Here's the deal - the cheeseburger is the quintessential American food. A couple of years back, after reading a review in the Wall Street Journal about the best burgers in the country, only to find that three of the top five were in my own back yard, I decided that I needed to see for myself. With the help of George Motz's "Hamburger America", several lists, recommendations from friends and asking everyone about burgers from "their" town, this is the result...

If you're curious about my thoughts on foods other than burgers, check out my other blog Eat to Live? Or Live to Eat?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Local Three, Atlanta, GA (March, 2012)

We had visited Local Three, for the first time back in February of 2011.   We had been back a couple of times since for their (formerly fabulous) Sunday brunch, and had also been back for both lunch and dinner.   One evening, my daughter and I were looking for dinner, as we headed across the top-end, and I called for a reservation.  They offered a 6:45, I countered that I could be there by 6:49, she said "deal" and we moved into the left lane and pulled in on two wheels, with 30 seconds to spare <g>.  We had a great server.  That's one of the best features of Local Three, other than the food.  The staff at this place is top notch (as they are at also-owned Muss & Turners) - well informed and very helpful.  

As we looked through the menu, she told us that she had an appetizer that would "change our lives".   I asked what that could be and was told crispy brussel sprouts.  Brussel sprouts?  Was she serious?  She was.  I hate brussel sprouts.  That may sound harsh, but I distinctly remember the last time that I had eaten brussel sprouts.  I was eight years old.  My mother had made them for dinner.  I wasn't interested.  She told me that I would try them before I left the table.  Ultimately, I did.  Then I threw up all over the table.  

The server said they were really good, so for $5 we gave them a try.  And I didn't throw up.  They weren't awful, but they weren't that good.   Live and learn.
We also had decided to split a salad - spinach, fresh pears, feta cheese and bacon.   It was very good - Local Three was back on track. 

On to the burger.  I had eaten it for lunch one day, late last summer.  They call it the McDougal (two all beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion),  
served with fries and sambal sauce.   I ordered it again, and it arrived a gooey mess.  This was a truly good burger.  I will likely have it again, but when you have to choose between the McDougal,  their killer chicken pot pie and daily specials, choices can be tough.
Local Three Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Counter - Roswell, GA (April 6, 2012)

Before we headed over to Good Friday Atlanta, this seemed like a good chance to sample the Counter.  I had heard the Counter mentioned several times in the last year, but we rarely get to Roswell to eat.  Tonight, as our destination was about five minutes away was the perfect opportunity. 

I didn't realize until I visited their web page that the Counter is actually a California-based chain that started in 2003.  The format is simple - build your own burger.  They even give you a checklist from which to work - burger (beef - turkey - chicken - veggie - "market") / cheese / toppings / sauces / bun and multiple options for each (according to the menu, 312,120 options, to be exact.)
Before the burgers, we started with fried pickles, served with an apricot sauce.  I'm not a pickle guy, but the girls at the table finished off the plate, so they must have been okay <g>.
Then came the fries.  This was a single order - it was plenty for the table.  The fries were good - skinny like Steak 'N Shake, served hot.
And then came the burgers.  Jo had a turkey burger.  We should have realized when the waitress explained that it was a 60/40 mix of white and dark meat, that it wasn't going to be a Yeah burger.  It was edible, but that's about the extent of it.

Madison had a chicken "burger".  It really wasn't a burger, per se, but she said it was a pretty good grilled chicken sandwich, with buffalo sauce on the side.
I went for 2/3 pound (post-cooking weight), 100% Black Angus burger, on Texas toast with gruyere cheese, smoked ham and tomatoes.
I asked for it medium and they cooked it just as I requested.  It was a really good burger. My only complaint?  It was really pricey. My burger, alone, topped out above $11.50, and that's steep, at least in the Atlanta market.

The highlight of the meal was the milkshake. Apple Crumb Caramel. Imagine a really good apple crumb cake. Then throw it in a blender with wonderful, glorious, vanilla ice cream. Put it in a glass and cover it with whipped cream. Then serve it to me in that glass with the largest straw I've ever seen.  This sucker (pun intended) was the diameter of those giant Pixie Stix they had when I was a kid.  (Do they still have those?  Easter Bunny, are you listening?  Hint. Hint.)
This shake gives the Krispy Kreme shake at Flip a run for the money as my favorite in town.  It was awesome.
The Counter: Custom Built Burgers on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Watt's Burgers, Odessa, TX (March 26, 2012)

As I was leaving Odessa on Monday, I passed by the Permian Basin Hamburger Company (on Main Street since 1978) and whipped the car around to try it out. Sadly, they closed at 3:00 and it was close to 4:00.  Dejected, I headed back toward I-20 and the Midland International Airport.  It was then that I saw Watt's Burgers (Serving Coca-Cola and Odessa since 1952) and pulled into the parking lot.

This place looks like it hasn't changed since the 50s, except for the occasional paint job.  A big awning to shield you from that hot Texan sun (just a sweatin' and a pantin', 'cause his work is never done), advertising their offerings and under which you can park and eat, a small parking lot out back and a drive thru that passes under the awning in both directions.  It reminded me, in concept, of Keller's, in Dallas, without the car service, massive awnings and beer sales. 
Walking up to the window, the choices weren't broad - 1/2 pound burger, 1/2 pound cheeseburger, foot longs and sundry fried things (potatoes, onion rings, chicken tenders) and I couldn't see anyone inside.  Being the enterprising not-so-young man that I am, I walked into the drive-thru lane and jumped up and down on the plastic hose that rang the bell.  "Ding".  And a sweet little lady who looked like she had worked there since 1952 came and took my order.

I went with a simple cheeseburger, fries and a drink and waited to hear her yell "47".  While I waited, I moved my car under the awning.  It was then that I noticed the chicken place next door - Pollos Asados Rio Grande. There was one guy, in his truck eating at Watt's when I arrived.  I was there 15-20 minutes.  One car went thru the drive-thru.  That's 3 sales in 20 minutes.  Granted, it was an odd time of day 3:30-4:00, but this was not a flourishing business.  In the time I was at Watt's there was a steady stream of cars in Rio Grande's drive-thru and people inside.  At least 20 folks.  I likely made the wrong choice (so I ended up having chicken, too.)

After about ten minutes, my number was called and I took my bag to the car.  There was a copious amount of fries, but I'm pretty sure they were frozen Ore-Ida Golden Crinkles.   Then I opened the burger.  The first thing I thought was, "that thing is huge".  So I took this photo for perspective. 

When I took the first bite, I realized the best thing about it was the size.  It really wasn't that good.  So I put 3/4of the burgers and fries in the bag, walked around to the trash can and headed next door.

Watts-Burger on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Red Eyed Mule, Marietta, GA (March 31, 2012)

While running some errands one Saturday and looking for food, I remembered that there had been a couple of places with Marietta addresses in this month's "Cheap Eats" article in Atlanta Magazine.  A quick Google search from the USPS parking lot and the choice was made - the Red Eyed Mule.  I knew we were arriving right at the cusp of breakfast v. lunch and figured we could both get something there.  It was then that I saw that Alton Brown had named their Sloppy Slaw Burger on the "Messy" episode of the Best Thing I Ever Ate, and I knew that I would be having lunch. 

Their burger promise was simple: "We specialize in Black Angus Ground Chuck burgers. Our beef is fresh, never frozen as we hand pat our burgers everyday.  All of our burgers are 6 ounces of black angus ground chuck served on buttered and grilled Texas Toast.  All burgers are cooked to order and custom built with the toppings you want."  Sounds like a good plan to me.

Located just off US41, on the Church Street Extension, as we pulled up I saw Come-N-Get It next door. I had been told by a couple of guys in my Journey group about Come-N-Get It, but no one had mentioned the Mule.  From the street, it is a simple brick building with an open sign in the window and a Christmas wreath still on the door. 

We walked in, counter and grill to our left, a couple of tables and fountain machine to our right and more tables straight ahead.  We grabbed menus and walked up to the Order Here sign and placed ours.  Jo, at the last minute, switched from breakfast (which they were just finishing up serving) to Alton's recommendation, the Sloppy Slaw Burger.  I went with the 'Lil Jake (basically a Sloppy Slaw sans slaw).  Order placed, we filled our drinks and went to one of the tables in the seating area.   

About twenty minutes passed and the whole time a couple, who appeared to be the owners, were walking around table-to-table, asking questions and chatting.   Then my name was called and the burgers arrived.

My burger was served on buttered, grilled Texas toast, covered in a very thin layer of Sloppy Jim sauce (a lot more like chili than the Manwich sauce with which I grew up), covered with cheese and mayo.   The fries were good, but not great.  The burger, on the other hand was very good. 
Jo's slaw burger looked tasty from across the table, but I couldn't get my mind around the idea of slaw on a burger (as slaw is real close to the top of the things-I-don't-think-I'll-ever-like list), but when she decided she was done, with a quarter of a burger left on the plate, I gave it a try. 
It turned out to be amazingly tasty.  Kind of sweet.  And crunchy.  I'd definitely have another burger, but likely avoid either "sloppy" version.
Open Monday - Friday from 6 to 2 and Saturday 7 to 2, it's not a dinner place.   But I'll be going back for lunch.  And probably for breakfast, too.

The Red Eyed Mule on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub - Atlanta, GA (March 2012)

One of the greatest opportunities / challenges to living in Atlanta is the sheer number of restaurants.   Finding a new restaurant.  Deciding if tonight is the night to try something new or whether you want to go to some place again that you've been before.  But the biggest challenge is hearing about the new restaurants.  There are a number of great apps that I use to find places:

These apps, along with print and web sources, primarily those from Atlanta Magazine, help me to find new spots.  We're blessed in Atlanta to have a vibrant magazine that appeals to foodies.  The "A-List" section is the genesis of their app above.  It has provided me with lists, like:
  • Atlanta' 100 Best Restaurants
  • Cheap Eats (these two have been in paper form in my trunk for three or four years - they do reside in a sealed plastic envelope to protect them from the elements <g>)
  • Atlanta's Best Barbecue (June 2011);
  • The City's Best 50 Best Restaurants (August 2011) - you can see my attempts to conquer these two lists here; and, most recently,
  • Eat Cheap (March 2012).

The new Eat Cheap gave me the heads up on three new burger joints that weren't previously on my radar: Seed Kitchen & Bar in Marietta and Kevin Rathbun Steak and Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub in Atlanta.

So, when driving near Buckhead on a weekend afternoon, I took the chance to swing into Kaleidoscope.
The place was fairly packed, but there was a seat available at the bar, so I grabbed a stool, ordered a Diet Coke and took a look at the menu.  The first that that I noticed was that the chef was a fan of duck fat - the fries were battered in it and the mayo was made with it. 
I ordered the double Kaleidoscope burger - slaw, pimiento cheese, green tomato chow-chow, pierced on a skewer with a bread and butter pickle).  The burger was offered as either a double or single 4 oz. patty.  When I think of a 4 oz. patty, I expect a flat thin burger.   When this one came out, it was surprising in its smaller diameter and thickness.  And this was some seriously good pimiento cheese.   When I commented on the quality of the PC to the bartender,  he said that the signature burger had recently won Burger Battle of the Highlands and part of the reason was a change in the pimiento cheese recipe - the addition of duck fat mayo and bacon.  How can you make ANYTHING worse by adding bacon?  I was given two choices for the way I wanted my burger: brown (medium well) or pink (medium rare).
I went with pink.   This was a very good burger.  The kind that if I was nearby, I'd make the decision to go there and have one again.  And the single is more than enough burger for one.  But I'd have a double, again.   Unless I decided to have the pimiento cheese app, followed by a single Kaleidoscope burger.  Decision, decisions, decisions...
Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Collegiate Grill (Gainesville, GA) - May, 2011

When I first downloaded the Hamburger America app last summer, the first thing I did was look at the choices in my hometown.  About 50 miles north of the city, this green flag was sitting there in Gainesville.  When I clicked on the flag, it opened on the Collegiate Grill.  Then I remembered reading about the Collegiate in a USA Today article last summer:

"Georgia Brown opened the historic Collegiate Grill in 1947 in downtown Gainesville.  Customers enjoy freshly prepared burgers, dogs and shakes in a 1940s setting.  The black-and-white checkered floors, red vinyl booths and counter seating make the experience even more memorable"
One Friday morning it was quiet in the office and none of my "lunch crowd" was around that day, so I made the 45 minute drive to Gainesville.  Arriving just off the square, shortly after noon, I went in and took a seat at the counter. 

After perusing the menu, I was faced with a dilemna:  Burger?  Or chili dog?  Burger?  Or chili dog?  Burger?  Or chili dog?  How could you choose between the two? 
Exercising the wisdom of Solomon, I decided on one of each, no fries (that was my concession to my "eat-better-live-better" mantra).  The burger was definitely good.  The child dog the same.  Overall, a worthwhile lunch adventure.  Not as culinarily lucrative as the other trip to Gainesville, a month earlier, but worthwhile, none the less. 

As I was walking back to the car, fairly full, I saw a window sign that caught my eye.   Anyone brave enough to  open a hot dog restaurant deserves a try.  So I went in and had a chili dog.  The one at the Collegiate was much better.  I'd be surprised if Deep South Dogs is still open...

Boardwalk Burgers, Atlanta, GA (February, 2012)

While heading to a Thursday night jam down at the Red Light Cafe, I noticed a new burger place had opened in Ansley Mall - Boardwalk Burgers.  It turns out that it is a new franchise location for which, according to the sign on the wall and their web site, the concept was started by two brothers, walking on the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD, who were reminiscing about their childhood visits to the boardwalk for the fresh-cut fries.   The fries are cooked multiple times at different temperatures then lightly salted and served hot.   By 1987, they had franchises across the country and decided to make a burger to go with it. 

The interior was fairly standard (fast-food-like), with counter service from which you ordered one of their Signature burgers (Bacon Bleu, Mushroom Swiss, BBQ Bacon Cheddar) or you can design your own.  They do also have dogs, chicken sandwiches and a veggie burger on the menu. 
I went with the BBQ Bacon Cheddar.   And their "World Famous Boardwalk Fries".   (I was tempted to ask for the international accolades which had been lauded upon them, but Shaniqua did not appear to be in the mood to share those).
It was good.   It beat a chain burger from Wendy's or Burger King or McDonald's or .....   But it wasn't a "top-tier" chain like In-N-Out or Five Guys or....

If I was in the neighborhood, I'd eat there, but I wouldn't make the drive.  And I'd have a hard time, being that close to 5 Napkin Burger to choose Boardwalk, if I had the time for not-so-fast-but-far-superior food.
Boardwalk Fresh Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon