Is there still room on the burger bandwagon in Atlanta?
Invariably, as a food trend becomes a “boom” of any sort (pizza, farm-to-table, tapas, etc.) the bar will rise, as will skepticism. Once upon a time, a few years back, one would have to search Atlanta far and wide to find a burger with from-scratch buns, house made condiments, and atypically high grade beef patties. You might find SOME of those things in a single burger, but very rarely would you find all of them.
Nowadays? If you expect your burger joint to stand out, you’d better bring your A-game. Sure, we’ve had some fantastic hometown burger staples that far outdate the current burger craze (The Vortex, amongst others, comes to mind) but the options for a burger worth driving across town for aren’t as far and few between as they used to be. Part market saturation and part snarky cynicism, the opening of another new burger joint has almost become a punch line. So, at this point, if you are the new kid on the block then you better crank out a burger that will make us stand up and beg for buttermilk, or you might be in trouble.
This leads me to another tangent: Aren’t we all getting just a little too worked up over the burger thing? I love a good burger, but it takes a lot for even the best hamburger to transcend its burger-ness to become something more. Just sayin’.
This brings us to the newest entry in to the Atlanta burger battle-royale: Decatur’s Farm Burger.
For those that have not heard the hype, of which there was a considerable amount when they opened in late April, Farm Burger’s whole shtick is locally sourced, dry-aged, grass-fed beef. That’s right…they are not just sticking their neck out by joining the burger craze, they are double majoring in farm-to-table as well. All they need to do now is to start serving small-plates of perfectly charred pizza out of the back of a food truck featuring offal and house made-charcuterie, and they will have all of the trendy bases covered.
Ok guys, I got in my cheap shots. But this isn’t an essay about over-played food trends in Atlanta…this is about the food. If the burger is good, market saturation and trendiness don’t mean a damn thing.
My lunch companion and I started things off with the pickled eggs.
I enjoyed these…the colorful brine is very light and adds some nice flavor. So light in fact, that this pretty much tastes likes a hardboiled egg. My personal taste would have been for more “pickled” in this, but they weren’t my pick off the “snacks” section of the menu. Mostly because I just don’t get that excited about boiled eggs. But if you like them, you should definitely try these. And they’re pretty.
There were numerous other sides that I was dying to try, such as the seasonal pickles, fried chicken livers, or chicken croquettes, but there is only one side that you can have with a burger. Ok…I take that back….there are two….fries and onion rings.
Technically, this is an order of the “rings n’ fries”, served with a smoked paprika mayonnaise. I point that out only because, upon re-reading the menu, I’ve noticed that there is no mention of the garlic, herbs, and parmesan that comes with the full order of fries. So, now I don’t know if that was all left off of my food by accident, or purposefully left off the menu. Either way, the fries were good…nothing revelatory, but nothing to complain about.
I was impressed, however, with the onion rings. The beer batter was crispy, and you could actually bite through the ring without pulling all of the onion out of the batter. Though, as I mentioned to my friend, however lowbrow it may make me, all onion rings that I eat will forever be compared with the Varsity’s. I grew up on them and, for better or worse, they are the golden standard which all rings must meet. And most are found wanting. But these were definitely respectable, and better than most. The smoked paprika mayonnaise made for a good accompaniment to both the rings and the fries.
It is finally time for the burger.
There are two camps of diners that I’ve noticed through the burger/pizza craze, and it all comes down to the first dish that you try. Do you start with the Margherita pie, or the toppings combo you don’t see everywhere else? Would you like a cheeseburger with tomato and lettuce, or do you want a slab of pork belly on that instead?
I’m not a Margherita guy. And I’m not going to start with the classic Farm Burger (white cheddar, caramelized onions, and FB sauce) when the No. 5 is on the menu. Yes, you can make the argument that without a common denominator I can’t make a fair apples-to-apples comparison between the burger places, and decide whose burger reigns supreme. But I don’t care. I’m not in this to decide my “top 5’s” of anything. I’m in this to enjoy myself as much as possible.
The No. 5 is topped with a slice of braised pork belly, beer-battered onion rings, pickled jalapeños, and BBQ sauce. Whoa Nelly.
Some would argue that pork belly is just another overplayed food trend. And they could probably argue that I’m a hypocrite for not making snarky comments about that. Well, it is another fad and I don’t give a rat’s ass. That is one trend that I will ride right over the shark tank and into my early grave. Because it makes everything better.
The biggest complaint that I’ve read about Farm Burger is that they don’t give you the option of deciding on the doneness of your burger…everything is cooked to medium (though if it is undercooked, they will throw it back on the grill for you). If you want it medium-rare, then you are S-O-L. This has become an issue for some patrons when they overshoot on medium and serve up medium-well or well done. And people are right to get pissed when that happens to them. I know I would be.
But it didn’t happen to me on this day, and my burger was cooked to a perfect juicy medium. And you can really taste the quality of the beef. This was a damn tasty burger patty. More importantly, the pickled jalapeños and braised pork belly took this to another level. The pork belly was fork tender and had a great crust on it that imbued a fistful of flavor.
Is this second coming of the burger? Will it completely scramble your brain and force you to reevaluate everything that you thought a burger could be?
But they still make a damn good burger, the restaurant has a good vibe, and they take pride in the ingredients that they use. I can’t argue with that.
I doubt I would make the trek from Buckhead to Decatur just to get a good “classic” burger. But with the yet-to-be-sampled toppings such as onion marmalade, roasted bone marrow, brisket chili, and oxtail marmalade, you can bet that I’ll be coming back.
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