Cassell’s Hamburgers: Accept Some Imitation
I think even most fervent burger freaks will admit we are long into the late afternoon of the fancy burger heyday. Nevertheless, the re-opening of Cassell's, long considered to be the "original" gourmet burger joint in LA (since 1948), created enough curiosity to make me want to check it out. Now located on 6th and Normandie (ground floor of the Hotel Normandie), instead of a straight storefront, it takes up a rather picturesque big window corner, with pretty wood tables and counters and lots of light.
Rather than wax a lot of prose about it, I thought I would just mirror the spirit of this quick service joint and bullet point a few thoughts on my visit last Saturday afternoon:
- The original Cassell's, LA burger fiends will recall, used a double-broiler. The new one claims to have the same broiler, but it sure looked like they were cooking the burgers on a big griddle.
- Like the original, the new Cassell's grinds their meat daily in house (same grinder they say...eek!), but is no doubt using better beef--Colorado Angus chuck and brisket (says the menu). It's good. Standard-good, but still good. The burger basically tastes like the one that your neighbor who knows how to use a grill would make.
- The new Cassell's uses real cheddar, a cut above Cassell's in its last original incarnation (my daughter was disappointed they didn't have American, sheesh, kids!)--as well as pretty great "Parker House" buns. They should be proud of the buns. Proud enough that if someone wants the meat without the bun, they should charge less (they don't).
- Don't look for the original's condiment bar. Gonzo. Yes, the potato salad is included with the burger, as is L-T-O-P and a side of Thousand. But if you want more Thousand, some of their housemade Mayo, blue cheese or ranch, those are .75 per.
When Cassell's was on its last legs in the original location, a burger, fries and drink would have run you about $12. Now, the 1/3 lb burger (potato included) and a lemonade will cost you $16. That's a bit of a hike in two years.
- The old menu boards have survived (the cashier is quick to tell you that you can't actually order from them) but apparently not the celebrity photos.
- Also on the menu, house made (organic) egg salad for 9.99, tuna salad (no sourcing mentioned) for 12.99 and grilled cheese for 8.99. Maybe 'll sound like I'm getting ready for retirement, but those really feel like "room service" prices to me. The grilled cheese better be twice as good as The Habit's damn near perfect one (since it's double the price).
- They have added a pretty full breakfast menu (maybe a concession to being in a hotel), but it looks like you have to order any of that from the coffee bar which is totally separate. Not sure I understand that at all. No fries, nor the original's onion rings, zucchini fries, turkey burgers, for those keeping score at home. But you can get a latte.
- Typically, a place will have counter service because it can't afford a lot of staff, or doesn't expect you to tip. But Cassell's makes you order at the counter (from a guy who looks like he could use a burger--or 10) despite the fact that it's crawling with employees--did I come on training day? see pic above--at least FIVE of whom were eager to clear my tray before I was done. Oh, and yeah, there was still a tip line on the receipt, and yes, like a dummy I gave 15%--for what I'm not sure.
- There is a classic carousel display of homemade pies near the door. Don't strain yourself trying to figure out what kind they are or how much a piece costs, because neither is posted anywhere. I guess it's one of those "if you have to ask..." things.
So, in short.. for those wondering about taking a trip to see if the new Cassell's measures up to its sizable legacy... keep on going... to Belcampo in Grand Central Market.
CasssellsHamburgers.com contains a lot more information about what they serve than I could figure out when I was actually in the place.