According to Eater founder and current Vox Media Editorial Director Lockhart Steele, the “most iconic and important” post in Eater history is a 2006 article about the Lure burger served at Lure Fishbar, written by restaurateur William Tigertt. In it, Tigertt extols the virtues of the burger, describing it as a “well-executed restaurant interpretation of an In-N-Out,” and crowning it the “best burger south of 14th Street" while championing its underdog status.
It caused some consternation at Eater HQ at the time — before then, the publication had scrupulously avoided food porn, and even shunned the very discussion of individual dishes. But the Lure burger was different. It captured the imagination — not just for its inherent evocations, but also for its underdog status as a burger on the menu at a fancy seafood joint (perhaps something that Steele and Eater co-founder Ben Leventhal could relate to). It wasn’t long after Tigertt's paean that word of the Lure burger spread, its legend coursing its way through the internet via message boards and the era's nascent network of food blogs, both personal and professional, and eventually making the leap from digital to print. It was most likely the first burger of note to make this journey.
Other burgers had been hyped before, of course, spilling out beyond the world of food and becoming subsumed into popular culture. In the 1950s, 21 Club debuted America’s first gourmet burger, and later Nat King Cole christened the bacon cheeseburger at P.J. Clarke’s "the Cadillac." Hamburger Heaven was immortalized in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961, and Mimi Sheraton’s 1977 article on Corner Bistro established the West Village bar as a burger destination. In this century, Daniel Boulud’s foie gras- and truffle-stuffed DB Burger caused a wave of media hype when the rococo creation was unveiled in 2002 and kicked off the chef-driven burger fad.
But these burgers all gained fame via the traditional mediums of print journalism, film, and tourist guides. The Lure burger is significant not just because it is delicious, but also because, like the specimens that came before, it has a broader cultural implication — it is the burger that defines the early era of food blogging. It fulfilled numerous tropes of the mid-to-late aughts: the beef blend was from boutique butcher Pat LaFrieda, it was an off-the-menu special for much of its life, it was rumored to be an homage to In-N-Out, and of course, it had the high/low dichotomy.
The context of Lure itself cannot be overlooked in this equation. Eater’s editorial position at the time was, after all, not about covering the food itself, but more holistically about the totality of the restaurant dining experience. And Lure, with its somewhat quirky decor — "You are in a yacht, in the middle of Soho," notes Steele today — functions not unlike a Four Seasons for the Silicon Alley set. "There is no place I would rather be on a Friday at lunch time," he enthuses. (As a testament to this fact, he has over 75 Foursquare check-ins to his credit at the restaurant.) "It is the New Media lunch room," he concludes.
The origin point of this infatuation was quite possibly the Lure burger. Steele recalls his first encounter with the burger in question: "Leventhal and I had the same reaction — This is the best burger I have ever had." Over the course of the last decade, Steele has had more than a few Lure burgers, and his experience echoes my own — "Always amazing, always perfect."
What makes it so? Principally, it is a propitious conflagration of flavors and texture, with each component vetted so as to assure the end user a familiarity of construction and form, yet with a chef’s sensibility in the proceedings. Despite the outward trappings of a California roadside burger — shredded lettuce, tomatoes, a special sauce — the beef is too steak-like and the physical structure too deliberate for this to be actual fast food. It does get the evocation right however, the gentle squish of the bun, the snap and crunch of pickle and iceberg, the subtle tang of special sauce, the creaminess of the neon yellow cheese. But once you register the flavor of the beef itself — salty, hearty, voluptuous, seared like a prime steak —you realize that this is a New York chef burger through and through.
But the burger's deliciousness and rise to prominence via digital media is only part of the story. What happened next was perhaps unexpected, and almost certainly a function of Tigertt’s article: Lure’s chef Josh Capon was invited to participate in the NYC Wine & Food Festival Burger Bash, which he handily won. According to Steele, this allowed "Capon to be Capon" — the chef's larger-than-life showman's side came out. Steele recalls Capon parading around the Lure dining room with the giant fake check he received for the victory for a good six months after winning. Capon went on to win the Burger Bash a further four times, and eventually opened a dedicated burger restaurant, Burger & Barrel, with his partners in Lure. While the Lure burger long ago shed its underdog status, along the way it gained a new one: It is a modern classic, a 21st century burger for the digital age.