Calorie Splurge 

Luther Burger hits the sweet spot but misses on execution.

click to enlarge At Luther Burger, you can order your burger between two Sugar Shack doughnuts and your waffle fries topped with flavored seasonings.

Scott Elmquist

At Luther Burger, you can order your burger between two Sugar Shack doughnuts and your waffle fries topped with flavored seasonings.

Salt, sugar and fat are not just guilty pleasures. They are evolutionary fundamentals. When we're babies, our palates are aimed at sugar and as adults, we crave salt and fat. When mankind was still wandering nomadically through evolution, we needed that culinary instinct to choose the densest foods and stay alive.
Today's high-calorie dinners just add to a growing obesity epidemic, but we all feel the need to indulge our inner cave man from time to time. When we do, the splurge better be worth it — like a sizzling burger dripping with hot grease, alongside salty, crispy fries. Add a glazed doughnut, creamy milkshake, or perhaps a frosty beer, and you've hit nirvana for an average teenager, a post-workout triathlete or a partier with late-night munchies.

Luther Burger targets that craving with a cool concept, but misses on execution.

An offshoot of Ian Kelley's deliciously creative Sugar Shack Donuts chain, Luther Burger offers upscale fast food fare including various burgers, fries, breakfast biscuits and milkshakes. The welcome addition of a large beer selection makes this a tempting — and slightly cheaper—departure from Five Guys.

When we visited, the line for burgers, separate from the line for doughnuts, moved fairly quickly. The beer list was well-rounded, mostly cans and bottles. We took a number and waited excitedly at a patio table for the famous Luther Burger, a smashed beef patty with cheese, lettuce, tomato, sauteed onions and burger sauce," served on two glazed Sugar Shack doughnuts as buns for $1 extra.

When the doughnut burger arrived it was visually stunning, and a sticky-fingered fun mess to eat. The mix of sugar, salt and fat worked well, but the meat was more warmish than hot. Also, my stomach hurt on the way home, probably because I'm no longer a teenager, a triathlete or someone who gets the munchies.

Giving in to moderation, we tried other items on subsequent visits. The turkey burger ($6) had good flavor and texture, but it was not hot. The regular burger ($5.50) was satisfyingly drippy and garnished with melty American cheese. The buns were stale on one visit, but properly squishy on another trip.

Luther Burger also serves the popular meat-free Impossible Burger for $9. It's a tasty option if you're vegan or just feeling healthy, although my nutrition app says it has more calories than a regular beef burger. Luther served it with vegan cheese, which arrived on my patty as a cold flavorless slab. When I went back to the counter to ask for a do-over, the apologetic server explained that it refuses to melt. I picked it off.

A word about Luther's waffle fries, which cost $2.50 as a side. They come with a wide variety of sprinkled flavoring options like ranch, vinegar and salt, or garlic Parmesan. I'm told by regulars that at one point in Luther's yearlong history they were crispy and hot, as fries should be, but on several visits ours were consistently flabby, pale and, again, tepid. The vinegar-salt and sea-salt options were timidly seasoned, and the powdered ranch seasoning was bland.

Our paper boats of burgers and waffle fries arrived with mysterious small containers of yellowish sauce. When I asked, I was told it was a dill-honey-mustard dip for the fries. It was the best part of our white cheddar flavored fries, but I can't imagine it would be very good with the barbecue, jalapeño or Old Bay options. And why send it out, unbidden and unexplained?

Luther Burger may be worth visiting for the milkshakes alone, and I want to go back to try a few more like the lavender and chai. Our 20-ounce shakes ($4.50) were thick and sweet, full of flavor. The coffee shake tasted like a perfectly nonbitter creamy cold brew and the mint-Oreo flavor had little chunks of the classic sandwich cookie. Most of the 20 options also come in vegan iterations for $2.50 extra.

Again consulting that pesky nutrition app, I calculated that the Luther Burger with fries was easily more than 1,400 calories. For that kind of binge I expect fireworks. There is a time for nuance and restraint in food, but this isn't that time. Burgers and fries should have blasting salt, hot fat, gooey cheese, plenty of crunch and squish, all kapow and blam, fulfilling our evolutionary cravings. Not surprisingly, Luther Burger gets the sweet part right. The rest needs a little more oomph.

Luther Burger
1931 Huguenot Road
Mondays-Sundays 7 a.m. - 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.


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