Who has the best burger in Louisville? Shady Lane Cafe at least makes a case

Shady Lane Cafe is beloved by many for its Brownsboro Burger. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

It struck me recently that Louisville has a lot of “best burgers in town.” Lots of restaurants make that claim, and many opinions float around about which restaurant or diner truly can claim dominance.

I have a friend who goes to Mussel & Burger Bar as often as possible, yet I was talking to a guy recently who, when in town on business, bee-lines to Hilltop Tavern for the beer cheese burger. Purists might swear Ollie’s Trolley or W.W. Cousins has the best burger, yet I have another friend who swears by Bunz in the Highlands. There’s also Grind, Game, Big Four Burgers + Beer, Sidebar, Kern’s Korner, Bambi Bar — you get the idea.

Shady Lane isn’t big in size, but it’s plenty big when it comes to diner fare. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

But while I was amusing myself with these options and opinions, it struck me that I had never had a Brownsboro Burger at the quaint and fun Shady Lane Cafe, a place where the regulars swarm in to get said burger. I knew what I had to do.

I stopped in just as the lunch rush was winding down, and still it wasn’t easy to find a table, which lived up to previous experiences at Shady Lane. Co-owner Susi Smith was greeting people as they walked in, and when my turn came, I told her I’d never tried the Shady Lane burger.

She was up to the challenge.

I placed my order — getting mine sans tomato and mayo, the latter so I could partake in the many mustard options on Shady Lane’s counter — found a seat, and then noticed that several other people were chomping on burgers. Hey, that’s a good sign.

When my no-frills burger came to my table in a red plastic basket, lined with red-and-white-checkered paper (nice diner-esque touch there), I noted the piles of pickles, red onions, leafy romaine and cheddar cheese tucked under the lightly toasted bun almost obscured my view of the meat itself.

A mound of crinkle-cut fries accompanied it, making my lunch a short-order delight in the making.

I added some spicy mustard, counting four thick pickle slices as I did so. And then I realized that getting my mouth around the thing was going to be a fun task — and that’s without the tomato, which would have added even more bulk. My only complaint came with the first bite, as I barely got any of the juicy burger inside — mostly just pickles, onions, lettuce and mustard.

But the second bite is where I struck gold. Smith’s husband Bill usually does the cooking, but on this day daughter Rachel was manning the griddle, and I have to say that cooking burgers must run in the family. This one was cooked medium to medium-well, thick and juicy, and plenty of beef flavor that pounded its chest just enough to drown out all the condiment noise encompassing it.

The no-frills Brownsboro Burger certainly makes its case for one of the best in Louisville. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Of course, as you’d expect, as I got a few more bites in, bits began falling out of the back end of the bun. First a pickle, then a few strands of the thinly sliced onion.

Meanwhile, as I began to dig into the crispy fries (which I had topped with hot sauce rather than ketchup), I noticed that buried next to them was a pickle spear. It was pickle heaven, and the spear was crisp and filled with dill and garlic flavor. Delicious.

As I got about two-thirds of the way through my burger, I realized I was getting full. No chance was I leaving any meat behind, but no chance I could finish the heap of french fries. And so, I shed the last bit of the onions, lost the final pickle slice, and pretty much went man-vs.-meat for the final few bites.

I’m not going to publicly proclaim it as the best burger in Louisville, but it sure has to be in the conversation — I’m glad I gave it a go. Hey, everything I’d tried previously at Shady Lane was good, so it stands to reason the Brownsboro Burger would be, too.

As I was finishing up, however, I saw a fellow diner dig into a bologna sandwich. The bologna slice was so thick that it was easily three, maybe four, of your average pre-packed supermarket slices. Heck, it was as thick as my burger had been. So, now I’m wondering who has the best bologna sandwich in Louisville?

Shady Lane Cafe, located at 4806 Brownsboro Road in the Brownsboro Road Shopping Center, is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, plus 5:30-8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.