500 Thurston Ave Ithaca, NY 14850-2434 (607) 257-4649
You’d probably be excused for confusing Louie’s Lunch with Louis’ Lunch, the venerable Connecticut restaurant which claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger. Both have Ivy League links (Louis’ Lunch is in New Haven, home of Yale, while Louie’s Lunch sits on the north campus of Cornell in Ithaca, NY), both are mobile (Louis’s moved four times before settling into its current location and Louie’s has four wheels and thus can move at any moment – though there are a bunch of wires to unhook from the light pole and something that looks curiously like coax cable) and oh yeah, both serve darn nice, lo-fi burgers.
With lineage dating back to 1918, the current Louie’s Lunch truck sets up shop seven days a week to satiate the late night cravings of our country’s future doctors, lawyers, jock-rockers (Huey Lewis) and surgeon generals (oh yeah I’m talking about you C. Everett Koop). Until 3 am (except Sunday nights when they retire at the modest hour of midnight) students in various states of stress and/or inebriation can hit up this mobile c-store for cold drinks, hot coffee, energy shots, candy bars and of course – burgers.
Back in college at the much less educationally challenging (though no less hilly) Mansfield University, I discovered the Bo Burger, a griddled hamburger topped with cheese and a fried egg. To this day, no single dish has screamed “college” to me as much as this combination which I used to enjoy at the local truck stop affectionately known as Greasy Eddie’s, and so when I saw the Bo Burger listing on the starboard side menu of the truck I jumped at the chance to reminisce about my own college years.
Louie’s version featured about 1/4 lb of griddled beef, resting on some white American cheese and topped with a nicely cooked egg. Health departments be damned for their insistence that eggs cannot be runny, but kudos to the flat-top chef who brought this oeuf in just on the cooked through side, avoiding that rubbery, overcooked state. The Bo Burgers of my youth were served on squishy white buns, but this being Ithaca (home of Moosewood and macrobiotic jerky) my Bo was served on a whole grain bun flecked with oats…a bit odd, but good; almost allowing me to dream for a second that this burger was kissed by Mother Earth herself and thus filled with only healthful vitamins and minerals (reality check – it is in actuality a glorious greasebomb of a burger!).
Served with a smile by an actual Cornell student, I give this burger high marks for both quality and history. For years I have been fascinated by the idea of making decent burgers in a food truck and as mentioned on this site before, my own bucket list includes opening a mobile burger shop called “Burgatory” (ideally parked on City Ave in Philadelphia half-way between the Catholic Seminary and the Hebrew Yeshiva). Louie’s provides further proof that good burgers can come from just about anywhere and thousands of Cornell grads no doubt have fond memories of placing their own late-night orders at Louie’s window.
The Louie’s folks have done a great job of cataloging their own history on their web site. For more details on the various iterations of the lunch truck and pictures of through the years, click here.
This is the first of a four part series ingeniously titled “Burgers I Ate While In The Finger Lakes Region A Few Weeks Ago.” Future installments will include entries from a winery, a creamery and the epicenter of the gourmet vegetarian movement. Stay tuned.