Adventures in Eating: the Luther Burger

There are few reasons to go to Queens. That is, unless you enjoy things like food. One of the five New York City boroughs, Queens is actually the most ethnically diverse county in North America. Which means you can pretty much travel around the world with your taste buds in the matter of a couple subway rides. New York fooderati, for example, know that the best Thai can be found in Queens. Bohemian Hall not only serves up quality Czech pub grub, but the huge beer garden (holding up to 1000 drinkers) is the last remaining relic of Queens’ 300 or so pre-Prohibition beer gardens. Why go all the way to Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan when you can eat your way through Rego Park, otherwise known as “Regostan” because of its large Central Asian population.

But what lured me to Queens recently was something more decidedly American: a Luther Burger. Dig, if you will, the picture: one beef patty, two strips of bacon, and one slice of sharp cheddar cheese sandwiched between-wait for it-a glazed doughnut. Online reports claim this heavyweight tops out at 1,500 calories. And while the burger has popped up on menus here and there, my research indicated there’s only one place in New York City that has the Luther as part of its permanent menu: the four-month-old Crave Shack in Astoria, Queens.

The origin of the Luther Burger and the provenance of its name are murky. As the story goes, the burger is named after soul singer Luther Vandross, a diabetic and legendarily voracious eater. Some say Vandross even invented the burger when he didn’t have a traditional bun in his pantry.

The Crave Shack burger flipper was so excited, he gave me a high five at the register and then with more enthusiasm than I’ve ever seen for grilled meat, proceeded to create a Luther burger, which here is called a Donut Burger. As the burger, bacon, and two doughnut halves each cooked on the grill, he told me they sell about a baker’s dozen worth of Luthers on a daily basis. “A real Luther,” he said, “uses two doughnuts as a bun. We only use one and because we use turkey bacon”-this part of Astoria is heavily Muslim so they obey halal dietary restrictions-“our version has much fewer calories.” And by that, he means the burger here is about 650 calories. So why not, I thought, call it Luther Lite?

I have to confess I was a tad frightened to bite into the Luther, fearing within seven seconds my left arm would begin growing numb. But one small bite later I was not only still alive, but impressed. The sacharine of the doughnut overwhelmed the burger, but the combination of flavors-the savory greasy beef, the sharp cheddar, the smokiness of the bacon, and the maple syrup-like sweetness of the doughnut-went well together. I’m not going to eat a Luther Burger every day, but I’d eat it again. Maybe after I’ve recovered from my first heart attack.

No one at Crave Shack could tell me the true origins of the Luther Burger. We could just go ask Vandross himself, but unfortunately he died in 2005. The cause: a heart attack.

The Parker Meridien NYC knows how to serve a cheeseburger

I know I’ve written a lot about hotdogs, but I’m also a big fan of burgers. I guess my true affinity is for anything that’s bad for you. Nothing beats a great dog, but I have room for variety and sometimes crave an amazing burger. In Manhattan, you should look no further than the Parker Meridien on W. 56th St. (or W. 57th St., you can enter from either side).

You’re probably thinking about a $20 hamburger (more with cheese), because nothing’s cheap at a Parker Meridien. Well, for this burger, you’ll have to pass Norma’s (which is a great brunch spot, but far from cheap) and look for the neon cheeseburger on the wall. Welcome to the Burger Joint! It’s hidden in a hallway next to the concierge desk, and if you ask for directions, the staff will direct you easily. They know what you’re looking for.

During most peak dining hours, though, the location will be obvious. Look for the incredibly long line and be prepared to wait.

When you finally do reach the Burger Joint, you’ll notice a substantial shift in the décor. Scrawled between the many posters on the walls are light attempts at graffiti (but lots of them). The signs are handwritten in magic marker. The upscale uniforms visible in the rest of the hotel are eschewed for attire that’s considerably more laid back. The restaurant’s name says it all. It’s a burger joint, nothing more. But, it excels at its one mission – putting an amazing hamburger between your teeth.

Read the menu before you get to the cash register, or you’ll probably be sent to the back of the line. Demand for the product will force you to wait for a while, so there’s no reason to make it worse by screwing up at the moment of truth. The sign provides strict (but easy to follow) instructions on how to order. Speak loudly and confidently.

The restaurant itself is usually crowded. It’s tough to get a seat, and there’s always an asshole or two who lingers after finishing. So, you’ll be crammed shoulder-to-shoulder while waiting for your grub to be cooked, bagged and handed to you. Deal with it; there’s no alternative. From time to time, one of the cooks will step from behind the counter and scream at loiterers to get the hell out. It’s not done delicately … and it shouldn’t be.

If the dining area is full, or you just don’t want to mess with the crowds, there’s a great inter-block alley between W. 54th St. and W. 55th St., and it has tables and benches. This is a great dining spot when the weather is favorable. Also, you’re only a short walk from Central Park.

So, what about the food? You can’t go wrong with the burgers and fries, which comprise the entirety of the menu. The burgers are tasty, but do benefit from a bit of ketchup. I’d be happier if they were larger. The fries are thin-cut and the best (of this style) in the city. I haven’t tried the shakes (not really my thing), but I can tell from how many have been ordered that they must be good.

The total cost for all this isn’t absurd. For three cheeseburgers, two generously-sized orders of fries and a drink, I dropped $31.50. You’re going to have a bitch of a time finding a deal like this anywhere else in the city, I assure you.

Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger anyone?

When I read Meg’s article about the largest burger in the world, I remembered seeing a photo last year of another burger that somehow got stuck in my head. May I present, the “Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger“.

I’m not afraid of trying something really unhealthy and I grew up in the village where the deep fried Mars bar was invented, but this just seems too much, even for me.

Sadly, you won’t be able to savor the delicate aroma of deep fried glazed yeast rings covered with bacon, cheese and meat, as they are only served at the staff restaurant of Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

So, if you found this on the menu, would you go for it, or is this the kind of food you’d only consider at 3AM after a night of heavy drinking?

More Gadling burger articles:

(Krispy Kreme burger image source, Flickr user ccaviness)