[Photographs: Damon Gambuto]
735 S Figueroa St., Los Angeles CA 90017 (map); 213-680-2881; thejuicylucy.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Another entry in the upscale casual “concept” burger market misses the mark
Want Fries with That? No thanks; sad, undercooked spuds
Price: The Juicy Lucy, $10; regular fries, $3; smothered fires, $4
It was only a matter of time. The rush on concept burger restaurants has smashed, Japanified, shrunk down, over-topped, and undersized patties all over the country. Now Los Angeles finds itself home to the Juicy Lucy burger concept restaurant. It’s called, quite simply, Juicy Lucy, and is the brainchild of chef Paul Shoemaker. Shoemaker made a bit of a name for himself with the now defunct Savory Malibu. That said, Shoemaker can feel more like a brand than an actual chef. His bio on the Juicy Lucy site calls him “an innovator and a visionary in the culinary world who has built his name on his creative interpretations of what makes a good meal, using artistic know-how and fresh ingredients.” Ok, sure—so why the magic trick burger?
For those of you who don’t know (I’m assuming very few, but bear with me), the Juicy Lucy (also called the Jucy Lucy) is a style of burger that stuffs cheese into the patty. Minneapolis seems to have a special affinity for them as our esteemed Adam Kuban broke down in his cheeseburger styles post, and as former correspondent Daniel Zemans covered in his review of two famous Ju(i)cy Lucy joints. Shoemaker has staked his burger restaurant’s future on Angelenos loving the Juicy Lucy as much as people from the Twin Cities.
The first location (in what is clearly a shot at building a chain) is in the soul-stealing food court/shopping mall 7th at Fig. The food court area, called Taste, has a Brave New World vibe that I can’t imagine anyone actually enjoying, but then again I dislike malls as a rule. If you’re stuck in an office building all day perhaps an easy lunch and some errand shopping isn’t something to find fault with, but the food should at least be good. Sadly, Juicy Lucy isn’t.
The construction process of Juicy Lucy’s signature burger (there are other burger options) filled me with hope. The patty—about six ounces, I’d estimate—gets griddled up on a nice looking flattop as does the bun. The problems here are the component parts.
The bun is an embarrassingly large brioche bun that is exactly what the name implies: flaky, dry, and ill-suited to a burger. The toppings of lettuce, tomato, and pickle aren’t so much off as they are overdone. The wholly unnecessary slathering of aioli makes you feel like a bad person for consuming it. Oh, and the towering construction of this burger is such that you wonder what jaw-unhinging reptilian mouth it was made for.
Of course, any Juicy Lucy burger should be measured primarily on the patty, and this is what turned me off most about this burger. The beef itself didn’t betray any proper browning (the griddle temp was probably too low) and it lacked any distinct seasoning. It had that refrigerator burn taste of commercial beef. Add to this a surprisingly uncheesy center and it’s a wonder how they get repeat customers, particularly considering the burger alone will run you $10.
Add to that a $3 order of fries and it’s a $13 burger and fries plate that you carry to a cafeteria table yourself. My fries came out undercooked, which made them next to inedible. I’m not sure they would have been a creditable effort had they stayed in the oil a little longer, but they certainly weren’t helped with the smothering of mole and pork belly ($4) that I tried as well.
It’s a not a given that a new burger concept has to go this wrong. There’s so much information about how to put together a solid burger (hello, Burger Lab) that I wonder if the trick pony is the problem. If Shoemaker steers his operation toward the basic principle his bio claims, creative interpretations of what makes a good meal, he might still have a shot at making room for himself at the burger concept dinner table. As of now, there’s no room for his Juicy Lucy at mine.
About the author: Damon is one of our roving burger reporters and food writers. When he’s not eating more than is warranted or healthful (and then writing about it) he can be found writing and producing for television and film. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.