Monday, October 3, 2011

Lunch Box Laboratory (review)

I don't really get it...

This place bills itself as a "laboratory" conducting "experiments."  From what I can see, the only thing this place is experimenting on is the price.  They seem to want to determine what is the greatest price one can charge for a hamburger.  They have a bunch of different hamburgers in the $14 range.  The cheapest entree was a 1/4 pound burger with no cheese or toppings for $10.99.  The menu contains little else.  Oh yeah, there is the very experimental Mac and Cheese.  The day we went, they put ginger and carrots in it.  Wow.  (please read the next sentence sarcastically)  I am blown away.  People have been putting different stuff in mac and cheese for many many years.  Hardly experimental.  And neither is putting a bunch of different toppings on burgers.  I can name a bunch of different places in Seattle that do that.  Maybe they do not put balsamic in their caramelized onions, but they probably have other toppings that make them distinctive as well.  Upon delivery of your burger, the server brings you a tray of flavored salts.  Yep.

The drinks are experimental, though since we went there for lunch we did not try any.  Don't look at me like that, it was a week day.  I said.... nevermind.  Again, I would need more than both of my hands to count up the number of cocktail bars in town that are trying different things with cocktails.  Come on!  That would be like saying that you are starting a technology company to do something new and different with software.  Oh really?  What a concept.

I am not saying that I hated the place.  The food was decent, but just not worth the price.  If you want to pay $14 for your burger, Skillet Diner's is better.  Or you could spend that on an entree at a much nicer restaurant.  The worst part is that the burger at LBL was overcooked.  You would think that if you paid $14 for a burger, they would ask you how you wanted it cooked, but no.  They just assume well done and cook it a little beyond that.  It had a tasty crunchy crust, but it was a little dry on the inside.  So I would not be complaining about the price if the hamburger was just the most amazing piece of meat and toppings I had ever put in my mouth, but it was not.  I used to defend the $10 hamburger at another place because it was step above everything else.  Now that place is starting to seem like a bargain.

And another thing about the name and concept: Who the heck brought a burger in their lunch box?  Maybe the brother of Molly Ringwald's character in the Breakfast Club.  Remember, she brought sushi, and I never knew anyone who did that either.  Of course, I did not grow up in Southern California.  But I digress.

As far as I can tell, this was some geek's place to appeal to hip geeks working at nearby Amazon with nostalgic themes from high school.  Remember all the fun times in the chemistry lab?  It also freed up some space at home because he got to do something with that vintage lunchbox collection.  Hang them up around a restaurant.  And put some arcade games upstairs, like he always wanted in his basement.  If he puts them in his restaurant, he can write them off.

To be fair, I actually really liked the lunchbox meets Jetsons decor.  I love that retro futurism thing.  I just cannot believe that a place with lunchbox in the name did not offer ANY other sandwiches other than burgers.  You can get a veggie burger or some sliced turkey, but those things are clearly afterthoughts when you read the list of 12 burger choices.  They have three "Salad Experiments" like a Caesar; mixed greens with blue cheese, and iceberg with bacon, tomato, and ranch dressing.  Ooooh, how experimental.  I am not making this up.  The "Appetizer Experiments" include chips and dip; mini corn dogs; pork rinds, and jalapeno poppers.  You have got to be kidding me!  You can find experiments like these at the local Applebees or frozen food aisle at the supermarket.  Oh sure, they have their own spin on things, but why not call it sometime more accurate like "The Chili's Experiment???"

 yep, the bun is that small

I do not really hate this place as much as it sounds.  They just make it way too easy to make fun of their concept.  I will say that the buns were very tasty, with the perfect texture.  I also thought the sweet potato fries were quite good.  I just do not understand why I would want to chose this place over so many other places in Seattle with amazing food and better prices.  Perhaps if I were a rich young techno-nerd, I would understand.  But alas, I am not.  I guess I am just some other kind of nerd.


  1. So if I were a better journalist (or in fact a journalist at all), I might do a little research before writing a post. I have done some research after posting this and at first I was totally confused. I read accolade after accolade. It was one of the best burgers in America according to multiple sources. The burgers were so big, they could feed two. I could not believe this was the same place I went.
    The I dug a little deeper, and it is all started to make sense. Lunchbox Laboratory was originally a quirky hole in the wall in Ballard with a talented chef at the helm. This explains the conceits of the concept and menu. They originally served milkshakes in beakers.

    Then, the original owners teamed up with a restauranteur who owns a bunch of "neighborhood grills" and started the mediocre Taco Del Mar chain. The new place is slick and has more experienced restaurant management involved.

    So then it changes. Exit the original owners. The chef dies. The portions get smaller. The menu gets streamlined, getting rid of some interesting alternatives. And based upon my experience, the food got crappier (or at the very least inconsistent). Very sad for the legacy of this chef, Scott Simpson. And very sad for people who love burgers.

  2. Hey Art, Julie here. Actually I don't think your original post suffered from not knowing the background, as you were just calling as you saw it, or tasted it. The research just told HOW it got be like that.

    And it sounded horrible! Ha ha - it was funny that you kept saying you didn't really hate it, before and after eviscerating it. I hate pretentious down-scale themes with upscale prices, and it sounds like that was what it was. Too bad, because it does sound, especially with your second post like a good and original idea. And I would love to get a look at all those lunchboxes. But wouldn't you think they would include variations on PB&J, bologna & cheese, pudding cups, and fruit roll-ups?

    Keep the reviews coming, they're one of my favorite parts!