For three short years in the middle of the last decade, Fritzl’s Lunch Box defined dining in Bushwick. The narrow storefront near the DeKalb stop on the L possessed a closet-sized dining room and an even smaller kitchen, where you’d almost bump into chef and owner Dan Ross-Leutwyler as you traipsed through the scullery on the way to the rustic tenement backyard, shaded with old trees swagged with sagging strings of Edison bulbs.
Ross-Leutwyler was a one-man kitchen, and he turned out a menu distinguished in its approachability. Sure, there was a good fried-chicken sandwich, soft gnudi shotgunned with wads of crab, beer-battered broccoli, and a Caesar salad with a sharp anchovy dressing. But the star of the show was the burger, on a seeded bun with mild yellow cheese cascading down the sides, while raw onions and shredded sweet pickles got caught in the cheese’s goo — a creation the chef described as “somewhere between a fast-food and pub-style burger.” The place closed abruptly in 2016 from what seemed like chef burnout.
I spent four years craving that burger in its absence, and wondering if I could duplicate it on my own. I couldn’t. In a paean to the burger that appeared on Eater NY, Nick Solares may have nailed the burger’s essence, calling it “meat forward,” and indeed a cross-sectional photo that I took in 2013 reveals some very coarse-textured and delicious-looking ground beef.
So when I heard that the Brooklyn butcher shop the Meat Hook had spawned a restaurant called Cozy Royale in the old Humboldt and Jackson space, and that the chef was to be Dan Ross, the same guy who’d flipped Fritzl’s burger, minus the hyphenated portion of his last name, I was there in a flash. There was a rumor going around that he was recreating his fabled burger at Cozy Royale.
But how would the new evocation of the Fritzl’s burger compare? The burger ($18) now appears on the spare, five-item lunch menu. It comes with a thimble of aioli, but no fries. Instead of a seeded bun, it’s mounted on denser brioche toasted top and bottom. Cheese still coats the sides of the patty, but now the pickles are of the vinegar variety, a good thing as far as I’m concerned, so the sweet edge has disappeared. Chopped onions instead of sliced now slide between bun and patty.
Still, these are all minor adjustments in the gestalt of the burger, which retains its compactness and still bursts with flavor. Though perhaps less coarsely ground, the beef remains scintillatingly fresh and minerally tasting, done to a perfection somewhere between rare and medium rare. Every bite of this new rendition is a pleasure.
Yes, there are other attractions on the overlapping lunch and dinner menus, which take their inspiration from the childhoods of Meat Hook owners Ben Turley and Brent Young in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Included are a trio of plain pork sausages held together with a browned starch matrix; a so-called pickled baloney salad that’s like antipasti if the Germans or Poles had invented it; and a dessert with the screwy name of desperation pudding, served with Lorna Doone shortbread cookies.
And the outdoor seating area, mostly along the Jackson Street side, is commodious and well spaced. Inside, the old corner bar has been gutted, though the layout of the front and back rooms remains intrinsically the same.
Are you long past the point of being wowed by ground beef? Well, give this revamped burger a try.