Editor's note: Please welcome Eric Leath to AHT! He's been writing about pizza over at Slice for the last few months, but like many pizza lovers he's also a big fan of burgers. Stayed tuned for more of his New Orleans burger reporting.
The Company Burger
4600 Freret St. New Orleans, LA 70115 (map); 504-267-0320; thecompanyburger.com
Cooking Method: Flat-top
Short Order: Two house-ground brisket and chuck blended patties melded together with American cheese, thin slices of red onion, griddled to near perfection on a proprietary bun with housemade bread and butter pickles.
Want Fries with That?: Twice fried, homemade with skins on...you bet! Just save room for thick sliced buttermilk battered onion rings.
Prices: Company Burger, $8.50; Lamb Burger, $12; fries, $2.50; onion rings, $2.50
If there were such a thing as a national registry of historic burger joints, New Orleans would be near, if not at the top of the list. Lee's alone dates back to 1901. The old school places set a high bar for a new-wave of quality chef-driven burgers. The Company Burger was just another name on my burger wish-list until I heard of its association with the nearly perfect double cheeseburger at Holeman & Finch in Atlanta, Georgia. Then it shot to the top of the list.
Getting your hands on one of H&F's burgers is tricky—every dinner shift, the kitchen stops what it's doing at 10 p.m. to make just 24 of them. (The burger is also available on Sundays during brunch.) Demand is high, and they sell out almost immediately. I'm not big on American cheese without bacon, but H&F made the first cheeseburger where I really "got it." Grabbing such a superior burger on a whim seemed too good to be true.
The Company Burger's owner and New Orleans native, Adam Biderman, opened H&F as the chef de cuisine and was instrumental in developing their burger. He's on the record stating that the only real differences between burgers at H&F and The Company Burger are the patty sizes and buns (which he considers just as good at The Company Burger). My first bite of the signature Company Burger ($8.50) seemed indistinguishable from the Atlanta version, even though the two don't look like twins.
The construction is simple. Two 3.25-ounce patties are placed on the flat-top, topped with thin slivers of red onion and a slice of cheese after being flipped, then stacked and cooked to medium. Three pickles are placed on the top toasted bun, and the condiments are left up to the customer's imagination. You can also add Nueske's bacon ($2) or a fried egg ($1) for a complementary twist, but neither are necessary. Each person on the line pays intense attention to detail, and the open kitchen is almost meditatively quiet. The team's pace is measured, but the food typically comes quickly.
Every component of the cheeseburger has its own strength. The top layer of cheese isn't entirely melted around the edges, but the center is a satisfying amalgamation of slightly pink beef, strings of cheese, and shards of onion. On its own the meat isn't intensely seasoned, and it has little crust away from the edges. Still, every full bite is spot-on and tender—more so than any griddled burger I can remember. The bun is a straightforward white bread; its crust has delicate tears, similar to a softer version of a po-boy loaf. I've tried the burger multiple times and it has always been consistent.
For a moment, I had visions of becoming an undercover burger-hacker, working my way up the ranks, or prying secrets from insiders over drinks. It turns out that their process is an open book: the patties are made from equal parts chuck and brisket from Creekstone Farms that's ground in-house, the crisp bread and butter pickles are homemade, and the bun is a proprietary simple white bread, baked daily off-site. I was told that the cheese is just regular old American—it has a slight sharpness and certainly isn't a bargain supermarket slice.
The condiment bar is the place to get creative with all sorts of homemade emulsions, hot sauces, malt vinegar, and house-pickled jalapeños. The garlic mayo lives up to its name, and the chipotle has lingering heat. The Buffalo blue mayo nails the flavor of the hot wing, adding a pleasant new dimension. Ketchup and mustard are set on the tables, covering all of the bases. Well, except for tomatoes and lettuce, which aren't available—with burgers this good who needs them?
On paper the Lamb Burger ($12) screams for attention. This larger, 5.5-ounce single patty is topped with feta and an abundance of red onion slivers, and it's finished under a dome. Basil mayo is on the bottom, and a chili mint glaze is squeezed over the top.
Dark juices from the meat coat the bottom bun and pool in the bottom of the burger's cardboard tray. Indeed, it's tender, and the feta melts in spots. The overall flavor gets lost to the sweetness of the chili glaze. I'm not giving up on this sandwich, though—the signature burger is just hard to live up to—and I look forward to trying it again without sauce.
The hand-cut french fries ($2.50) are firm and free of grease. Buttermilk-battered onion rings ($2.50) are also well-made.
The menu also features a popular turkey burger, hot dog, and grilled cheese. A full bar and tap beer make The Company Burger a perfect pick-me-up joint.
Biderman has said that he's probably drawn to griddle-cooked burgers because he grew up eating them at old school restaurants around New Orleans. Skill and dedication have set this juicy, and nearly flawless burger apart. You don't go to The Company Burger expecting an archetypal New Orleans burger; you go for an essential New Orleans burger.