There are obsessions and then there are obsessions.
I think of the food world as innovation bumping up against comfort. There are the things we are aching to try — the new flavors, the new textures, the new ingredients — and the things we are aching to remember. That second category might be what drives us to return to the same places time and time again, to dive back into familiar menus.
It may be why the recent menu change at New York’s iconic Gotham Bar and Grill — which was long overdue for an update, I must say — inspired a Facebook thread filled with outrage. How dare we change a thing that is working just fine on its own?
All of this brings me to a level of self-discovery here, actually, because while I am constantly in pursuit of a new and delicious thing, I am also drawn back to things I loved before. That’s the thing about food, and about nostalgia, and about the marriage of the two. Time in a restaurant is just as much an attempt to recapture some old romance as it is a path to actualization. Not every restaurant I write about has to be the best in class. Not every meal is a teachable moment. Sometimes, it’s just something enjoyable that reminds you of something else that was also enjoyable. Full stop.
This lengthy dissertation — and please excuse the culinary existentialism — brings me to LT Burger in Sag Harbor. There’s a dish in particular that compels me to return, a dish that I love wholly and without apology, even though it will not change your life in any appreciable way. That dish is the Kosher fried dill pickles, a basket of which will set you back a cool $10. Served with a buttermilk ranch dressing, it is, for no particular reason, one of my favorite things to eat.
Actually, let me amend that last sentence. There is a reason I like this dish so much, and it’s because it does — without pretense — all of the things that good food is supposed to do. It pits textures against one another: soft pickle against crunchy exterior against creamy ranch. It combines acid (the vinegar from the pickle) with fat (the oil from the deep fry) and more fat (that ranch again). It is shareable, meaning you can commit to just a handful and feel okay about yourself — though don’t let that dissuade you from ordering a basket to share with no one at all.
The brass tacks of food are more complex than whether or not we like something. Does it have texture? Does the acid cut through the unctuousness of fat? Is sugar kept in check? When we say that something is bad, we often mean that it’s imbalanced. Yes, bad can also be code for poorly executed, but mostly we mean that something is not enough of one element, or too much of another. You won’t suffer this fate in a basket of LT Burger’s fried pickles, where the elements of taste playfully knock around with one another. There is great dignity in the execution of something small and perfect.
By now, you’ve probably wearied of my devotion to this single food. Does this restaurant have more to offer? You surely want to know. It does, of course, from towering burgers to Instagram-ready milkshakes to salads the size of one’s face. But the joy I feel in those pickles, which always arrive dangerously hot (tempting fate, I dive in, regardless), tops my list. Can one dish make a meal? The answer to that, I’d venture to argue, is absolutely.