Welcome to Burger Time, the burger-centric column by Eater's resident carnivore Nick Solares. This week he checks out the burger at Fritzl's Lunch Box.
While the cheeseburger ($14) at Fritzl’s Lunch Box looks eminently familiar — sesame spangled bun, oodles of cheese, special sauce, pickles — it is among the most original and unique expressions of burgercraft to have emerged in recent years. That’s because chef / owner Dan Ross-Leutwyler doesn’t reference a specific burger like the ones offered at In-N Out Burger or Shake Shack (or both). It isn’t based on a childhood favorite. And even his description of it as "somewhere between a fast food and pub style burger" is rather vague. At its core, this is a burger informed by contemporary artisanal, meat-forward cooking popularized by restaurant like The Breslin, Roberta’s, and Fatty ‘Cue. Not surprisingly Ross-Leutwyler worked in the kitchens of all three.
Not that Fritzl’s Lunch Box, with its 19 seats in a tight railroad configuration and quaint backyard with additional seating for roughly 21 more, is anything like those behemoths. Fritzl’s is a burger joint masquerading as a neighborhood restaurant. The burger outsells everything else on the menu by a factor of two to one according to the chef, "I have customers that come in here three times a week to get the burger, if I can get them to try something else on the menu it is a victory." I have eaten my way through much of the restaurant's eclectic offerings and can attest that the chef has some chops, but I would likely be one of the repeat burger customers. This is a serious burger.
The beef is chopped in-house using a blend of Certified Black Angus chuck for body and texture and beef shank for heartiness and depth of flavor. It features an 80 percent lean to 20 percent fat blend, the chef has found that the whole chucks he sources have the perfect ratio so he doesn’t need to add any additional fat. The chopped beef is formed into six ounce patties which are salted to Tony Montana levels of excess and seared on the flattop. The patty emerges with a dense crust and lush innards. The burger is topped with a thick slab of sharp cheddar chosen specifically for its melting properties, "I would have been happy to use American cheese but I wanted the perception of this restaurant to be a little different," says Ross-Leutwyler.
The bread is a Big Marty’s bun, which once again proves itself as the most versatile of vessels for the hamburger. It is Ross-Leutwyler’s sole concession to prefabrication. Everything else is made in house, from the aioli laced with charred miso to the relish constructed from the butter pickles which are chopped and mixed with blanched onions, mustard seed, and mustard powder. The aioli is generously smeared on the heel of the bun while a heap of the pickle graces the crown. They are the only additions to the burger and cheese — there is no lettuce, no tomato. Ross-Leutwyler serves ketchup on the side, but he prefers it be used on the fries.
I can respect that. There is an immense amount of care and thought put into the hamburger and fries. The chef references sausage making, the Heston Blumenthal and Mission Street Food cookbooks, and April Bloomfield’s frying technique in discussing the burger. Because of these disparate influences, it really doesn’t taste like any other burger out there, yet there is an undeniable familiarity to it. Like all great burger it has synergy and balance, but the flavors rather than being layered are a melange, so integrated are the components. There is a rich mouthfeel and tartness and sweetness and salt, yet they all hit you at once. In a town blessed with countless great burgers this one is worth seeking out for its uniqueness and thoughtfulness, but most importantly because it is delicious.
Fritzl's Lunch Box, 173 Irving Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237