If George Mendes’s Lupulo is the cool Portuguese restaurant Midtown didn’t know it needed, and it surely is, then the O hamburguer ($21) on the lunch and late night menu is the double cheeseburger it didn’t know it needed.
Aside from a double layer of imported Casa de Mendevil cheese, the burger is a straight up home grown affair. The beef is a brisket, short rib, and chuck blend from Pat LaFrieda cooked in two four-ounce patties. They are served on a house-smoked mayonnaise slathered brioche bun from Balthazar bakery. The burger is topped with bibb lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, and picante pickles (also made at the restaurant). With a sesame spangled bun, and tomatoes and pickles jutting out, this burger looks not unlike a grown up Burger King Whopper. It sort of tastes like one too, or rather an idealized version of one. This is because it is cooked over live fire using a fifty-fifty mix of charcoal and hickory. This imbues the burger with a profoundly smoky flavor and puts impressively defined grill marks across the surface of the patties.
In one bite, you get the snap and crunch of pickle and Bibb, plus the sweetness and gentle chew of the beefsteak, and the richness from the cheese — which tastes not unlike a good English Cheddar with sharp, fruity notes. It's at once evocative and also refreshingly new. You have had these flavor and texture combinations before if you have had a Whopper or a similarly constructed fast food style burger, but this is a substantially elevated experience. Despite being cooked to medium, the beef remains succulent. Lupulo employs a massive custom built Grillworks grill that sears the patty using live fire, giving it a flavor that is impossible to mimic with gas. It also give the patty deep grill marks that snap noticeably when bitten, adding a texture you don’t find in flattop burgers. There is a primal connection to live fire cooking — it is hard-wired in to us and connects the post industrial age hamburger to our distant, murky past.
My only criticism of the burger itself is that the bun is a little too rich. There is already so much going on between the cheese and beef and mayo that I craved something a bit more flavor neutral than the butter laden brioche. My other complaint is the price: $21 seem a little too steep for a lunchtime burger. Conversely the $21 price tag at night (the burger is available after 10:30 p.m.) seem fair since it is substantial in size and can easily be shared by two; I couldn't finish the thing and I was hungover and hadn’t eaten breakfast when I tried it. But whether sober, hungover or on the way to being so, this is a burger worthy of your attention. It might not fulfill the promise of Portuguese cuisine, but is certainly fulfills that of the Whopper.