The Company Burger
4600 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
Napoleon's Rating - ***/****
The quintessential American burger has been undergoing a restaurant renaissance of late, with trained chefs and enterprising restaurateurs promoting their own versions as the comfort food trend continues. This has brought some exciting new examples to New Orleans, and probably none was more highly anticipated than the Company Burger. Opened in 2011 by a New Orleans native who made his name at top Atlanta restaurants, this burger is the result of highly specific design and meticulous standards.
The Company Burger fits right in with the resurgence of Freret Street with its blend of the modern and the classic. There is a diner feel to the long counter and open kitchen area, where you can see each step of the burger-making process, and the long, narrow dining area is trimmed out in repurposed woods and home-spun touches. This is a popular place and it can feel crammed at peak hours, especially in the slim area between the front door and the ordering counter. A few picnic tables by the parking lot provide a basic outdoor option.
This is deli-style service. You order at the cash register and they holler your name when your order is ready. It's a fast process, and while this place is not set up for a lot of customization if you have questions about the menu the counter staff are well-versed in their product.
The menu here is short and highly specific, and that starts with the sides and possible first courses. Market-fresh vegetables make regular appearances, depending on the season and the harvest (look for griddled Brussels sprouts in cooler weather, for example). Otherwise, you're picking between fries, sweet potato fries, tater tots and onion rings. Fries are thin, very crisp, twice-fried numbers that are very good, but the rings, which are made with red onions and a lighter batter, are in the running for the best onion rings in town. The bonus for any of these is a trip to the mayo bar, which is stocked with a half-dozen or so variations on house-made mayonnaise.
"The Company Burger" is the name for the marquee item at this restaurant, the burger on which it hangs its reputation. Here's what it is: two slim patties, cooked medium, with red onions, American cheese and bread and butter pickles on a bun (and, only when in season in the summer, Creole tomatoes). You can add a fried egg or bacon. It's simple, but also a highly-specific statement of this restaurant's style. These are not monster burgers, but take your time with them, savor and consider the bite you're taking, and the whole design of it really comes together. The burger is succulent, precise and utterly satisfying.
There's also a lamb burger with feta and a chili mint glaze, which is recommended, and a dry, lackluster turkey burger, which is not. There is a basic grilled cheese sandwich (American cheese on toast), though it's not likely to really dazzle any vegetarian who happens to be along for the ride here. The hot dog, which comes from the downtown sandwich shop/specialty meat market Butcher, arrives picture perfect in a griddle-crisped bun and makes a fine alternative to the burger. But really, the Company Burger is the reason this whole place exists and should be your first choice.
Check the heavy glass pie domes up front by the register for slices of carrot cake or some other homey, house-made dessert.
Drinks here are surprisingly robust. There isn't a bar, per se, but they serve an interesting array of beer (on draft or in cans), wine and cocktails, and the theme is all-American, right down to the liquors used for those cocktails.
Prices are a good notch above what you might expect from a place with lunch trays. A burger, a side and soft drink will run you more than $12, and from there it's easy to go up with add-ons or adult beverages.
The Company Burger is part of a promising trend that is taking back some American classics from the industrialized maw of the fast food industry. It costs more -- no doubt about it -- and it takes a little longer to get to your table. But the results are so much better, the quality so much higher and the overall experience so much more enjoyable. We tend to have the most passionate arguments about the foods we know best and enjoy most often, and the Company Burger adds a lot of fuel to the fire about the new wave of burgers in New Orleans.