows, or the piles of arugula or crumbles of bleu cheese, the whipped aioli and the sauteed onions laced with truffle oil, it's difficult to shake the feeling that everything has become a bit convoluted in the current world of burger toppings. Remember the classic, unfettered, un-messed-with cheeseburger? Like the ones Wimpy would eat a dozen of on Popeye before uttering the catchphrase, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." Has that burger gone the way of the dinosaur? It appears not.
Enter Burger Lounge, a new burger chain that recently expanded into L.A. from its hometown of San Diego, the one city that might be even more custom-tailored to burger-loving bros than our own. At first glance, there are some dubious factors surrounding Burger Lounge. For one, its two locations are located in Beverly Hills and on the Sunset Strip -- the heart of overpriced gourmet burger territory. The menu, while simple and brief in format, has a few things that probably will make a purist shudder, including a rather bland quinoa patty and oddly sweet, BBQ-slathered salmon burger. (Really, though, when was the last time you had a good salmon burger?)
The domain in which Burger Lounge shines the most is where it attempts to change things the least. The namesake Lounge Burger ($8) is essentially an aggrandized twin of In-N-Out, substituting a larger patty made with grass-fed organic beef, organic cheddar, a thicker slice of beefsteak tomato, raw onions, lettuce, homemade Thousand Island dressing and a soft, speckled bun that's baked especially for the restaurant and made with a bit of whole wheat and blackstrap molasses.
If you were to order a Lounge Burger, some crispy shoestring fries and maybe a frosty chocolate milkshake, you'd probably leave content. It's a bit expensive for diner food, but then again it's the kind of place that your Pilates instructor might choose if she had to pick somewhere to splurge after her juice cleanse.
There is one item at Burger Lounge that dwarfs everything else in terms of pure, vintage satisfaction; ironically, it's not even on the menu. Just as the Lounge Burger cribs from In-N-Out's playbook, the Classic Burger, as it is referred to by the staff, takes its inspiration from the McDonald's cheeseburger -- ketchup, mustard, cheese, pickles, raw onion -- the way nature intended.
Let's face it, the McDonald's cheeseburger is one of the most streamlined delivery systems for umami-to-mouth that anyone has ever created. (Even the original Umami burger, with its anchovy-enriched ketchup, Parmesan crisp and confit tomato, is at its core a high-brow reformulation of the standard cheeseburger.) For many reasons, several of them extremely justified, McDonald's gets a terrible rap. But what if someone were to eliminate all the things that people don't like about the mega-chain -- the processed pink slime, the corporate globalization, the long wait times in the drive-thru -- and re-create its most transformational product into something you'd wouldn't be ashamed to scarf down?
And yes, Burger Lounge's version is that good. The patty is juicy and loosely packed, the pickles crisp and thick, the ketchup and mustard blending together like the colors in a Rothko painting. If you can't remember the last time you ate a burger sans accoutrement -- without the crispy onion straws, teriyaki glaze or chipotle mayo -- then it might be worth going back to the cheeseburger's roots.