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First Look: Braves All Star Grill

The Atlanta baseball-themed sports bar serves up stadium-inspired grub Downtown

Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" automatically plays in my head upon entering the Braves All Star Grill located Downtown on Peachtree Street. Near the entrance there's a glassed display re-creating the locker stalls of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. It's all there: jerseys, cleats, gloves, caps, all neatly arranged and artfully lit for an optimal photo op. The interior feels like an old ballpark with red brick and steel girders. It is packed with plenty of Braves memorabilia, most of it celebrating that extraordinary 1990s stretch — a Javy Lopez ball, a Ryan Klesko jersey, Fred McGriff's '94 All-Star MVP trophy!

Though just two months old, the restaurant hearkens back to those World Series days. It puts on a glitzy show for out-of-towners, just like neighboring Hooters and Hard Rock Cafe. The menu is full of stadium-inspired grub, many featuring a chef-y twist like caramelized peaches tossed in a salad or a fried egg on the burger. A roster of more refined but easy-going entrées such as cedar plank salmon and smoked beef brisket, plus an extensive spirits and beer selection complement all the sports bar classics and ballpark snacks.

Inside, the baseball theme is driven home throughout. There are tableside pails of caramel popcorn. There's a gift shop for foam tomahawk purchases and museum-caliber artwork on the walls amid the 27 TVs airing every sport imaginable. There's even a pitching cage where five bucks buys five balls to hurl past the radar gun.

Three different staffers recommended the Ultimate Cheese Burger ($15) as the kitchen's signature item. The perfectly fine Angus patty is topped with blue cheese, cheddar, candied bacon, fried onion straws, and the house sweet-meets-heat Hotlanta sauce, all served on a brioche bun that has the restaurant logo actually branded into the bread.

The humble ballpark hot dog also gets an upgrade. The foot-long Braves dog ($12) is the top seller both Downtown and at the restaurant's original location on Hartsfield-Jackson's Concourse D. The beef frank is loaded with cheese, onions, relish, slaw, and jalapeños — like you'd find at the Ted — but also doused with homemade brisket chili. The jalapeño corn dog, a cheese-studded sausage encased in spicy cornbread and fried, was tasty, but has since been removed from the menu as the restaurant continues to tweak its lineup.


Longtime locals will note the influence of parent company Goldbergs Group, you know, of Goldbergs Deli. The menu is peppered with favorites like a New York Reuben and grilled cheese on challah, as well as mashups like a smoked salmon/potato pancake appetizer and egg rolls stuffed with corned beef.

The entrées can be hit and miss. Beer can chicken ($17) was overly smoky and had rubbery skin. On the other hand, the al dente orecchiette mac and cheese ($19) tossed with Asiago cheese and meaty hunks of Maine lobster was delightful.

The bar menu features a dozen drafts plus a wide variety of bottled brews, wines, baseball-themed cocktails, and even a $79 bottle of champagne. For a unique beer experience, try the 96-ounce pour-your-own beer tower full of Tomahawk Ale, a draft you can only get here or inside Turner Field.

Seating can be tricky during sports games, Braves or otherwise, as the Hawks' recent playoff run proved. And there's often a lunch rush, thanks to the influx of nearby office workers and Downtown tourists. If Braves All Star Grill is your destination, consider making reservations or visiting on a slow sports night. There is an $8.99 express lunch menu Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and weekend brunch is also an option 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Expect standards like wings and pulled pork sandwiches with the former, classic eggs Benedict, aka Braves Benedict ($10), buttermilk pancakes ($6), and bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys ($10) at the latter. Because it's Downtown, parking can be a headache. The restaurant offers $5 validation, but only if you park in one specific lot between Fairlie and Cone streets.

Between families on their way to a game, weekday lunchers, and game-watchers filling the quirky, stadium-seat barstools, the Braves All Star Grill is exactly what it needs to be: festive and approachable. Come 2017, this will be the team's only presence left in Atlanta proper. The prices feel a tad elevated, but they're on par with the other restaurants along that stretch of Peachtree. For a party of four to dine and drink, plan on surpassing $100 with tip, and that's before shelling out some dough at the pitching cage. Hey, a fun night at the ballpark doesn't come cheap.



More By This Writer

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  string(6818) "image-1The morning I went to interview Melissa Cookston, her day had begun discovering a potential catastrophe. Despite the fact that it was still several months away, Cookston was sweating her daughter’s high school graduation. She wasn’t worried about whether her daughter would graduate. What had her nervous was the planned date of the ceremony, and whether it would fall on the same weekend as Memphis in May, the most prestigious barbecue contest on the planet. Not the kind of scheduling snafu that would panic most mothers, but most mothers aren’t nicknamed "the Winningest Woman in Barbecue." The thought of having to choose between the biggest competition on the circuit and her little girl’s commencement was weighing heavily, even though she already knew what her decision would be. “How bad a mom would I be?" she said. "I mean, c’mon. You know which one I’d have to miss...”
?     
?     Cookston is a three-time world champion in the realm of competitive barbecue. Also known as “the Whole Hog Queen,” she’s the only woman ever to be crowned Grand Champion at Memphis in May. And she’s done it twice. Cookston has parlayed that success into multiple TV appearances, a cookbook called Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room, and Memphis Barbecue Co. (4764 Ashford Dunwoody Road, 770-394-7427. memphisbbqco.com), her own chain of three restaurants, the newest of which opened in Dunwoody last year. “We flew under the radar for that first year,” she recalls. “No PR. No grand opening, even. I wanted to fine-tune the food and the front-of-house first. They’re equally important to me. I’m from Mississippi; we do hospitality right. ‘Yes ma’am, yes sir.’ We’re nice, dammit.”
? 
?  ?jump??      
?     After attending her first competition as a spectator she, "looked around and said, ‘I like this. I could win one of these.'” She and her husband quit their restaurant jobs to travel the competition circuit full-time. “There were a lot of days where a tuna fish sandwich was breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” she recalls. “But then we started winning.” Winning, indeed. She earned over $250,000 in prize money in 2010 — what she calls her “Cinderella" year but estimates she spent almost that much just to live on the circuit doing it.
?     
?     You can taste Cookston’s Delta roots come through when you eat at her Dunwoody restaurant even though she says she had to tame her competition ‘cue just slightly for the masses. “In a Memphis-style barbecue contest, you send your best piece of meat, whatever it is, to the judges ... trying to blow them away with one bite. You have to amp up the flavor of that one single bite. It’s way more intense than you would ever serve in a restaurant or in your backyard.”
?       
?       But that’s not to say Cookston's competition techniques can’t help you dramatically kick up your cookout game beyond burgers and hot dogs this tailgating season. 
?     
?         
?          image-3
?     If investing in a 12-pound beef brisket feels a little intimidating, Cookston recommends starting with pork butt. “It’s an easy stepping stone into barbecue." Doing chicken? Cook halved birds like she serves in her restaurants instead of individual parts, she says. They retain moisture better and look impressive on the plate.
?       
?     Regardless of what protein you pick, Cookston suggests starting simple. Beginners should focus on the rub, first. "Your rub is your flavor," she says. "It’s your base. It’s the central point to barbecue.” She spent two years developing hers completely from scratch (not realizing that in a contest, most competitors take a store-bought blend, add one or two ingredients to it, and call it “theirs”), and she uses it as an all-purpose seasoning for everything.
?       
?     In addition to her rub, Cookston often adds a healthy squirt of yellow mustard and massages it all in. “The mustard is like a glue that holds the rub to the meat and gets it into the pores," she says. "It won’t taste mustardy at all, but it does give you a nice little extra tang from the vinegar.”
?       
?       Whether you’re presenting your barbecue to persnickety judges or to hungry friends and family, some added attention after cooking will earn your ‘cue rave reviews, Cookston says. She likes to use a glaze, a sauce with a sweet component, usually honey, in the last five or ten minutes of cooking, or just before serving on a larger cut of meat that’s already resting. A last-second sprinkle of rub will help the flavors pop, too.
?       
?     “Personally, I don’t care about sauce," Cookston says. "The flavor should be there even without sauce. I want it to taste good the way it comes out. Adding sauce ought to be a personal thing.”
?       
?       As for the smokiness that sets true barbecuing apart from mere grilling, Cookston exercises restraint. “Lean toward fruitwoods: peach, apple, cherry. Don’t be afraid to blend woods to change up the flavor profile. Go easy with hickory. It’s strong. And just stay away from mesquite.” Smoke is an ingredient, she says. “It’s like salt. It should accentuate the meat, not overpower it. Don’t keep adding more and more thinking it’ll improve the taste.”
?       
?       Ultimately, Melissa says to chill out about getting barbecue “right.” Barbecue is supposed to be stress-free. Most things you barbecue take a long time to cook, so you have lots of time to sit around and drink and talk. Use your oven on a low setting to hold a foil-wrapped cut of barbecued meat until you’re ready to serve. “Or," she says, "wrap that pork butt in a towel and stick it in a small cooler. The pros all let their meat rest like that before judging and really, it makes for a juicier product.” If your meat is slightly overcooked, she says, hit it with some sauce. If it’s not done exactly on time, let it cook a bit longer. “Your momma will wait an hour. Just relax.” Cookston says.
?     
?       The barbecue gods must have also put in a good word for Melissa with the calendar gods. Come spring, she now has plans to watch that same daughter receive her high school diploma… the weekend after Memphis in May, where she’ll attempt to win her third Grand Championship. “You gotta love what you do. But sometimes, the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
?      
?      MELISSA COOKSTON’S QUICK AND EASY BBQ RUB
?       ½ cup turbinado sugar (brown sugar may be substituted)
?       2 tablespoons salt
?       2 tablespoons granulated garlic
?       1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
?       1 teaspoon cumin
?       2 teaspoons black pepper (can add more if using on beef)
?       4 tablespoons light chili powder
?       2 tablespoons paprika
?       image-2
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?     
?     Cookston is a three-time world champion in the realm of competitive barbecue. Also known as “the Whole Hog Queen,” she’s the only woman ever to be crowned Grand Champion at Memphis in May. And she’s done it twice. Cookston has parlayed that success into multiple TV appearances, a cookbook called ''[http://www.amazon.com/Smokin-Boys-Room-Southern-Winningest/dp/144944198X|Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room]'', and __Memphis Barbecue Co.__ (4764 Ashford Dunwoody Road, 770-394-7427. [http://memphisbbqco.com/|memphisbbqco.com]), her own chain of three restaurants, the newest of which opened in Dunwoody last year. “We flew under the radar for that first year,” she recalls. “No PR. No grand opening, even. I wanted to fine-tune the food and the front-of-house first. They’re equally important to me. I’m from Mississippi; we do hospitality right. ‘Yes ma’am, yes sir.’ We’re nice, dammit.”
? 
?  ?[jump]??      
?     After attending her first competition as a spectator she, "looked around and said, ‘I like this. I could win one of these.'” She and her husband quit their restaurant jobs to travel the competition circuit full-time. “There were a lot of days where a tuna fish sandwich was breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” she recalls. “But then we started winning.” Winning, indeed. She earned over $250,000 in prize money in 2010 — what she calls her “Cinderella" year but estimates she spent almost that much just to live on the circuit doing it.
?     
?     You can taste Cookston’s Delta roots come through when you eat at her Dunwoody restaurant even though she says she had to tame her competition ‘cue just slightly for the masses. “In a Memphis-style barbecue contest, you send your best piece of meat, whatever it is, to the judges ... trying to blow them away with one bite. You have to amp up the flavor of that one single bite. It’s way more intense than you would ever serve in a restaurant or in your backyard.”
?       
?       But that’s not to say Cookston's competition techniques can’t help you dramatically kick up your cookout game beyond burgers and hot dogs this tailgating season. 
?     
?         
?          [image-3]
?     If investing in a 12-pound beef brisket feels a little intimidating, Cookston recommends starting with pork butt. “It’s an easy stepping stone into barbecue." Doing chicken? Cook halved birds like she serves in her restaurants instead of individual parts, she says. They retain moisture better and look impressive on the plate.
?       
?     Regardless of what protein you pick, Cookston suggests starting simple. Beginners should focus on the rub, first. "Your rub is your flavor," she says. "It’s your base. It’s the central point to barbecue.” She spent two years developing hers completely from scratch (not realizing that in a contest, most competitors take a store-bought blend, add one or two ingredients to it, and call it “theirs”), and she uses it as an all-purpose seasoning for everything.
?       
?     In addition to her rub, Cookston often adds a healthy squirt of yellow mustard and massages it all in. “The mustard is like a glue that holds the rub to the meat and gets it into the pores," she says. "It won’t taste mustardy at all, but it does give you a nice little extra tang from the vinegar.”
?       
?       Whether you’re presenting your barbecue to persnickety judges or to hungry friends and family, some added attention after cooking will earn your ‘cue rave reviews, Cookston says. She likes to use a glaze, a sauce with a sweet component, usually honey, in the last five or ten minutes of cooking, or just before serving on a larger cut of meat that’s already resting. A last-second sprinkle of rub will help the flavors pop, too.
?       
?     “Personally, I don’t care about sauce," Cookston says. "The flavor should be there even without sauce. I want it to taste good the way it comes out. Adding sauce ought to be a personal thing.”
?       
?       As for the smokiness that sets true barbecuing apart from mere grilling, Cookston exercises restraint. “Lean toward fruitwoods: peach, apple, cherry. Don’t be afraid to blend woods to change up the flavor profile. Go easy with hickory. It’s strong. And just stay away from mesquite.” Smoke is an ingredient, she says. “It’s like salt. It should accentuate the meat, not overpower it. Don’t keep adding more and more thinking it’ll improve the taste.”
?       
?       Ultimately, Melissa says to chill out about getting barbecue “right.” Barbecue is supposed to be stress-free. Most things you barbecue take a long time to cook, so you have lots of time to sit around and drink and talk. Use your oven on a low setting to hold a foil-wrapped cut of barbecued meat until you’re ready to serve. “Or," she says, "wrap that pork butt in a towel and stick it in a small cooler. The pros all let their meat rest like that before judging and really, it makes for a juicier product.” If your meat is slightly overcooked, she says, hit it with some sauce. If it’s not done exactly on time, let it cook a bit longer. “Your momma will wait an hour. Just relax.” Cookston says.
?     
?       The barbecue gods must have also put in a good word for Melissa with the calendar gods. Come spring, she now has plans to watch that same daughter receive her high school diploma… the weekend ''after'' Memphis in May, where she’ll attempt to win her third Grand Championship. “You gotta love what you do. But sometimes, the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
?      
?    __  MELISSA COOKSTON’S QUICK AND EASY BBQ RUB__
?       ½ cup turbinado sugar (brown sugar may be substituted)
?       2 tablespoons salt
?       2 tablespoons granulated garlic
?       1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
?       1 teaspoon cumin
?       2 teaspoons black pepper (can add more if using on beef)
?       4 tablespoons light chili powder
?       2 tablespoons paprika
?       [image-2]
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  string(7074) "       2015-10-27T16:01:00+00:00 Omnivore - Barbecue tips from world champ Melissa Cookston   Todd Brock 12184336 2015-10-27T16:01:00+00:00  image-1The morning I went to interview Melissa Cookston, her day had begun discovering a potential catastrophe. Despite the fact that it was still several months away, Cookston was sweating her daughter’s high school graduation. She wasn’t worried about whether her daughter would graduate. What had her nervous was the planned date of the ceremony, and whether it would fall on the same weekend as Memphis in May, the most prestigious barbecue contest on the planet. Not the kind of scheduling snafu that would panic most mothers, but most mothers aren’t nicknamed "the Winningest Woman in Barbecue." The thought of having to choose between the biggest competition on the circuit and her little girl’s commencement was weighing heavily, even though she already knew what her decision would be. “How bad a mom would I be?" she said. "I mean, c’mon. You know which one I’d have to miss...”
?     
?     Cookston is a three-time world champion in the realm of competitive barbecue. Also known as “the Whole Hog Queen,” she’s the only woman ever to be crowned Grand Champion at Memphis in May. And she’s done it twice. Cookston has parlayed that success into multiple TV appearances, a cookbook called Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room, and Memphis Barbecue Co. (4764 Ashford Dunwoody Road, 770-394-7427. memphisbbqco.com), her own chain of three restaurants, the newest of which opened in Dunwoody last year. “We flew under the radar for that first year,” she recalls. “No PR. No grand opening, even. I wanted to fine-tune the food and the front-of-house first. They’re equally important to me. I’m from Mississippi; we do hospitality right. ‘Yes ma’am, yes sir.’ We’re nice, dammit.”
? 
?  ?jump??      
?     After attending her first competition as a spectator she, "looked around and said, ‘I like this. I could win one of these.'” She and her husband quit their restaurant jobs to travel the competition circuit full-time. “There were a lot of days where a tuna fish sandwich was breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” she recalls. “But then we started winning.” Winning, indeed. She earned over $250,000 in prize money in 2010 — what she calls her “Cinderella" year but estimates she spent almost that much just to live on the circuit doing it.
?     
?     You can taste Cookston’s Delta roots come through when you eat at her Dunwoody restaurant even though she says she had to tame her competition ‘cue just slightly for the masses. “In a Memphis-style barbecue contest, you send your best piece of meat, whatever it is, to the judges ... trying to blow them away with one bite. You have to amp up the flavor of that one single bite. It’s way more intense than you would ever serve in a restaurant or in your backyard.”
?       
?       But that’s not to say Cookston's competition techniques can’t help you dramatically kick up your cookout game beyond burgers and hot dogs this tailgating season. 
?     
?         
?          image-3
?     If investing in a 12-pound beef brisket feels a little intimidating, Cookston recommends starting with pork butt. “It’s an easy stepping stone into barbecue." Doing chicken? Cook halved birds like she serves in her restaurants instead of individual parts, she says. They retain moisture better and look impressive on the plate.
?       
?     Regardless of what protein you pick, Cookston suggests starting simple. Beginners should focus on the rub, first. "Your rub is your flavor," she says. "It’s your base. It’s the central point to barbecue.” She spent two years developing hers completely from scratch (not realizing that in a contest, most competitors take a store-bought blend, add one or two ingredients to it, and call it “theirs”), and she uses it as an all-purpose seasoning for everything.
?       
?     In addition to her rub, Cookston often adds a healthy squirt of yellow mustard and massages it all in. “The mustard is like a glue that holds the rub to the meat and gets it into the pores," she says. "It won’t taste mustardy at all, but it does give you a nice little extra tang from the vinegar.”
?       
?       Whether you’re presenting your barbecue to persnickety judges or to hungry friends and family, some added attention after cooking will earn your ‘cue rave reviews, Cookston says. She likes to use a glaze, a sauce with a sweet component, usually honey, in the last five or ten minutes of cooking, or just before serving on a larger cut of meat that’s already resting. A last-second sprinkle of rub will help the flavors pop, too.
?       
?     “Personally, I don’t care about sauce," Cookston says. "The flavor should be there even without sauce. I want it to taste good the way it comes out. Adding sauce ought to be a personal thing.”
?       
?       As for the smokiness that sets true barbecuing apart from mere grilling, Cookston exercises restraint. “Lean toward fruitwoods: peach, apple, cherry. Don’t be afraid to blend woods to change up the flavor profile. Go easy with hickory. It’s strong. And just stay away from mesquite.” Smoke is an ingredient, she says. “It’s like salt. It should accentuate the meat, not overpower it. Don’t keep adding more and more thinking it’ll improve the taste.”
?       
?       Ultimately, Melissa says to chill out about getting barbecue “right.” Barbecue is supposed to be stress-free. Most things you barbecue take a long time to cook, so you have lots of time to sit around and drink and talk. Use your oven on a low setting to hold a foil-wrapped cut of barbecued meat until you’re ready to serve. “Or," she says, "wrap that pork butt in a towel and stick it in a small cooler. The pros all let their meat rest like that before judging and really, it makes for a juicier product.” If your meat is slightly overcooked, she says, hit it with some sauce. If it’s not done exactly on time, let it cook a bit longer. “Your momma will wait an hour. Just relax.” Cookston says.
?     
?       The barbecue gods must have also put in a good word for Melissa with the calendar gods. Come spring, she now has plans to watch that same daughter receive her high school diploma… the weekend after Memphis in May, where she’ll attempt to win her third Grand Championship. “You gotta love what you do. But sometimes, the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
?      
?      MELISSA COOKSTON’S QUICK AND EASY BBQ RUB
?       ½ cup turbinado sugar (brown sugar may be substituted)
?       2 tablespoons salt
?       2 tablespoons granulated garlic
?       1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
?       1 teaspoon cumin
?       2 teaspoons black pepper (can add more if using on beef)
?       4 tablespoons light chili powder
?       2 tablespoons paprika
?       image-2
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Tuesday October 27, 2015 12:01 pm EDT
image-1The morning I went to interview Melissa Cookston, her day had begun discovering a potential catastrophe. Despite the fact that it was still several months away, Cookston was sweating her daughter’s high school graduation. She wasn’t worried about whether her daughter would graduate. What had her nervous was the planned date of the ceremony, and whether it would fall on the same weekend... | more...
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  string(4943) "For meat lovers in this town, there's a mix of cautious optimism and guarded skepticism every time a new barbecue spot opens its doors: Will it be the real deal worthy of a mention among the city's true elite, or just a mediocre bandwagon-jumper?

One block from Centennial Olympic Park is where you'll find one relative newcomer: Twin Smokers BBQ. The four-month-old restaurant is the latest from the folks behind Der Biergarten and Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria, proven breadwinners nearby. It's likely Twin Smokers will follow suit, making its mark with often excellent 'cue that's worth a trip Downtown.

The restaurant takes its name from two behemoth Oyler pit smokers, named Matthew and Elizabeth after owner David Marvin's kids. Each of "the Twins," as they're called, hold up to 1,000 pounds of food on 18 revolving racks. Picture a large Ferris wheel setup, but with meat. All of proteins here — beef brisket, pork, chicken, sausage, and both beef and pork ribs — are cooked in one of the flaming red smokers the night before they're served. Each rig is dedicated to its own type of wood and cooks only the meat best complemented by that kind of smoke. Elizabeth cooks pork and chicken over white oak and hickory; Matthew handles the beef and sausage with more assertive mesquite and post oak.

The 4,000-square-foot space has a modern, loft-like feel, but with folky twists such as exposed brick, reclaimed lumber, corrugated tin, and vintage-y, Edison-style lighting. A center island doubles as the bar stocked with more than 40 beers and an extensive selection of bourbon, whiskey, and moonshine on one side, and the restaurant's carving station on the other.

image-1image-2
The carving station is where you'll approach the Cutter, a burly, cleaver-wielding staffer charged with chopping, hacking, and slicing huge slabs of tender, smoky meat and assembling your meal to order. Not just for show, the Cutter can also answer questions and help you customize your order. Do you like your brisket lean, with almost no fat? Want extra bark? Need a small sample of something that catches your eye to help you decide? Just ask. Work your way down the line, then place your final order with the cashier.

Pay, take your table marker, and seat yourself at one of 20 or so dark wood tables or at the bar. They'll deliver your order within a few minutes — just enough time for you to take the obligatory stroll past the Twins and the restaurant's "wood library," a floor-to-ceiling display rack of the four wood types used in the smokers.

Patak sausage ($10 for two links with two sides) from less than 20 miles up the road in Austell, Ga., has a light, fluffy interior that may surprise, with subtle spice and exceptional smokiness all the way through. The Black Angus brisket ($14) from Kansas City's Creekstone Farm is thickly sliced, dense, and chewy, with almost no fat whatsoever.

A single dinosaur beef rib ($29) may sound gimmicky, but weighing in at around two-thirds of a pound and nearly a foot long, this is the order that causes heads to turn and camera phones to come out when it hits the table. It's a crusty, juicy, messy-as-hell masterpiece that belongs on your gastronomical bucket list. But remember, only a half-dozen or so are prepped daily. During one visit, the pork ribs ($30/full slab) were on the fatty side, and not nearly as wow-worthy as the "Texas-style" meats from the beef and sausage smoker. This may be where you reach for one of six house-made sauces to liven things up: North Carolina is vinegar-based, South Carolina is mustard-based, Memphis is sweet and tangy, Texas is spicy, Kansas City is thick, sweet, and spicy, and the House sauce aims for a sweet and Southern flavor.

image-3
Sandwiches come with one side, and plates come with two. Expect the usual suspects like collards and coleslaw. The highlights are the creamy mac and cheese, pinto beans that lean more toward Tex-Mex with onions, cilantro, and lime juice rather than molasses-heavy backyard-barbecue-style, and a stellar burnt ends chili that could be a fully-satisfying meal on its own. Save room for the parfait-like banana pudding ($3), unusual with its white color and foamy texture.

Barbecue seems like it should be a cheap eat, but despite its simple, down-home reputation, meat, by nature, is expensive stuff. And cooking it low and slow like you're supposed to is labor- and time-intensive. A basic lunch at Twin Smokers consisting of a brisket plate, one side, and a sweet tea — not a gut-buster meal by any stretch — hovers around $17 before tip. Throw in a cocktail or milk shake, and it's easily over $25 a head. But that's in line with prices at Fox Bros., Heirloom Market, and others. With a primo piece of real estate, Twin Smokers will do well with tourists, conventioneers, and the local workforce during lunch hour. The real trick will be luring locals Downtown for barbecue when so many other options exist."
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  string(4993) "For meat lovers in this town, there's a mix of cautious optimism and guarded skepticism every time a new barbecue spot opens its doors: Will it be the real deal worthy of a mention among the city's true elite, or just a mediocre bandwagon-jumper?

One block from Centennial Olympic Park is where you'll find one relative newcomer: Twin Smokers BBQ. The four-month-old restaurant is the latest from the folks behind Der Biergarten and Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria, proven breadwinners nearby. It's likely Twin Smokers will follow suit, making its mark with often excellent 'cue that's worth a trip Downtown.

The restaurant takes its name from two behemoth [http://www.jrmanufacturing.com/oyler.html|Oyler pit smokers], named Matthew and Elizabeth after owner David Marvin's kids. Each of "the Twins," as they're called, hold up to 1,000 pounds of food on 18 revolving racks. Picture a large Ferris wheel setup, but with meat. All of proteins here — beef brisket, pork, chicken, sausage, and both beef and pork ribs — are cooked in one of the flaming red smokers the night before they're served. Each rig is dedicated to its own type of wood and cooks only the meat best complemented by that kind of smoke. Elizabeth cooks pork and chicken over white oak and hickory; Matthew handles the beef and sausage with more assertive mesquite and post oak.

The 4,000-square-foot space has a modern, loft-like feel, but with folky twists such as exposed brick, reclaimed lumber, corrugated tin, and vintage-y, Edison-style lighting. A center island doubles as the bar stocked with more than 40 beers and an extensive selection of bourbon, whiskey, and moonshine on one side, and the restaurant's carving station on the other.

[image-1][image-2]
The carving station is where you'll approach the Cutter, a burly, cleaver-wielding staffer charged with chopping, hacking, and slicing huge slabs of tender, smoky meat and assembling your meal to order. Not just for show, the Cutter can also answer questions and help you customize your order. Do you like your brisket lean, with almost no fat? Want extra bark? Need a small sample of something that catches your eye to help you decide? Just ask. Work your way down the line, then place your final order with the cashier.

Pay, take your table marker, and seat yourself at one of 20 or so dark wood tables or at the bar. They'll deliver your order within a few minutes — just enough time for you to take the obligatory stroll past the Twins and the restaurant's "wood library," a floor-to-ceiling display rack of the four wood types used in the smokers.

Patak sausage ($10 for two links with two sides) from less than 20 miles up the road in Austell, Ga., has a light, fluffy interior that may surprise, with subtle spice and exceptional smokiness all the way through. The Black Angus brisket ($14) from Kansas City's Creekstone Farm is thickly sliced, dense, and chewy, with almost no fat whatsoever.

A single dinosaur beef rib ($29) may sound gimmicky, but weighing in at around two-thirds of a pound and nearly a foot long, this is the order that causes heads to turn and camera phones to come out when it hits the table. It's a crusty, juicy, messy-as-hell masterpiece that belongs on your gastronomical bucket list. But remember, only a half-dozen or so are prepped daily. During one visit, the pork ribs ($30/full slab) were on the fatty side, and not nearly as wow-worthy as the "Texas-style" meats from the beef and sausage smoker. This may be where you reach for one of six house-made sauces to liven things up: North Carolina is vinegar-based, South Carolina is mustard-based, Memphis is sweet and tangy, Texas is spicy, Kansas City is thick, sweet, and spicy, and the House sauce aims for a sweet and Southern flavor.

[image-3]
Sandwiches come with one side, and plates come with two. Expect the usual suspects like collards and coleslaw. The highlights are the creamy mac and cheese, pinto beans that lean more toward Tex-Mex with onions, cilantro, and lime juice rather than molasses-heavy backyard-barbecue-style, and a stellar burnt ends chili that could be a fully-satisfying meal on its own. Save room for the parfait-like banana pudding ($3), unusual with its white color and foamy texture.

Barbecue seems like it should be a cheap eat, but despite its simple, down-home reputation, meat, by nature, is expensive stuff. And cooking it low and slow like you're supposed to is labor- and time-intensive. A basic lunch at Twin Smokers consisting of a brisket plate, one side, and a sweet tea — not a gut-buster meal by any stretch — hovers around $17 before tip. Throw in a cocktail or milk shake, and it's easily over $25 a head. But that's in line with prices at Fox Bros., Heirloom Market, and others. With a primo piece of real estate, Twin Smokers will do well with tourists, conventioneers, and the local workforce during lunch hour. The real trick will be luring locals Downtown for barbecue when so many other options exist."
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  string(5263) "    Smoked meats are the name of the game at this four-month-old restaurant in the Luckie-Marietta District Downtown   2015-05-18T08:00:00+00:00 Food - A visit to Twin Smokers BBQ   Todd Brock 12184336 2015-05-18T08:00:00+00:00  For meat lovers in this town, there's a mix of cautious optimism and guarded skepticism every time a new barbecue spot opens its doors: Will it be the real deal worthy of a mention among the city's true elite, or just a mediocre bandwagon-jumper?

One block from Centennial Olympic Park is where you'll find one relative newcomer: Twin Smokers BBQ. The four-month-old restaurant is the latest from the folks behind Der Biergarten and Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria, proven breadwinners nearby. It's likely Twin Smokers will follow suit, making its mark with often excellent 'cue that's worth a trip Downtown.

The restaurant takes its name from two behemoth Oyler pit smokers, named Matthew and Elizabeth after owner David Marvin's kids. Each of "the Twins," as they're called, hold up to 1,000 pounds of food on 18 revolving racks. Picture a large Ferris wheel setup, but with meat. All of proteins here — beef brisket, pork, chicken, sausage, and both beef and pork ribs — are cooked in one of the flaming red smokers the night before they're served. Each rig is dedicated to its own type of wood and cooks only the meat best complemented by that kind of smoke. Elizabeth cooks pork and chicken over white oak and hickory; Matthew handles the beef and sausage with more assertive mesquite and post oak.

The 4,000-square-foot space has a modern, loft-like feel, but with folky twists such as exposed brick, reclaimed lumber, corrugated tin, and vintage-y, Edison-style lighting. A center island doubles as the bar stocked with more than 40 beers and an extensive selection of bourbon, whiskey, and moonshine on one side, and the restaurant's carving station on the other.

image-1image-2
The carving station is where you'll approach the Cutter, a burly, cleaver-wielding staffer charged with chopping, hacking, and slicing huge slabs of tender, smoky meat and assembling your meal to order. Not just for show, the Cutter can also answer questions and help you customize your order. Do you like your brisket lean, with almost no fat? Want extra bark? Need a small sample of something that catches your eye to help you decide? Just ask. Work your way down the line, then place your final order with the cashier.

Pay, take your table marker, and seat yourself at one of 20 or so dark wood tables or at the bar. They'll deliver your order within a few minutes — just enough time for you to take the obligatory stroll past the Twins and the restaurant's "wood library," a floor-to-ceiling display rack of the four wood types used in the smokers.

Patak sausage ($10 for two links with two sides) from less than 20 miles up the road in Austell, Ga., has a light, fluffy interior that may surprise, with subtle spice and exceptional smokiness all the way through. The Black Angus brisket ($14) from Kansas City's Creekstone Farm is thickly sliced, dense, and chewy, with almost no fat whatsoever.

A single dinosaur beef rib ($29) may sound gimmicky, but weighing in at around two-thirds of a pound and nearly a foot long, this is the order that causes heads to turn and camera phones to come out when it hits the table. It's a crusty, juicy, messy-as-hell masterpiece that belongs on your gastronomical bucket list. But remember, only a half-dozen or so are prepped daily. During one visit, the pork ribs ($30/full slab) were on the fatty side, and not nearly as wow-worthy as the "Texas-style" meats from the beef and sausage smoker. This may be where you reach for one of six house-made sauces to liven things up: North Carolina is vinegar-based, South Carolina is mustard-based, Memphis is sweet and tangy, Texas is spicy, Kansas City is thick, sweet, and spicy, and the House sauce aims for a sweet and Southern flavor.

image-3
Sandwiches come with one side, and plates come with two. Expect the usual suspects like collards and coleslaw. The highlights are the creamy mac and cheese, pinto beans that lean more toward Tex-Mex with onions, cilantro, and lime juice rather than molasses-heavy backyard-barbecue-style, and a stellar burnt ends chili that could be a fully-satisfying meal on its own. Save room for the parfait-like banana pudding ($3), unusual with its white color and foamy texture.

Barbecue seems like it should be a cheap eat, but despite its simple, down-home reputation, meat, by nature, is expensive stuff. And cooking it low and slow like you're supposed to is labor- and time-intensive. A basic lunch at Twin Smokers consisting of a brisket plate, one side, and a sweet tea — not a gut-buster meal by any stretch — hovers around $17 before tip. Throw in a cocktail or milk shake, and it's easily over $25 a head. But that's in line with prices at Fox Bros., Heirloom Market, and others. With a primo piece of real estate, Twin Smokers will do well with tourists, conventioneers, and the local workforce during lunch hour. The real trick will be luring locals Downtown for barbecue when so many other options exist.             13083060 14293068                          Food - A visit to Twin Smokers BBQ "
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Monday May 18, 2015 04:00 am EDT
Smoked meats are the name of the game at this four-month-old restaurant in the Luckie-Marietta District Downtown | more...
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  string(30) "First Look: Grand Champion BBQ"
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  string(63) "The OTP transplant serves up quality 'cue at Krog Street Market"
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  string(3347) "There's a mix of cautious optimism and guarded skepticism every time a new barbecue spot comes to town: Will it be the real deal or a wannabe looking to cash in on barbecue's unwavering popularity? But OTP-ers are already familiar with the award-winning 'cue at Grand Champion BBQ's Roswell and Milton locations. GC's intown expansion is located inside Krog Street Market.

GC's counter may look stripped-down when compared to its showier neighbors, but the streamlined wood-and-rust-colored-metal decor proves that old-timey bric-a-brac and a dusty assortment of pig statuettes isn't a prerequisite for solid 'cue. GC has four meats to choose from: pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked sausage, and baby back ribs. The first three are available as sandwiches; all are also sold by weight rather than as a component build-your-own plates commonly seen elsewhere. The staff can help with the math, but generally speaking, figure a half-pound of meat (about $7-$8, depending on what you choose) per person, maybe more if you're going light on sides. Rib lovers should appreciate the by-the-pound approach, because not all racks are created equal. If your half-slab looks a little sparse, just request another bone or two.

Gentle smokiness is the theme at GC. This is particularly true for the pulled pork ($14 per pound) and brisket ($16 per pound). A pile of the pork comes with a nice mix of bark and moist shreds, and the brisket is fall-apart-tender. The baby back ribs ($12 per pound) are GC's claim to fame. Smoked over hickory every morning in an on-site Southern Pride smoking cabinet, each slab is wrapped and held in a warming unit until you order. The smell of hickory fills the air as you tug the succulent pink meat from the bones. Like all of GC's meats, the ribs are served dry; but they shine brightest with no sauce at all. They're among the city's best.

GC's superb smoked sausage ($14 per pound) is sliced into thick chunks. Aficionados will enjoy the casing's unmistakable snap. A pile of these sausage slices makes a tasty accompaniment to any order, perfect for dipping in GC's sweet original sauce or the North Carolina-style red vinegar sauce.

image-1
Thanks to a bare-bones kitchen and the food court footprint, sides are somewhat limited. The mac and cheese ($4-$12), made with chewy rigatoni noodles, has a rich Gouda kick and shows a direct link to the legendary Sam Huff's BBQ-1 lineage. Desserts include a rotating lineup of homemade pies ($5) and banana pudding ($3.50-$5.50).

The grab-and-go food court format is also evident in GC's lack of soda fountain service; soft drinks (and water) are served in bottles. If you order tea to drink with your 'cue, you're buying a half-gallon jug and a Styrofoam cup. Feels weird if you're dining alone, but it's just $2, and you'll have plenty to take home. (Maybe that just encourages ordering enough 'cue for leftovers to go with?)

What's the bottom line? GC's ribs are stellar. The rest of the menu offerings are above average, but like almost everything at Krog Street they feel slightly overpriced. The prices, however, are comparable to ones at other barbecue spots in town, such as nearby Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. Lunching alone, you can blow through $20 without blinking. But GC's pay-by-the-pound strategy is convenient if you're trying to feed an entire office or family."
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  string(3349) "There's a mix of cautious optimism and guarded skepticism every time a new barbecue spot comes to town: Will it be the real deal or a wannabe looking to cash in on barbecue's unwavering popularity? But OTP-ers are already familiar with the award-winning 'cue at Grand Champion BBQ's Roswell and Milton locations. GC's intown expansion is located inside Krog Street Market.

GC's counter may look stripped-down when compared to its showier neighbors, but the streamlined wood-and-rust-colored-metal decor proves that old-timey bric-a-brac and a dusty assortment of pig statuettes isn't a prerequisite for solid 'cue. GC has four meats to choose from: pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked sausage, and baby back ribs. The first three are available as sandwiches; all are also sold by weight rather than as a component build-your-own plates commonly seen elsewhere. The staff can help with the math, but generally speaking, figure a half-pound of meat (about $7-$8, depending on what you choose) per person, maybe more if you're going light on sides. Rib lovers should appreciate the by-the-pound approach, because not all racks are created equal. If your half-slab looks a little sparse, just request another bone or two.

Gentle smokiness is the theme at GC. This is particularly true for the pulled pork ($14 per pound) and brisket ($16 per pound). A pile of the pork comes with a nice mix of bark and moist shreds, and the brisket is fall-apart-tender. The baby back ribs ($12 per pound) are GC's claim to fame. Smoked over hickory every morning in an on-site Southern Pride smoking cabinet, each slab is wrapped and held in a warming unit until you order. The smell of hickory fills the air as you tug the succulent pink meat from the bones. Like all of GC's meats, the ribs are served dry; but they shine brightest with no sauce at all. They're among the city's best.

GC's superb smoked sausage ($14 per pound) is sliced into thick chunks. Aficionados will enjoy the casing's unmistakable snap. A pile of these sausage slices makes a tasty accompaniment to any order, perfect for dipping in GC's sweet original sauce or the North Carolina-style red vinegar sauce.

[image-1]
Thanks to a bare-bones kitchen and the food court footprint, sides are somewhat limited. The mac and cheese ($4-$12), made with chewy rigatoni noodles, has a rich Gouda kick and shows a direct link to the legendary Sam Huff's BBQ-1 lineage. Desserts include a rotating lineup of homemade pies ($5) and banana pudding ($3.50-$5.50).

The grab-and-go food court format is also evident in GC's lack of soda fountain service; soft drinks (and water) are served in bottles. If you order tea to drink with your 'cue, you're buying a half-gallon jug and a Styrofoam cup. Feels weird if you're dining alone, but it's just $2, and you'll have plenty to take home. (Maybe that just encourages ordering enough 'cue for leftovers to go with?)

What's the bottom line? GC's ribs are stellar. The rest of the menu offerings are above average, but like almost everything at Krog Street they feel slightly overpriced. The prices, however, are comparable to ones at other barbecue spots in town, such as nearby Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. Lunching alone, you can blow through $20 without blinking. But GC's pay-by-the-pound strategy is convenient if you're trying to feed an entire office or family."
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  string(3610) "    The OTP transplant serves up quality 'cue at Krog Street Market   2015-04-08T08:00:00+00:00 First Look: Grand Champion BBQ   Todd Brock 12184336 2015-04-08T08:00:00+00:00  There's a mix of cautious optimism and guarded skepticism every time a new barbecue spot comes to town: Will it be the real deal or a wannabe looking to cash in on barbecue's unwavering popularity? But OTP-ers are already familiar with the award-winning 'cue at Grand Champion BBQ's Roswell and Milton locations. GC's intown expansion is located inside Krog Street Market.

GC's counter may look stripped-down when compared to its showier neighbors, but the streamlined wood-and-rust-colored-metal decor proves that old-timey bric-a-brac and a dusty assortment of pig statuettes isn't a prerequisite for solid 'cue. GC has four meats to choose from: pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked sausage, and baby back ribs. The first three are available as sandwiches; all are also sold by weight rather than as a component build-your-own plates commonly seen elsewhere. The staff can help with the math, but generally speaking, figure a half-pound of meat (about $7-$8, depending on what you choose) per person, maybe more if you're going light on sides. Rib lovers should appreciate the by-the-pound approach, because not all racks are created equal. If your half-slab looks a little sparse, just request another bone or two.

Gentle smokiness is the theme at GC. This is particularly true for the pulled pork ($14 per pound) and brisket ($16 per pound). A pile of the pork comes with a nice mix of bark and moist shreds, and the brisket is fall-apart-tender. The baby back ribs ($12 per pound) are GC's claim to fame. Smoked over hickory every morning in an on-site Southern Pride smoking cabinet, each slab is wrapped and held in a warming unit until you order. The smell of hickory fills the air as you tug the succulent pink meat from the bones. Like all of GC's meats, the ribs are served dry; but they shine brightest with no sauce at all. They're among the city's best.

GC's superb smoked sausage ($14 per pound) is sliced into thick chunks. Aficionados will enjoy the casing's unmistakable snap. A pile of these sausage slices makes a tasty accompaniment to any order, perfect for dipping in GC's sweet original sauce or the North Carolina-style red vinegar sauce.

image-1
Thanks to a bare-bones kitchen and the food court footprint, sides are somewhat limited. The mac and cheese ($4-$12), made with chewy rigatoni noodles, has a rich Gouda kick and shows a direct link to the legendary Sam Huff's BBQ-1 lineage. Desserts include a rotating lineup of homemade pies ($5) and banana pudding ($3.50-$5.50).

The grab-and-go food court format is also evident in GC's lack of soda fountain service; soft drinks (and water) are served in bottles. If you order tea to drink with your 'cue, you're buying a half-gallon jug and a Styrofoam cup. Feels weird if you're dining alone, but it's just $2, and you'll have plenty to take home. (Maybe that just encourages ordering enough 'cue for leftovers to go with?)

What's the bottom line? GC's ribs are stellar. The rest of the menu offerings are above average, but like almost everything at Krog Street they feel slightly overpriced. The prices, however, are comparable to ones at other barbecue spots in town, such as nearby Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. Lunching alone, you can blow through $20 without blinking. But GC's pay-by-the-pound strategy is convenient if you're trying to feed an entire office or family.             13082501 13968532                          First Look: Grand Champion BBQ "
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Wednesday April 8, 2015 04:00 am EDT
The OTP transplant serves up quality 'cue at Krog Street Market | more...
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  ["title"]=>
  string(42) "Food Issue - Is there an Atlanta barbecue?"
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  string(80) "In a sea of regional barbecue styles, Atlanta 'cue could have an identity crisis"
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  string(80) "In a sea of regional barbecue styles, Atlanta 'cue could have an identity crisis"
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  string(11686) "America's food map is dotted with cities and regions that have distinct identities within the world of barbecue, styles that typify a specific geographical area. When you think Memphis, you think dry-rubbed ribs. Eastern North Carolina? Whole-hog pork with a vinegary sauce. Texas? Beef, pardner. Central South Carolina is all about mustardy mops, while there are pockets of Alabama where mayo-based sauces practically paint the town white.

But is there an "Atlanta style" of barbecue? Arguably the unofficial capital of the South, Atlanta should be known as a barbecue mecca the way Memphis is, right? Or Austin? Hell, even Lexington, N.C. — with a population of fewer than 20,000 — is more of a bona fide barbecue destination than we've ever been. Atlanta is situated in the heart of barbecue country, but when you ask some of the area's best barbecue bloggers and chefs to explain the city's place in the wider world of 'cue, you get more hemming and hawing than from a pitmaster being grilled on what's in his top-secret rub.

Fact is, if you look hard enough, you can find just about everybody else's particular styles and specialties on some local menu or other. Used to be that most places in town served a version of the pulled and chopped pork that's prevalent from Memphis to northern Alabama. Many still do, from old-school joints such as Sprayberry's in Newnan to new-'cue hotspots including Decatur's Burnt Fork BBQ. Lone Star State staples like unsauced beef brisket and sausage ("hot guts" to true Texans) have made their way OTP to suburban places like Grand Champion BBQ in Roswell and Milton. Even ribs can take on many variations, from the traditional rack at Fat Matt's Rib Shack in Midtown to wet or dry St. Louis-style ribs, as you'll find at D.B.A. Barbecue in Virginia-Highland. Whatever regional meat of choice floats your barbecue boat, it's probably being served at some strip mall, shack, or new 'cue boutique in town. (With the possible exception of Kentucky mutton. That's a taste we just seem not to have acquired.)

"We can steal — I mean, research — anybody's style," jokes Sam Huff of Sam's two BBQ-1 locations, both Cobb County mainstays. Huff knows a thing or two about the long-standing history of "style-borrowing" in the world of 'cue; it's hard to find a barbecue restaurateur in town who doesn't refer to him simply as "Sam," and then go on to freely admit to having eaten off his menu in the name of research.

Huff's influence throughout the world of Atlanta barbecue is well-documented. Along with partners Dave Poe and Dave Roberts, Huff introduced competition-caliber 'cue to the suburbs and built BBQ-1 into a superstar. The trio split after a few years, but each of them stayed in the game. Huff remains the driving force behind BBQ-1. Poe runs Dave Poe's BBQ just down the road from BBQ-1 in West Cobb, and Roberts went on to start Community Q BBQ in Decatur. Another onetime Huff staffer is responsible for Grand Champion's two OTP outposts. All five restaurants boast trophies, awards, and accolades to spare ... and all five regularly make any honest "best-of" conversation about Atlanta's barbecue scene.

Huff believes not having a singular Atlanta style is an advantage rather than a crutch.

"Not being locked into a stereotype of what barbecue is means we can pick and choose based on what tastes best," he says. "We can be a little more creative."

That creative freedom has inspired some local barbecue specialties that longtime locals might never have imagined just a few years ago. At Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, it's the curious Frito pie that seems to get the most buzz of all. "I cook what I know," Jonathan Fox says. For him and his twin, Justin, beanless chili ladled right into a single-serving bag of corn chips was a Little League concession stand staple as they grew up in Texas. Though the staff thought the brothers were crazy when the handheld snack was first suggested for the menu, on a cold winter's day about six months after the restaurant opened, Frito pie has become enough of a signature offering that a cheffified version of it was even developed for an event the restaurant participated in last June at the James Beard House. Fox and his crew handmade their own corn chip dough from fresh masa flour and lard. They then gelatinized their brisket chili and rolled it (and a sprinkling of cheese) into balls of the dough. The balls were frozen, then fried, to make one-bite "popper" versions of the guilty-pleasure snack.

Changing long-standing beliefs about what barbecue is or isn't can be challenging. When Fox Bros. first opened, customers had no qualms about telling Jonathan that he needed to tweak his Brunswick stew a certain way or that there should always be an entire roster of sauces on the tables. Customers may have been skeptical at first, but sticking to their Texas-barbecue guns eventually paid off for the Fox boys, to the tune of more than 2,000 customers (not including to-go orders) on a typical Saturday. And now their Lone Star-style beef brisket actually outpaces good old Georgia pork as their top seller.

For perhaps the ultimate example of how no locale — regardless of how far-flung — is off-limits when it comes to influencing Atlanta's barbecue, look no further than Heirloom Market BBQ. Yes, it's been talked about dozens of times before. But drive by the tiny storefront — notably smaller than the package store next door — and take a gander at the snaking-into-the-parking-lot line every day at lunchtime, and you can't deny the cultlike popularity of Heirloom's kimchi-tinged, Korean-spiced 'cue.

But even for native Texan Cody Taylor and his wife, Jiyeon Lee, a former Korean pop star-turned culinary grad, their award-winning style was originally born of pure improvisation.

"When we opened, we just used stuff we had in our refrigerator," Taylor says. "We wanted to contribute to Atlanta becoming a barbecue city ... but I'd be run out of Dodge for injecting a brisket with miso in Texas," he says, laughing. It may have started as a by-the-seat-of-the-pants experiment, but now Taylor reports seeing some of the same Asian ingredients being used at high-end barbecue boutiques in Austin, Chicago, and New York.

Not being known for one thing (or bound to one style or specialty) has allowed Atlanta chefs — and especially barbecue cooks — to piece together an anything-goes sampler-platter approach. That in and of itself has arguably turned our city into a barbecue destination of sorts. Grant Goggans — who has reviewed more than 300 barbecue restaurants throughout the Southeast for his Atlanta-based blog Marie, Let's Eat! — says that places like Heirloom Market and Fox Bros. have given everyone else the permission to try new things and, in turn, made Atlanta a barbecue city that's too big to eat your way through in just one visit.

For Goggans, you have to get outside the metro proper to truly experience the rich depth of our 'cue heritage. Take a road trip to places like Austell, Douglasville, or Jasper and you can still find a few old-school joints that at one time typified true barbecue everywhere: meat smoked low and slow over live coals in open-air pits. Those places are much harder to find than they used to be, though, says big-time barbecuer Jason Dominy, who also writes the locally based blog Musings of a Ragamuffin. In the 1980s, he explains, new codes and health department regulations forced those pitmasters to do things like enclose their pits and install chimneys. Consequently, these mandated expenditures caused many of those historic mom-and-pops to close. Shuttered stalwarts such as Harold's Barbecue and Old Hickory House have largely faded into our barbecue past like wisps of hardwood smoke (save for the last remaining Hickory House location in Tucker), but a few institutions live on. Spots including Dean's Barbeque and Metter, Ga.'s Jomax Bar BQ offer an experience that's wholly different from ones at the many barbecue boutiques you see today ... and that's OK, according to Goggans.

These newer, slightly upscale barbecue destinations present an interesting paradox. Their traditional barbecue offerings themselves can be excellent — made with high-quality meats, expertly seasoned —and on par with what you would find at the more established restaurants. But you'll also find cheffy twists and WTF creations that would have the heads of those grizzled open-air pit veterans spinning. The menu at Westside's Bone Lick BBQ, for example, additionally features fried risotto balls, black bean burgers, and something called the Summer Saladgasm. Combine cuisine like that with super-trendy vintage decor, ironic '80s arcade games, Skee-Ball machines, and a vibe that's unapologetically as much about the party as the grub (they even have a DJ), and you've got an altogether different kind of barbecue joint.

"Authenticity can mean a lot," Goggans says, readily admitting that at least part of the recent barbecue renaissance has come about thanks to social-media-savvy foodies exactly like him.

"A lot of these new places are being opened by people who came from restaurants with established PR firms that know how to push the message out there," he says, on platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

Barbecue used to be smoked over live fires and is now cooked mostly in gas-powered boxes ... but make no mistake: The craze of barbecue-as-chef-driven-hipster-grub is often fueled largely by hype.

"When you see a bunch of bloggers all talk up a place, it could be legitimate," Goggans theorizes. "Or it could be that 10 of us all got invited to the same media event."

When he's not slinging the 'cue at BBQ-1 in Cobb County, Sam Huff is teaching sold-out barbecue classes and he's always on the search for the next roadside shack that could be an undiscovered diamond in the rough. Talking by phone (during a drive 120 miles south of his restaurant — just to look at someone's meat-smoking rig), Huff told of a recent revelation. He found a lone figure, with a beat-up trailer at an exit just off of I-75, selling pulled pork sandwiches. Sam rolled the dice, bought one, and marveled at how exceptional it was.

Huff believes so much in the sanctity of those out-of-the-way finds that he's even in early discussions to organize barbecue bus crawls, taking customers on pre-arranged routes throughout the state to hit six or seven joints in a day and exposing 'cue fanatics to new heights of hog heaven, even if it happens to be dished out inside a service station on a sparse stretch of highway (that's actually the case at Bigun's Barbeque between Ellijay and Jasper, one of Huff's favorite hidden hotspots).

So back to our original question: Is there an "Atlanta style" of barbecue? Not really. But perhaps not having a particular barbecue style is our style. According to Jonathan Fox, "good barbecue is just a mix of where you're at and where you're from." Atlanta's barbecue scene is a mishmash, a hodgepodge of random flavors and diverse influences. Yes, we have plenty of classic pulled pork and lots of traditional ribs. But we also have new 'cue concoctions being dreamed up all the time, introducing new techniques and tastes to the party. Such standbys as Sam's BBQ-1, Swallow at the Hollow, Daddy D'z BBQ Joynt, and Sprayberry's aren't going anywhere. But young guns such as Community Q, Fox Bros., Grand Champion, and even fusion-y places such as Heirloom Market bring an element of variety to the melting pot that is Atlanta barbecue. It's a diverse blend of old, new, near, and far — always evolving and constantly being reinvented. "
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(12370) "America's food map is dotted with cities and regions that have distinct identities within the world of barbecue, styles that typify a specific geographical area. When you think Memphis, you think dry-rubbed ribs. Eastern North Carolina? Whole-hog pork with a vinegary sauce. Texas? Beef, pardner. Central South Carolina is all about mustardy mops, while there are pockets of Alabama where mayo-based sauces practically paint the town white.

But is there an "Atlanta style" of barbecue? Arguably the unofficial capital of the South, Atlanta should be known as a barbecue mecca the way Memphis is, right? Or Austin? Hell, even Lexington, N.C. — with a population of fewer than 20,000 — is more of a bona fide barbecue destination than we've ever been. Atlanta is situated in the heart of barbecue country, but when you ask some of the area's best barbecue bloggers and chefs to explain the city's place in the wider world of 'cue, you get more hemming and hawing than from a pitmaster being grilled on what's in his top-secret rub.

Fact is, if you look hard enough, you can find just about everybody else's particular styles and specialties on some local menu or other. Used to be that most places in town served a version of the pulled and chopped pork that's prevalent from Memphis to northern Alabama. Many still do, from old-school joints such as [http://www.sprayberrysbbq.com/|Sprayberry's in Newnan] to new-'cue hotspots including Decatur's [http://www.burntforkbbq.com/|Burnt Fork BBQ]. Lone Star State staples like unsauced beef brisket and sausage ("hot guts" to true Texans) have made their way OTP to suburban places like [http://gcbbq.net/|Grand Champion] BBQ in Roswell and Milton. Even ribs can take on many variations, from the traditional rack at [http://clatl.com/atlanta/fat-matts-rib-shack/Location?oid=1305640|Fat Matt's Rib Shack] in Midtown to wet or dry St. Louis-style ribs, as you'll find at [http://clatl.com/atlanta/dba-barbecue/Location?oid=1305382|D.B.A. Barbecue] in Virginia-Highland. Whatever regional meat of choice floats your barbecue boat, it's probably being served at some strip mall, shack, or new 'cue boutique in town. (With the possible exception of Kentucky mutton. That's a taste we just seem not to have acquired.)

"We can steal — I mean, ''research'' — anybody's style," jokes Sam Huff of [http://bbq1.net/|Sam's two BBQ-1] locations, both Cobb County mainstays. Huff knows a thing or two about the long-standing history of "style-borrowing" in the world of 'cue; it's hard to find a barbecue restaurateur in town who doesn't refer to him simply as "Sam," and then go on to freely admit to having eaten off his menu in the name of ''research''.

Huff's influence throughout the world of Atlanta barbecue is well-documented. Along with partners Dave Poe and Dave Roberts, Huff introduced competition-caliber 'cue to the suburbs and built BBQ-1 into a superstar. The trio split after a few years, but each of them stayed in the game. Huff remains the driving force behind BBQ-1. Poe runs Dave Poe's BBQ just down the road from BBQ-1 in West Cobb, and Roberts went on to start [http://clatl.com/atlanta/community-q-bbq/Location?oid=1305733|Community Q BBQ] in Decatur. Another onetime Huff staffer is responsible for Grand Champion's two OTP outposts. All five restaurants boast trophies, awards, and accolades to spare ... and all five regularly make any honest "best-of" conversation about Atlanta's barbecue scene.

Huff believes not having a singular Atlanta style is an advantage rather than a crutch.

"Not being locked into a stereotype of what barbecue is means we can pick and choose based on what tastes best," he says. "We can be a little more creative."

That creative freedom has inspired some local barbecue specialties that longtime locals might never have imagined just a few years ago. At [http://clatl.com/atlanta/fox-bros-bar-b-q/Location?oid=1295449|Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q], it's the curious Frito pie that seems to get the most buzz of all. "I cook what I know," Jonathan Fox says. For him and his twin, Justin, beanless chili ladled right into a single-serving bag of corn chips was a Little League concession stand staple as they grew up in Texas. Though the staff thought the brothers were crazy when the handheld snack was first suggested for the menu, on a cold winter's day about six months after the restaurant opened, Frito pie has become enough of a signature offering that a cheffified version of it was even developed for an event the restaurant participated in last June at the James Beard House. Fox and his crew handmade their own corn chip dough from fresh masa flour and lard. They then gelatinized their brisket chili and rolled it (and a sprinkling of cheese) into balls of the dough. The balls were frozen, then fried, to make one-bite "popper" versions of the guilty-pleasure snack.

Changing long-standing beliefs about what barbecue is or isn't can be challenging. When Fox Bros. first opened, customers had no qualms about telling Jonathan that he needed to tweak his Brunswick stew a certain way or that there should always be an entire roster of sauces on the tables. Customers may have been skeptical at first, but sticking to their Texas-barbecue guns eventually paid off for the Fox boys, to the tune of more than 2,000 customers (not including to-go orders) on a typical Saturday. And now their Lone Star-style beef brisket actually outpaces good old Georgia pork as their top seller.

For perhaps the ultimate example of how no locale — regardless of how far-flung — is off-limits when it comes to influencing Atlanta's barbecue, look no further than [http://clatl.com/atlanta/heirloom-market-bbq/Location?oid=2836721|Heirloom Market BBQ]. Yes, it's been talked about dozens of times before. But drive by the tiny storefront — notably smaller than the package store next door — and take a gander at the snaking-into-the-parking-lot line every day at lunchtime, and you can't deny the cultlike popularity of Heirloom's kimchi-tinged, Korean-spiced 'cue.

But even for native Texan Cody Taylor and his wife, Jiyeon Lee, a former Korean pop star-turned culinary grad, their award-winning style was originally born of pure improvisation.

"When we opened, we just used stuff we had in our refrigerator," Taylor says. "We wanted to contribute to Atlanta becoming a barbecue city ... but I'd be run out of Dodge for injecting a brisket with miso in Texas," he says, laughing. It may have started as a by-the-seat-of-the-pants experiment, but now Taylor reports seeing some of the same Asian ingredients being used at high-end barbecue boutiques in Austin, Chicago, and New York.

Not being known for one thing (or bound to one style or specialty) has allowed Atlanta chefs — and especially barbecue cooks — to piece together an anything-goes sampler-platter approach. That in and of itself has arguably turned our city into a barbecue destination of sorts. Grant Goggans — who has reviewed more than 300 barbecue restaurants throughout the Southeast for his Atlanta-based blog [http://marieletseat.com/|Marie, Let's Eat!] — says that places like Heirloom Market and Fox Bros. have given everyone else the permission to try new things and, in turn, made Atlanta a barbecue city that's too big to eat your way through in just one visit.

For Goggans, you have to get outside the metro proper to truly experience the rich depth of our 'cue heritage. Take a road trip to places like Austell, Douglasville, or Jasper and you can still find a few old-school joints that at one time typified true barbecue everywhere: meat smoked low and slow over live coals in open-air pits. Those places are much harder to find than they used to be, though, says big-time barbecuer Jason Dominy, who also writes the locally based blog [http://jasondominy.com/|Musings of a Ragamuffin]. In the 1980s, he explains, new codes and health department regulations forced those pitmasters to do things like enclose their pits and install chimneys. Consequently, these mandated expenditures caused many of those historic mom-and-pops to close. Shuttered stalwarts such as Harold's Barbecue and Old Hickory House have largely faded into our barbecue past like wisps of hardwood smoke (save for the last remaining Hickory House location in Tucker), but a few institutions live on. Spots including Dean's Barbeque and Metter, Ga.'s Jomax Bar BQ offer an experience that's wholly different from ones at the many barbecue boutiques you see today ... and that's OK, according to Goggans.

These newer, slightly upscale barbecue destinations present an interesting paradox. Their traditional barbecue offerings themselves can be excellent — made with high-quality meats, expertly seasoned —and on par with what you would find at the more established restaurants. But you'll also find cheffy twists and WTF creations that would have the heads of those grizzled open-air pit veterans spinning. The menu at Westside's [http://clatl.com/atlanta/bone-lick-bbq/Location?oid=6867505|Bone Lick BBQ], for example, additionally features fried risotto balls, black bean burgers, and something called the Summer Saladgasm. Combine cuisine like that with super-trendy vintage decor, ironic '80s arcade games, Skee-Ball machines, and a vibe that's unapologetically as much about the party as the grub (they even have a DJ), and you've got an altogether different kind of barbecue joint.

"Authenticity can mean a lot," Goggans says, readily admitting that at least part of the recent barbecue renaissance has come about thanks to social-media-savvy foodies exactly like him.

"A lot of these new places are being opened by people who came from restaurants with established PR firms [that] know how to push the message out there," he says, on platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

Barbecue used to be smoked over live fires and is now cooked mostly in gas-powered boxes ... but make no mistake: The craze of barbecue-as-chef-driven-hipster-grub is often fueled largely by hype.

"When you see a bunch of bloggers all talk up a place, it could be legitimate," Goggans theorizes. "Or it could be that 10 of us all got invited to the same media event."

When he's not slinging the 'cue at BBQ-1 in Cobb County, Sam Huff is teaching sold-out barbecue classes and he's always on the search for the next roadside shack that could be an undiscovered diamond in the rough. Talking by phone (during a drive 120 miles south of his restaurant — just to ''look'' at someone's meat-smoking rig), Huff told of a recent revelation. He found a lone figure, with a beat-up trailer at an exit just off of I-75, selling pulled pork sandwiches. Sam rolled the dice, bought one, and marveled at how exceptional it was.

Huff believes so much in the sanctity of those out-of-the-way finds that he's even in early discussions to organize barbecue bus crawls, taking customers on pre-arranged routes throughout the state to hit six or seven joints in a day and exposing 'cue fanatics to new heights of hog heaven, even if it happens to be dished out inside a service station on a sparse stretch of highway (that's actually the case at Big[http://www.bigunsbbq.com/|un's Barbeque] between Ellijay and Jasper, one of Huff's favorite hidden hotspots).

So back to our original question: Is there an "Atlanta style" of barbecue? Not really. But perhaps ''not'' having a particular barbecue style ''is'' our style. According to Jonathan Fox, "good barbecue is just a mix of where you're at and where you're from." Atlanta's barbecue scene is a mishmash, a hodgepodge of random flavors and diverse influences. Yes, we have plenty of classic pulled pork and lots of traditional ribs. But we also have new 'cue concoctions being dreamed up all the time, introducing new techniques and tastes to the party. Such standbys as Sam's BBQ-1, [http://swallowatthehollow.com/|Swallow at the Hollow], [http://clatl.com/atlanta/daddy-dz/Location?oid=1288515|Daddy D'z BBQ Joynt], and Sprayberry's aren't going anywhere. But young guns such as Community Q, Fox Bros., Grand Champion, and even fusion-y places such as Heirloom Market bring an element of variety to the melting pot that is Atlanta barbecue. It's a diverse blend of old, new, near, and far — always evolving and constantly being reinvented. "
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  string(12315) " Bbqtease  2019-09-02T00:24:08+00:00 bbqtease.jpg   Hi Todd! I enjoyed reading your list! We would love for you to give City Barbeque a try! Please email me at cierracitybbq@gmail.com and check out our website here: www.citybbq.com! bbq In a sea of regional barbecue styles, Atlanta 'cue could have an identity crisis 22662  2014-10-16T08:00:00+00:00 Food Issue - Is there an Atlanta barbecue? ben.eason@creativeloafing.com Ben Eason Todd Brock 12184336 2014-10-16T08:00:00+00:00  America's food map is dotted with cities and regions that have distinct identities within the world of barbecue, styles that typify a specific geographical area. When you think Memphis, you think dry-rubbed ribs. Eastern North Carolina? Whole-hog pork with a vinegary sauce. Texas? Beef, pardner. Central South Carolina is all about mustardy mops, while there are pockets of Alabama where mayo-based sauces practically paint the town white.

But is there an "Atlanta style" of barbecue? Arguably the unofficial capital of the South, Atlanta should be known as a barbecue mecca the way Memphis is, right? Or Austin? Hell, even Lexington, N.C. — with a population of fewer than 20,000 — is more of a bona fide barbecue destination than we've ever been. Atlanta is situated in the heart of barbecue country, but when you ask some of the area's best barbecue bloggers and chefs to explain the city's place in the wider world of 'cue, you get more hemming and hawing than from a pitmaster being grilled on what's in his top-secret rub.

Fact is, if you look hard enough, you can find just about everybody else's particular styles and specialties on some local menu or other. Used to be that most places in town served a version of the pulled and chopped pork that's prevalent from Memphis to northern Alabama. Many still do, from old-school joints such as Sprayberry's in Newnan to new-'cue hotspots including Decatur's Burnt Fork BBQ. Lone Star State staples like unsauced beef brisket and sausage ("hot guts" to true Texans) have made their way OTP to suburban places like Grand Champion BBQ in Roswell and Milton. Even ribs can take on many variations, from the traditional rack at Fat Matt's Rib Shack in Midtown to wet or dry St. Louis-style ribs, as you'll find at D.B.A. Barbecue in Virginia-Highland. Whatever regional meat of choice floats your barbecue boat, it's probably being served at some strip mall, shack, or new 'cue boutique in town. (With the possible exception of Kentucky mutton. That's a taste we just seem not to have acquired.)

"We can steal — I mean, research — anybody's style," jokes Sam Huff of Sam's two BBQ-1 locations, both Cobb County mainstays. Huff knows a thing or two about the long-standing history of "style-borrowing" in the world of 'cue; it's hard to find a barbecue restaurateur in town who doesn't refer to him simply as "Sam," and then go on to freely admit to having eaten off his menu in the name of research.

Huff's influence throughout the world of Atlanta barbecue is well-documented. Along with partners Dave Poe and Dave Roberts, Huff introduced competition-caliber 'cue to the suburbs and built BBQ-1 into a superstar. The trio split after a few years, but each of them stayed in the game. Huff remains the driving force behind BBQ-1. Poe runs Dave Poe's BBQ just down the road from BBQ-1 in West Cobb, and Roberts went on to start Community Q BBQ in Decatur. Another onetime Huff staffer is responsible for Grand Champion's two OTP outposts. All five restaurants boast trophies, awards, and accolades to spare ... and all five regularly make any honest "best-of" conversation about Atlanta's barbecue scene.

Huff believes not having a singular Atlanta style is an advantage rather than a crutch.

"Not being locked into a stereotype of what barbecue is means we can pick and choose based on what tastes best," he says. "We can be a little more creative."

That creative freedom has inspired some local barbecue specialties that longtime locals might never have imagined just a few years ago. At Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, it's the curious Frito pie that seems to get the most buzz of all. "I cook what I know," Jonathan Fox says. For him and his twin, Justin, beanless chili ladled right into a single-serving bag of corn chips was a Little League concession stand staple as they grew up in Texas. Though the staff thought the brothers were crazy when the handheld snack was first suggested for the menu, on a cold winter's day about six months after the restaurant opened, Frito pie has become enough of a signature offering that a cheffified version of it was even developed for an event the restaurant participated in last June at the James Beard House. Fox and his crew handmade their own corn chip dough from fresh masa flour and lard. They then gelatinized their brisket chili and rolled it (and a sprinkling of cheese) into balls of the dough. The balls were frozen, then fried, to make one-bite "popper" versions of the guilty-pleasure snack.

Changing long-standing beliefs about what barbecue is or isn't can be challenging. When Fox Bros. first opened, customers had no qualms about telling Jonathan that he needed to tweak his Brunswick stew a certain way or that there should always be an entire roster of sauces on the tables. Customers may have been skeptical at first, but sticking to their Texas-barbecue guns eventually paid off for the Fox boys, to the tune of more than 2,000 customers (not including to-go orders) on a typical Saturday. And now their Lone Star-style beef brisket actually outpaces good old Georgia pork as their top seller.

For perhaps the ultimate example of how no locale — regardless of how far-flung — is off-limits when it comes to influencing Atlanta's barbecue, look no further than Heirloom Market BBQ. Yes, it's been talked about dozens of times before. But drive by the tiny storefront — notably smaller than the package store next door — and take a gander at the snaking-into-the-parking-lot line every day at lunchtime, and you can't deny the cultlike popularity of Heirloom's kimchi-tinged, Korean-spiced 'cue.

But even for native Texan Cody Taylor and his wife, Jiyeon Lee, a former Korean pop star-turned culinary grad, their award-winning style was originally born of pure improvisation.

"When we opened, we just used stuff we had in our refrigerator," Taylor says. "We wanted to contribute to Atlanta becoming a barbecue city ... but I'd be run out of Dodge for injecting a brisket with miso in Texas," he says, laughing. It may have started as a by-the-seat-of-the-pants experiment, but now Taylor reports seeing some of the same Asian ingredients being used at high-end barbecue boutiques in Austin, Chicago, and New York.

Not being known for one thing (or bound to one style or specialty) has allowed Atlanta chefs — and especially barbecue cooks — to piece together an anything-goes sampler-platter approach. That in and of itself has arguably turned our city into a barbecue destination of sorts. Grant Goggans — who has reviewed more than 300 barbecue restaurants throughout the Southeast for his Atlanta-based blog Marie, Let's Eat! — says that places like Heirloom Market and Fox Bros. have given everyone else the permission to try new things and, in turn, made Atlanta a barbecue city that's too big to eat your way through in just one visit.

For Goggans, you have to get outside the metro proper to truly experience the rich depth of our 'cue heritage. Take a road trip to places like Austell, Douglasville, or Jasper and you can still find a few old-school joints that at one time typified true barbecue everywhere: meat smoked low and slow over live coals in open-air pits. Those places are much harder to find than they used to be, though, says big-time barbecuer Jason Dominy, who also writes the locally based blog Musings of a Ragamuffin. In the 1980s, he explains, new codes and health department regulations forced those pitmasters to do things like enclose their pits and install chimneys. Consequently, these mandated expenditures caused many of those historic mom-and-pops to close. Shuttered stalwarts such as Harold's Barbecue and Old Hickory House have largely faded into our barbecue past like wisps of hardwood smoke (save for the last remaining Hickory House location in Tucker), but a few institutions live on. Spots including Dean's Barbeque and Metter, Ga.'s Jomax Bar BQ offer an experience that's wholly different from ones at the many barbecue boutiques you see today ... and that's OK, according to Goggans.

These newer, slightly upscale barbecue destinations present an interesting paradox. Their traditional barbecue offerings themselves can be excellent — made with high-quality meats, expertly seasoned —and on par with what you would find at the more established restaurants. But you'll also find cheffy twists and WTF creations that would have the heads of those grizzled open-air pit veterans spinning. The menu at Westside's Bone Lick BBQ, for example, additionally features fried risotto balls, black bean burgers, and something called the Summer Saladgasm. Combine cuisine like that with super-trendy vintage decor, ironic '80s arcade games, Skee-Ball machines, and a vibe that's unapologetically as much about the party as the grub (they even have a DJ), and you've got an altogether different kind of barbecue joint.

"Authenticity can mean a lot," Goggans says, readily admitting that at least part of the recent barbecue renaissance has come about thanks to social-media-savvy foodies exactly like him.

"A lot of these new places are being opened by people who came from restaurants with established PR firms that know how to push the message out there," he says, on platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

Barbecue used to be smoked over live fires and is now cooked mostly in gas-powered boxes ... but make no mistake: The craze of barbecue-as-chef-driven-hipster-grub is often fueled largely by hype.

"When you see a bunch of bloggers all talk up a place, it could be legitimate," Goggans theorizes. "Or it could be that 10 of us all got invited to the same media event."

When he's not slinging the 'cue at BBQ-1 in Cobb County, Sam Huff is teaching sold-out barbecue classes and he's always on the search for the next roadside shack that could be an undiscovered diamond in the rough. Talking by phone (during a drive 120 miles south of his restaurant — just to look at someone's meat-smoking rig), Huff told of a recent revelation. He found a lone figure, with a beat-up trailer at an exit just off of I-75, selling pulled pork sandwiches. Sam rolled the dice, bought one, and marveled at how exceptional it was.

Huff believes so much in the sanctity of those out-of-the-way finds that he's even in early discussions to organize barbecue bus crawls, taking customers on pre-arranged routes throughout the state to hit six or seven joints in a day and exposing 'cue fanatics to new heights of hog heaven, even if it happens to be dished out inside a service station on a sparse stretch of highway (that's actually the case at Bigun's Barbeque between Ellijay and Jasper, one of Huff's favorite hidden hotspots).

So back to our original question: Is there an "Atlanta style" of barbecue? Not really. But perhaps not having a particular barbecue style is our style. According to Jonathan Fox, "good barbecue is just a mix of where you're at and where you're from." Atlanta's barbecue scene is a mishmash, a hodgepodge of random flavors and diverse influences. Yes, we have plenty of classic pulled pork and lots of traditional ribs. But we also have new 'cue concoctions being dreamed up all the time, introducing new techniques and tastes to the party. Such standbys as Sam's BBQ-1, Swallow at the Hollow, Daddy D'z BBQ Joynt, and Sprayberry's aren't going anywhere. But young guns such as Community Q, Fox Bros., Grand Champion, and even fusion-y places such as Heirloom Market bring an element of variety to the melting pot that is Atlanta barbecue. It's a diverse blend of old, new, near, and far — always evolving and constantly being reinvented.      Cl Staff Photo  0,0,10  BBQ Restaurants in Atlanta  bbq  13080514 12456709                          Food Issue - Is there an Atlanta barbecue? "
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Article

Thursday October 16, 2014 04:00 am EDT
In a sea of regional barbecue styles, Atlanta 'cue could have an identity crisis | more...
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  string(44) "Food - The Ultimate Atlanta Burger Smackdown"
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  string(31) "12 burgers. 4 judges. 1 winner."
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  string(26261) "Ask a dozen Atlantans what the best cheeseburger in town is, and you're likely to get a dozen different answers. Sure, there are places that have lodged themselves into the meaty depths of our burger-craving brains — Ann's Snack Bar, Holeman & Finch, the Vortex — but there are also legions of fans for burgers from grungy standbys such as George's and the Earl, as well as upscale restaurants such as One Eared Stag and the General Muir. Crowning a winner is a task no one burger lover could conquer. For Creative Loafing's Ultimate Atlanta Burger Smackdown, we employed a foursome of food writers to systematically survey 12 different contenders.

Over the course of a week and a half, CL Food Editor Stephanie Dazey, Dining Critic Jennifer Zyman, and contributing writer Brad Kaplan teamed up with burger expert Todd Brock. For the last four years, Brock has been covering the Atlanta burger beat for the James Beard Award-winning food website Serious Eats. Our team narrowed the burger smackdown list to 11 of the city's most raved-about burgers before setting off to score each one, including George's, Highland Tap, the Vortex, the Earl, Muss & Turner's, Ann's Snack Bar, One Eared Stag, Bocado, Miller Union, Holeman & Finch, and the General Muir. We then let readers vote for the 12th contender among a short list of finalists. The Pinewood ran away with the win.

All four writers rated each cheeseburger on a 50-point scale in six areas. The patty: Was the meat seasoned well and flavorful? Was it a pleasing texture? Was it cooked to the proper temperature? The toppings: Were they fresh and did they add to or detract from the burger's flavor profile? (If the base-model burger at a restaurant did not come with cheese, we opted to add a slice of American, for consistency.) The bun: Was it a textural complement, hefty enough to uphold a juicy beef patty and all the fixins? We also considered the visual appeal of each burger's presentation, price, and the overall dining experience at each establishment. Once we tallied all of these scores, we took the average of the total number of points awarded to each burger to produce both an overall winner and subsequent burger rankings.

There will be grumbling. Even with a dozen contenders — double the number of candidates in past food-focused smackdowns — the list can't contain everyone's favorite, and we consciously eliminated local burger chains such as Flip, Grindhouse, and Farm Burger. Some of us were rooting for an upset, but the two burgers that came out on top turned out to be competition favorites. There was, however, some controversy. The top two burgers are separated by a fraction of a point. And two in-town heavyweights tied for third. Let the smackdown begin.

?
---?page?image-1?
__
!THE VETERAN
__

#11. George's Restaurant and Bar

VITALS: Original Beef Burger (8-ounce)

A charcoal-grilled, 100-percent ground chuck burger, on a lightly grilled wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, plus a pickle spear, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise on the side.

AVAILABILITY: lunch and dinner

SIDE: A la carte

PRICE: $6, add cheese for $1

SCORE: 20.75

?
---?
Todd Brock: Umm ... yeah. So there's a burger in a plastic basket. With a plastic fork and knife. Kind of a buzz kill. Having this burger set down in front of me actually made me feel sad. I'm glad it's dark in here.

Stephanie Dazey: It looks like a normal, run-of-the-mill bar burger with the requisite lettuce, onion, and tomato, but on an inexplicable, unremarkable wheat bun.

Brad Kaplan: I like the sheer size of the unce burger. It's daunting. ... The aroma that hits me before I take a bite is nice. Eau de beef. But as soon as I take a bite, I can't say why or how, but it is off. And in desperate need of a severely large squirt of ketchup to save it.

TB: The patty itself looks nice and even sports a touch of char and a little bit of color inside. But there's no seasoning that I can detect. I can feel it rolling around in my mouth, but there's nothing the least bit identifiable about the flavor.

Jennifer Zyman: This burger made me mad. I get angry when food is this bad. It was inedible, and I couldn't believe people still put this up as a top burger in this town. I would definitely classify this under "avoid."

BK: Well, I threw out most of my burger — I actually had them pack it up to go so I wouldn't embarrass them by sending it back. But the price is low. And the beer is cheap. And it's dark enough in there that you might not notice how bad the beef is.

?image-14?
---?image-2?
__
!THE BAIT AND SWITCH
__

#10. Highland Tap

VITALS: Highland Tap Steak Burger

A hickory wood-grilled patty made with ground Angus beef and house steak trimmings, challah bun, leaf lettuce, tomato and crinkle pickles, sides of tomato jam and Vidalia onion mustard.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with hand-cut onion rings or fries

PRICE: $11

SCORE: 29.25

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BK: OK, it looks pretty good, with the lettuce and tomato, etc. on the side ready to build your own. Good portion of 50/50 fries and rings, which you gotta like.

TB: Points off for a lettuce leaf that was way too big and a tomato slice that was way too thick. Does one need tomato and tomato jam? A truly great burger is about simplicity, and that requires attention to the details. Just hacking up the nearest veggies and randomly tossing them on top can sometimes skew the delicate proportions of what a burger should be.

BK: This is supposed to be a challah bun? I'm not getting that. It's toasty, and bready, but actually falls apart a bit too easily.

SD: The meat tastes bland, and the toppings don't add much in the flavor department. I get no char, wood, or smoke, or any of the other complex flavors that come with a well-executed burger patty.

JZ: This is one of the few places that feels old and cool in Atlanta. Even though they have renovated the restaurant, it's masculine, dark, and musky. I also love the servers, who you can tell have been working here a long time.

BK: This should be a classic burger, but I really miss the smoke and char that this deserves. And they need to stick with old-school ketchup and mustard, not the frou frou yuppie stuff. This is Highland Tap, for chrissake.

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!THE PLAIN JANE
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#9. The Vortex

VITALS: The Plain Ol' Original Vortex Burger

A half-pound, 100-percent sirloin patty, grilled over an open flame, topped with lettuce, tomato, sweet red onion, and crinkle dill pickle slices.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with choice of side

PRICE: $8.25, add American cheese $.95

SCORE: 31

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JZ: I see an enormous traditional restaurant burger. The yellowish bun is buttered and topped with a sliced pickle, pristine curly lettuce, a thick slice of red onion, tomato, and a thick patty covered in melted American cheese. It is very appetizing. I want to eat this burger now. It's definitely old-school in presentation and I am OK with that.

TB: Those thick Vortex half-pound patties get me every time, despite being a leaner cut than I generally favor. I've been coming to the Vortex for almost 20 years, and this was the first time I ever recall being asked for my doneness preference. I'd swear that one of the famed "rules" from the snarky menu was that all burgers would be cooked medium well.

SD: Bread and butter pickles are cool, but these flat, crinkle-cut slices of dill pickles add the perfect amount of tang and crunch distributed evenly throughout each bite.

BK: I asked for medium rare. My burger came out well done. Dry. Shrunken. I sent it back, which I rarely, rarely do. The next one did indeed come out spot on, and so much better than the first. But still, for a relatively thick burger, there's not much juiciness. The flavor is nice and classic.

TB: People seem to either love or loathe the Vortex. Some think it's all a bit much — the tattoos, the piercings, the giant skull, the whole L5P vibe that can come across as too in-your-face-scary or too manufactured-touristy, depending on your point of view.

BK: I get it. It's a solid, good burger. Definitely not worth going out of the way for.

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!THE BEST BAR BURGER
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#8. The Earl

VITALS: Earl Burger

A char-grilled, 100-percent Black Angus beef patty with romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, red onion

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with hand-cut fries

PRICE: $8

SCORE: 35

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SD: It's a big, deceptively average-looking cheeseburger on a sesame seed bun.

TB: If you're surprised by the Earl's inclusion in this smackdown, one bite of the beef will turn you right the fuck around and kick you square in the ass. The patty is excellent and juicy to the extreme. It burst open on impact and sent a warm trickle running down my arm. To be fair, it could use an extra shake of salt and pepper, but mine was cooked expertly.

BK: Nice grilled flavor, a bit overdone to medium, a touch dry. ... The tots are actually the highlight, nice and crunchy but still light.

JZ: I love being here tucked in a high-backed wood booth. The servers are attentive but give you enough distance to drink whiskey and have raucous conversations. I hadn't eaten this burger in a long time, and I actually put it on par with the Vortex. Eating both burgers reminded how much I miss big juicy restaurant burger patties. I wish people would bring those back as a trend. I would love to see all the fancy Atlanta chefs take that one, as so many feel like Shake Shack and Holeman imitations these days.

TB: I have to keep reminding myself that this is a dark-and-smoky-as-shit bar that's known for the loud live music in the back room. Looked at through that lens, this burger is phenomenal ... a far cry better than typical "bar grub." This is what George's wants to taste like. I wonder how many of the VaHi diehards have ventured down to the EAV to see what they're missing. The Earl's killer burger is perhaps the biggest surprise of the smackdown.

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!THE OUT-OF-TOWNER
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#7. Muss & Turners

VITALS: The Burger

A grass-fed beef burger grilled on a Big Green Egg and served on a French bun with white cheddar, poblano pepper, red onion, and cilantro aioli.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: A la carte

PRICE: $11.93

SCORE: 36.5

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TB: It's a sexy-ass burger. It's already dripping with burger juice before I even touch it. The white cheese and poblano pepper sticking out offer some visual interest, something a little different and slightly more elegant than the standard yellow American-and-LTO combo.

JZ: The burger is certainly appetizing but looks very lonely on the plate.

BK: This is a thick burger. A juicy burger. A meaty meat burger — especially for grass-fed beef, which can often end up dry. They asked how I wanted it, and they delivered a perfect medium rare, with a good peppery char on the exterior.

SD: I love the poblano. Such a simple addition that adds a pop of smoke and spice to a burger that's already flavorful from its Big Green Egg treatment. Too bad the bun wasn't sturdy enough to stand up to this explosively juicy burger.

JZ: Given what I've heard about this burger, I was expecting it to be much better. It was fine, but I didn't understand the hype. I would order the Reuben over this any day.

TB: Muss & Turners' OTP location is an insurmountable hindrance to some, a saving grace to others. As one of the rare upscale options in this office-park-heavy part of town, the lunch rush can be overwhelming and result in out-the-door lines. But this burger is the real deal. ... While you could argue that price shouldn't matter in a best-taste test, your wallet always weighs in as part of your overall dining experience. I am unabashedly a big fan of Muss & Turner's burger. But at $12, it should come with fries.

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!THE HOT MESS
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#6. Ann's Snack Bar

VITALS: The Ghetto Burger

Two ground chuck patties dusted with house seasoned salt, grilled on a flat-top with onions, and topped with American cheese, mustard, ketchup, onions, chili, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and bacon.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $8.50

SCORE: 38.5

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TB: The Ghetto Burger comes wrapped up in an absurdly large bundle of foil. Based on size alone, though, it is damn impressive. Unwrap that beast and it's a massive, steaming, sloppy pile of pure, gluttonous anticipation. Huge gawker factor: The lady at the next table went totally Linda Blair and swiveled her head all the way around for a better look. "Oh, good heavens," she said. I am positive my heart rate quickened. Interestingly, the Ghetto Burger comes already sliced in half for you ... as if that will somehow make it easier or tidier to manage.

JZ: The beef is super conventional tasting. Watching Ms. Ann squeeze it from that tube of beef and slop it on the grill killed any desire to eat the thing. I guess I am a burger snob now.

BK: I know the quality is not what you'd call artisanal, but there is some kind of magic here in the mayo and the ketchup and the chili and the cheese and the sweet onions and the crisp iceberg lettuce and the thick slice of tomato. It just works.

SD: This was my fifth burger of the day, and despite being borderline burger-wasted, I couldn't stop eating it. It's messy as hell and the service is slow, but Miss Ann's is absolutely destination-worthy.

TB: It's like dinner theater at your sassy grandma's house. With all your cousins. And their cousins. Great interaction with other customers waiting their turn. Much of the overall experience hinges on whether or not Miss Ann is in a good/playful mood that day. ... It occurs to me that Ann's is — bear with me here — a lot like Holeman & Finch, although the places themselves couldn't be more different. A burger here requires planning. And patience. There are hoops to jump through and rules to follow.

BK: Plastic plate, plastic fork and knife — it's that kinda place. The rules, the fear of doing something wrong, the joy of something so anachronistic and out of place in today's glossy burger chain world. ... I love it.

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!THE NONCONFORMIST
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#5. One Eared Stag

VITALS: Meatstick

A double-patty burger made with 75 percent chuck and 25 percent ground bacon grilled on the flat-top and topped with thinly sliced onions and housemade pickles.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $12

SCORE: 39

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TB: The Meatstick is always one sexy cover-model of a burger. Maybe the prettiest we've seen. The steak-knife-through-the-whole-thing shtick is a tired cliché, but it's truly a good-looking burger even without the prop.

BK: That knife! You gotta love the knife. It's a cheap trick, but it sets the mood.

TB: Gorgeous melt on the American cheese. Shades of a cellophane-wrapped youth. Sometimes simpler is better with the cheese. I kind of wish I liked pickles. Everyone's very proud of their housemade variety, and they just end up sitting off to the side for me.

BK: Best bun of the competition. Perfectly pillowy and buttery and still toasty. And the patty, oh so crunchy. You get that there's bacon mixed in there, but what's more impressive is that the overall impression is more steak-y than any other burger in town. Well-charred steak. With a pat of butter thrown on top.

SD: I know bacon is supposed to be ground into the patty, but I don't taste it as much as I smell it and feel it. Each bite coats your mouth with a little layer of grease.

JZ: Love the shaved onions because they give the burger a nice bite and help cut the inherent fattiness of the grind and other ingredients. I always have issues with the service here. It simply takes too long and feels disorganized, but they are awesome with kids.

TB: Objectively speaking, One Eared Stag is putting out a top-10 burger for sure. Cracking the top 5 or making a legitimate run at the No. 1 spot is a whole 'nother thing, though. It's like the difference between being good enough to go pro in your sport and being so outstanding you make the Hall of Fame.

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!THE DECATUR DANDY
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#4. The Pinewood

VITALS: Pinewood Cheeseburger

A double-patty Angus beef burger on a challah bun with housemade remoulade, tomatoes, red onion, local spring mix lettuce, Applewood bacon, and American cheese.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch, dinner, and brunch

SIDE: no side

PRICE: $5-$14

SCORE: 40.25

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BK: Well, dang, the readers spoke and their voices were heard. This is a great burger, among the juiciest I've had. There's not much char texture or flavor, but this burger brings the beefy and manages to overcome the lack of sear.

JZ: While most double stacks are relatively short, this burger stands tall. It is packed with clean beefy flavor punched up with bacon-y goodness and creamy melted cheese. The bun is on par with the best in town and holds up well when you smoosh the burger together to fit it in your mouth. It's definitely a favorite.

TB: This burger is gorgeous. Lots of sexy color-stacking from the toppings, and an overly generous side of seasoned shoestring fries. It was almost slow motion when the bartender walked that burger over to me.

SD: They asked me for a temp on a double stack? I ordered medium rare and it came out to the table medium raw. I had to send it back.

BK: Deploying the "standing knife" trick a la One Eared Stag, though with a wimpier knife. The cutesy upside-down top hat filled with Sir Kensington ketchup is at least unique.

TB: Both patties are blanketed with melty American, offering a lot of creaminess overall. Mixed greens are a nice touch and improve upon the standard lettuce with a shot of color, texture, a nice hint of bitterness, even if your initial thought is that some of it doesn't belong on a burger as much as it does a salad. The remoulade hiding under the bottom patty announces its presence with authority once you bite in. There's a noticeable tang that's reminiscent of relish or tartar sauce.

BK: It's super satisfying. Especially alongside one of the Pinewood's fine cocktails. It's a true bargain at $5 during weekday happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m.

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!THE FARM TO FABULOUS
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#3. Miller Union

VITALS: Grass-fed beef burger

A patty made with ground rib-eye and flat iron steak, and White Oak Pastures ground chuck, cooked on a gas grill with applewood chips on a toasted, buttered H&F sesame bun, and topped with housemade mayo, ketchup, dill pickles, red onion, romaine, tomato, and extra-sharp cheddar cheese.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch only

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $12

SCORE: 40.5

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BK: Now, this is gorgeous. They're going for maximum lift, building the top bun up above layers of pickle and tomato and onion and lettuce stacked just so. And the colors play beautifully off each other, from the smear of rust-colored spicy ketchup on the top bun, to the bright red tomato, down through the almost-orange cheddar cheese, with green shreds of lettuce mixed throughout as you bite into it. Bravo.

SD: Is "verticality" a word? If so, this burger definitely has that. It weirdly comes with homemade ketchup already smeared on. I wouldn't have minded as much if the ketchup weren't so heavily spiced and slightly bitter.

TB: It's a thick bistro-style patty of very well-seasoned beef. The meat itself is loose, not jam-packed into a dense disc. I asked for medium-rare, and there's an awful lot of pink inside. It's actually bordering on too rare, and perhaps depends on your personal interpretation of proper doneness coloring.

BK: The beef here is luscious, soft, tender, but just enough char on the exterior and seared into the meat to balance that out. Finger-licking good, though could use a bit more wow-factorin the flavor department.

JZ: It's a nice grind with plenty of depth. The tomatoes, red onion, and lettuce are tops. You can tell the chef is sourcing great ingredients.

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!THE SIMPLE PLEASURE
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#3. Bocado

VITALS: Bocado burger stack

A double-patty burger made with ground brisket, chuck roll, and short rib, grilled on the flat-top and served on a sesame seed bun with housemade bread-and-butter pickles, two Kraft American singles slices, and mayonnaise.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $9.25-$13

SCORE: 40.5

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BK: I look at Bocado's double stack and I am happy. The melding of the meat and cheese, the thick discs of pickle, the simplicity of it ... and the generous bowl of addictive garlic herb fries ($1 extra).

TB: Seeing three of them plated together as the off-menu Wimpy Platter is impressive. Fries served in a separate bowl put the focus squarely on this photogenic burger. It's melty and steamy.

JZ: The bun is buttered and toasted, and is spread with a thin layer of mayo to prevent any sogginess from the juices of the meat. It's a nice touch. The burger construction is nice and tight. I have always liked the size of these burgers, not too big and not too small.

TB: There is an exquisite crust on the thin patties, with edges that are nicely crisp and craggly. But I recall being blown away by this burger the first time I had it. This is good, to be sure, but not amazing. ... The bun is squishy and soft, but holds together well.

SD: I love how the focus remains on the meat and cheese. It's very elemental, no bells and whistles. It's a fantastic burger, and it's been a favorite for years. This time around, the patty's flavor lacked some of the depth that I remember, like it was missing a secret ingredient or something that has made Bocado's burger so wow-worthy in the past.

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!THE I HAVE TO DO WHAT TO GET A BURGER? BURGER
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#2. Holeman & Finch

VITALS: The Burger, a double-patty burger grilled on the flat-top and served on a housemade bun with pickles, red onion, and American cheese, plus housemade ketchup and mustard on the side.

AVAILABILITY: Dinner and brunch only

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $12

SCORE: 44.5

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BK: God dammit. After the ridiculous wait, the absurd pomp and circumstance, I wanted to not be taken. I was hoping for a letdown. But from the moment I saw this burger come out of the kitchen, I kinda knew it was gonna be good. Actually, it was almost 20 minutes before that, shortly after 10 p.m., when the aroma came heavily wafting through the room. That aroma was a much better announcement of impending joy than the stupid bullhorn cheer of WHEN I SAY BURGER YOU SAY TIME, BURGER ... TIME! BURGER ... TIME!

TB: Picture-perfect. Look up "cheeseburger" in the dictionary and this should be the accompanying photo. Maybe it's the two-hour wait talking, but I cannot frickin' wait to dive into this little bundle of burger beauty.

SD: Ughhhh, this burger is damn good. Everything about it. It's the Goldilocks of burgers. Not too big, not too small, not too messy. Everything is just right. Is it possible that this burger has gotten better over time?

BK: The patties have got that char, that deep meaty flavor, that salty, juicy dripping through the crust. I love the bread-and-butter pickles, the sweet tangle of onion beneath the melted American cheese. They both play so well beside the beef itself, a touch of acid crunch to go with that oozy cheese. Did I mention the salt? Maybe it's a topping, maybe it's part and parcel of the patty, but it's there ... and it brings everything together. No need to touch that vinegary homemade ketchup, though the Dijon is quite nice.

JZ: I hate the wait for this burger. I am not big on waiting for food in general, but I hate that you now have to come at 8 to reserve your burger for later. It kind of kills the magic of that 10 p.m. "burger time!" call. I also feel this place has lost a little of what made it so special in the past.

BK: How do I score this? The wait is absurd. The rigmarole is ridiculous. But it's kind of endearing, and the burger is legitimately worth going out of your way for ... at least to some extent. Props for having the balls to keep up this madness when they could sell a few hundred every single night out in the parking lot if they wanted to.

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!THE BEST OVERALL
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#1. The General Muir

VITALS: The Burger

A double-patty burger made with ground brisket and short rib, grilled on the flat-top and served on a buttered, toasted housemade bun with Russian dressing, Gruyere, and housemade pickles and pastrami.

AVAILABILITY: Dinner only

SIDE: Comes with hand-cut fries

PRICE: $14

SCORE: 44.75

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BK: "Slutty" may get tossed around a lot when it comes to cheeseburgers, and this one fits the bill. Oozing cheese, grease pouring forth, charred-to-heck patties dripping over the edges. And the crowd of crisp, gorgeous fries hanging out on the side doesn't hurt.

TB: I love the between-the-patties placement of the caramelized onions; it lets that telltale flavor become part of the burger instead of something just thrown on top of the burger. Russian dressing is totally underutilized in any dish not appearing in a 1970s TV show. What's up with that? It's a great add-on here. But the star of this burger is the General Muir's pastrami. Thick and succulent, it's draped over the patty in a meat-on-meat love fest.

JZ: The grind is nice and fatty without being too lean and always cooked just enough to stay tender. I love the Reuben-inspired toppings. It's very in line with the concept of the restaurant and works surprisingly well on the burger. Baker Rob Alexander, formerly of H&F, has worked hard to get this bun right.

BK: Fourteen dollars with that load of fries is nice, and the setting is perfect — part diner, part New York deli, part modern brasserie.

SD: It's a beautiful thing when the cheese is so melty it actually becomes a part of the meat. The patties are smashed thin, beautifully charred, and yet, still juicy. The crisped-on-the-outside pastrami lends a long, salty, beefy finish to each bite that's cut perfectly by the tangy Russian dressing. In a burger scene currently dominated by textbook double stacks, it's refreshing to see a burger with some personality level the traditional playing field.

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  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(27671) "Ask a dozen Atlantans what the best cheeseburger in town is, and you're likely to get a dozen different answers. Sure, there are places that have lodged themselves into the meaty depths of our burger-craving brains — Ann's Snack Bar, Holeman & Finch, the Vortex — but there are also legions of fans for burgers from grungy standbys such as George's and the Earl, as well as upscale restaurants such as One Eared Stag and the General Muir. Crowning a winner is a task no one burger lover could conquer. For ''Creative Loafing'''s Ultimate Atlanta Burger Smackdown, we employed a foursome of food writers to systematically survey 12 different contenders.

Over the course of a week and a half, ''CL'' Food Editor Stephanie Dazey, Dining Critic Jennifer Zyman, and contributing writer Brad Kaplan teamed up with burger expert Todd Brock. For the last four years, Brock has been covering the Atlanta burger beat for the James Beard Award-winning food website Serious Eats. Our team narrowed the burger smackdown list to 11 of the city's most raved-about burgers before setting off to score each one, including George's, Highland Tap, the Vortex, the Earl, Muss & Turner's, Ann's Snack Bar, One Eared Stag, Bocado, Miller Union, Holeman & Finch, and the General Muir. We then let readers vote for the 12th contender among a short list of finalists. The Pinewood ran away with the win.

All four writers rated each cheeseburger on a 50-point scale in six areas. The patty: Was the meat seasoned well and flavorful? Was it a pleasing texture? Was it cooked to the proper temperature? The toppings: Were they fresh and did they add to or detract from the burger's flavor profile? (If the base-model burger at a restaurant did not come with cheese, we opted to add a slice of American, for consistency.) The bun: Was it a textural complement, hefty enough to uphold a juicy beef patty and all the fixins? We also considered the visual appeal of each burger's presentation, price, and the overall dining experience at each establishment. Once we tallied all of these scores, we took the average of the total number of points awarded to each burger to produce both an overall winner and subsequent burger rankings.

There will be grumbling. Even with a dozen contenders — double the number of candidates in past food-focused smackdowns — the list can't contain everyone's favorite, and we consciously eliminated local burger chains such as Flip, Grindhouse, and Farm Burger. Some of us were rooting for an upset, but the two burgers that came out on top turned out to be competition favorites. There was, however, some controversy. The top two burgers are separated by a fraction of a point. And two in-town heavyweights tied for third. Let the smackdown begin.

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!THE VETERAN
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#11. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/georges-bar-and-restaurant/Location?oid=12122448|George's Restaurant and Bar]

__VITALS:__ Original Beef Burger (8-ounce)

A charcoal-grilled, 100-percent ground chuck burger, on a lightly grilled wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, plus a pickle spear, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise on the side.

__AVAILABILITY:__ lunch and dinner

__SIDE:__ A la carte

__PRICE:__ $6, add cheese for $1

__SCORE:__ 20.75

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__Todd Brock:__ Umm ... yeah. So there's a burger in a plastic basket. With a plastic fork and knife. Kind of a buzz kill. Having this burger set down in front of me actually made me feel sad. I'm glad it's dark in here.

__Stephanie Dazey:__ It looks like a normal, run-of-the-mill bar burger with the requisite lettuce, onion, and tomato, but on an inexplicable, unremarkable wheat bun.

__Brad Kaplan:__ I like the sheer size of the 8-ounce burger. It's daunting. ... The aroma that hits me before I take a bite is nice. Eau de beef. But as soon as I take a bite, I can't say why or how, but it is ''off''. And in desperate need of a severely large squirt of ketchup to save it.

__TB:__ The patty itself looks nice and even sports a touch of char and a little bit of color inside. But there's no seasoning that I can detect. I can feel it rolling around in my mouth, but there's nothing the least bit identifiable about the flavor.

__Jennifer Zyman:__ This burger made me mad. I get angry when food is this bad. It was inedible, and I couldn't believe people still put this up as a top burger in this town. I would definitely classify this under "avoid."

__BK:__ Well, I threw out most of my burger — I actually had them pack it up to go so I wouldn't embarrass them by sending it back. But the price is low. And the beer is cheap. And it's dark enough in there that you might not notice how bad the beef is.

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!THE BAIT AND SWITCH
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#10. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/highland-tap/Location?oid=1294486|Highland Tap]

__VITALS:__ Highland Tap Steak Burger

A hickory wood-grilled patty made with ground Angus beef and house steak trimmings, challah bun, leaf lettuce, tomato and crinkle pickles, sides of tomato jam and Vidalia onion mustard.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Lunch and dinner

__SIDE:__ Comes with hand-cut onion rings or fries

__PRICE:__ $11

__SCORE:__ 29.25

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__BK:__ OK, it looks pretty good, with the lettuce and tomato, etc. on the side ready to build your own. Good portion of 50/50 fries and rings, which you gotta like.

__TB:__ Points off for a lettuce leaf that was way too big and a tomato slice that was way too thick. Does one need tomato ''and'' tomato jam? A truly great burger is about simplicity, and that requires attention to the details. Just hacking up the nearest veggies and randomly tossing them on top can sometimes skew the delicate proportions of what a burger should be.

__BK:__ This is supposed to be a challah bun? I'm not getting that. It's toasty, and bready, but actually falls apart a bit too easily.

__SD:__ The meat tastes bland, and the toppings don't add much in the flavor department. I get no char, wood, or smoke, or any of the other complex flavors that come with a well-executed burger patty.

__JZ:__ This is one of the few places that feels old and cool in Atlanta. Even though they have renovated [the restaurant], it's masculine, dark, and musky. I also love the servers, who you can tell have been working here a long time.

__BK:__ This ''should'' be a classic burger, but I really miss the smoke and char that this deserves. And they need to stick with old-school ketchup and mustard, not the frou frou yuppie stuff. This is Highland Tap, for chrissake.

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!THE PLAIN JANE
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#9. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/the-vortex-bar-and-grill-midtown/Location?oid=1297516|The Vortex]

__VITALS:__ The Plain Ol' Original Vortex Burger

A half-pound, 100-percent sirloin patty, grilled over an open flame, topped with lettuce, tomato, sweet red onion, and crinkle dill pickle slices.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Lunch and dinner

__SIDE:__ Comes with choice of side

__PRICE:__ $8.25, add American cheese $.95

__SCORE:__ 31

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__JZ:__ I see an enormous traditional restaurant burger. The yellowish bun is buttered and topped with a sliced pickle, pristine curly lettuce, a thick slice of red onion, tomato, and a thick patty covered in melted American cheese. It is very appetizing. I want to eat this burger now. It's definitely old-school in presentation and I am OK with that.

__TB:__ Those thick Vortex half-pound patties get me every time, despite being a leaner cut than I generally favor. I've been coming to the Vortex for almost 20 years, and this was the first time I ever recall being asked for my doneness preference. I'd swear that one of the famed "rules" from the snarky menu was that all burgers would be cooked medium well.

__SD:__ Bread and butter pickles are cool, but these flat, crinkle-cut slices of dill pickles add the perfect amount of tang and crunch distributed evenly throughout each bite.

__BK:__ I asked for medium rare. My burger came out well done. Dry. Shrunken. I sent it back, which I rarely, rarely do. The next one did indeed come out spot on, and so much better than the first. But still, for a relatively thick burger, there's not much juiciness. The flavor is nice and classic.

__TB:__ People seem to either love or loathe the Vortex. Some think it's all a bit much — the tattoos, the piercings, the [giant] skull, the whole L5P vibe that can come across as too in-your-face-scary or too manufactured-touristy, depending on your point of view.

__BK:__ I get it. It's a solid, good burger. Definitely not worth going out of the way for.

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__
!THE BEST BAR BURGER
__

#8. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/the-earl/Location?oid=1304975|The Earl]

__VITALS:__ Earl Burger

A char-grilled, 100-percent Black Angus beef patty with romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, red onion

__AVAILABILITY:__ Lunch and dinner

__SIDE:__ Comes with hand-cut fries

__PRICE:__ $8

__SCORE:__ 35

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---?
__SD:__ It's a big, deceptively average-looking cheeseburger on a sesame seed bun.

__TB:__ If you're surprised by the Earl's inclusion in this smackdown, one bite of the beef will turn you right the fuck around and kick you square in the ass. The patty is excellent and juicy to the extreme. It burst open on impact and sent a warm trickle running down my arm. To be fair, it could use an extra shake of salt and pepper, but mine was cooked expertly.

__BK:__ Nice grilled flavor, a bit overdone to medium, a touch dry. ... The tots are actually the highlight, nice and crunchy but still light.

__JZ:__ I love being here tucked in a high-backed wood booth. The servers are attentive but give you enough distance to drink whiskey and have raucous conversations. I hadn't eaten this burger in a long time, and I actually put it on par with the Vortex. Eating both burgers reminded how much I miss big juicy restaurant burger patties. I wish people would bring those back as a trend. I would love to see all the fancy Atlanta chefs take that one, as so many feel like Shake Shack and Holeman imitations these days.

__TB:__ I have to keep reminding myself that this is a dark-and-smoky-as-shit bar that's known for the loud live music in the back room. Looked at through that lens, this burger is phenomenal ... a far cry better than typical "bar grub." This is what George's wants to taste like. I wonder how many of the VaHi diehards have ventured down to the EAV to see what they're missing. The Earl's killer burger is perhaps the biggest surprise of the smackdown.

?[image-17]?
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__
!THE OUT-OF-TOWNER
__

#7. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/muss_turner_s/Location?oid=1294430|Muss & Turners]

__VITALS:__ The Burger

A grass-fed beef burger grilled on a Big Green Egg and served on a French bun with white cheddar, poblano pepper, red onion, and cilantro aioli.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Lunch and dinner

__SIDE:__ A la carte

__PRICE:__ $11.93

__SCORE:__ 36.5

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__TB:__ It's a sexy-ass burger. It's already dripping with burger juice before I even touch it. The white cheese and poblano pepper sticking out offer some visual interest, something a little different and slightly more elegant than the standard yellow American-and-LTO combo.

__JZ:__ The burger is certainly appetizing but looks very lonely on the plate.

__BK:__ This is a thick burger. A juicy burger. A meaty meat burger — especially for grass-fed beef, which can often end up dry. They asked how I wanted it, and they delivered a perfect medium rare, with a good peppery char on the exterior.

__SD:__ I love the poblano. Such a simple addition that adds a pop of smoke and spice to a burger that's already flavorful from its Big Green Egg treatment. Too bad the bun wasn't sturdy enough to stand up to this explosively juicy burger.

__JZ:__ Given what I've heard about this burger, I was expecting it to be much better. It was fine, but I didn't understand the hype. I would order the Reuben over this any day.

__TB:__ [Muss & Turners'] OTP location is an insurmountable hindrance to some, a saving grace to others. As one of the rare upscale options in this office-park-heavy part of town, the lunch rush can be overwhelming and result in out-the-door lines. But this burger is the real deal. ... While you could argue that price shouldn't matter in a best-taste test, your wallet always weighs in as part of your overall dining experience. I am unabashedly a big fan of Muss & Turner's burger. But at $12, it should come with fries.

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__
!THE HOT MESS
__

#6. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/ann_s_snack_bar/Location?oid=1299797|Ann's Snack Bar]

__VITALS:__ The Ghetto Burger

Two ground chuck patties dusted with house seasoned salt, grilled on a flat-top with onions, and topped with American cheese, mustard, ketchup, onions, chili, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and bacon.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Lunch and dinner

__SIDE:__ Comes with fries

__PRICE:__ $8.50

__SCORE:__ 38.5

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__TB:__ The Ghetto Burger comes wrapped up in an absurdly large bundle of foil. Based on size alone, though, it is damn impressive. Unwrap that beast and it's a massive, steaming, sloppy pile of pure, gluttonous anticipation. Huge gawker factor: The lady at the next table went totally Linda Blair and swiveled her head all the way around for a better look. "Oh, good heavens," she said. I am positive my heart rate quickened. Interestingly, the Ghetto Burger comes already sliced in half for you ... as if that will somehow make it easier or tidier to manage.

__JZ:__ The beef is super conventional tasting. Watching Ms. Ann squeeze it from that tube of beef and slop it on the grill killed any desire to eat the thing. I guess I am a burger snob now.

__BK:__ I know the quality is not what you'd call artisanal, but there is some kind of magic here in the mayo and the ketchup and the chili and the cheese and the sweet onions and the crisp iceberg lettuce and the thick slice of tomato. It just works.

__SD:__ This was my fifth burger of the day, and despite being borderline burger-wasted, I couldn't stop eating it. It's messy as hell and the service is slow, but Miss Ann's is absolutely destination-worthy.

__TB:__ It's like dinner theater at your sassy grandma's house. With all your cousins. And their cousins. Great interaction with other customers waiting their turn. Much of the overall experience hinges on whether or not Miss Ann is in a good/playful mood that day. ... It occurs to me that Ann's is — bear with me here — a lot like Holeman & Finch, although the places themselves couldn't be more different. A burger here requires planning. And patience. There are hoops to jump through and rules to follow.

__BK:__ Plastic plate, plastic fork and knife — it's that kinda place. The rules, the fear of doing something wrong, the joy of something so anachronistic and out of place in today's glossy burger chain world. ... I love it.

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__
!THE NONCONFORMIST
__

#5. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/one_eared_stag/Location?oid=3291163|One Eared Stag]

__VITALS:__ Meatstick

A double-patty burger made with 75 percent chuck and 25 percent ground bacon grilled on the flat-top and topped with thinly sliced onions and housemade pickles.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Lunch and dinner

__SIDE:__ Comes with fries

__PRICE:__ $12

__SCORE:__ 39

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__TB:__ The Meatstick is always one sexy cover-model of a burger. Maybe the prettiest we've seen. The steak-knife-through-the-whole-thing shtick is a tired cliché, but it's truly a good-looking burger even without the prop.

__BK:__ That knife! You gotta love the knife. It's a cheap trick, but it sets the mood.

__TB:__ Gorgeous melt on the American cheese. Shades of a cellophane-wrapped youth. Sometimes simpler is better with the cheese. I kind of wish I liked pickles. Everyone's very proud of their housemade variety, and they just end up sitting off to the side for me.

__BK:__ Best bun of the competition. Perfectly pillowy and buttery and still toasty. And the patty, oh so crunchy. You get that there's bacon mixed in there, but what's more impressive is that the overall impression is more steak-y than any other burger in town. Well-charred steak. With a pat of butter thrown on top.

__SD:__ I know bacon is supposed to be ground into the patty, but I don't taste it as much as I smell it and feel it. Each bite coats your mouth with a little layer of grease.

__JZ:__ Love the shaved onions because they give the burger a nice bite and help cut the inherent fattiness of the grind and other ingredients. I always have issues with the service here. It simply takes too long and feels disorganized, but they are awesome with kids.

__TB:__ Objectively speaking, One Eared Stag is putting out a top-10 burger for sure. Cracking the top 5 or making a legitimate run at the No. 1 spot is a whole 'nother thing, though. It's like the difference between being good enough to go pro in your sport and being so outstanding you make the Hall of Fame.

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---?[image-8]?
__
!THE DECATUR DANDY
__

#4. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/the-pinewood-tippling-room/Location?oid=5651330|The Pinewood]

__VITALS:__ Pinewood Cheeseburger

A double-patty Angus beef burger on a challah bun with housemade remoulade, tomatoes, red onion, local spring mix lettuce, Applewood bacon, and American cheese.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Lunch, dinner, and brunch

__SIDE:__ no side

__PRICE:__ $5-$14

__SCORE:__ 40.25

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---?
__BK:__ Well, dang, the readers spoke and their voices were heard. This is a great burger, among the juiciest I've had. There's not much char texture or flavor, but this burger brings the beefy and manages to overcome the lack of sear.

__JZ:__ While most double stacks are relatively short, this burger stands tall. It is packed with clean beefy flavor punched up with bacon-y goodness and creamy melted cheese. The bun is on par with the best in town and holds up well when you smoosh the burger together to fit it in your mouth. It's definitely a favorite.

__TB:__ This burger is gorgeous. Lots of sexy color-stacking from the toppings, and an overly generous side of seasoned shoestring fries. It was almost slow motion when the bartender walked that burger over to me.

__SD:__ They asked me for a temp on a double stack? I ordered medium rare and it came out to the table medium ''raw''. I had to send it back.

__BK:__ Deploying the "standing knife" trick a la One Eared Stag, though with a wimpier knife. The cutesy upside-down top hat filled with Sir Kensington ketchup is at least unique.

__TB:__ Both patties are blanketed with melty American, offering a lot of creaminess overall. Mixed greens are a nice touch and improve upon the standard lettuce with a shot of color, texture, a nice hint of bitterness, even if your initial thought is that some of it doesn't belong on a burger as much as it does a salad. The remoulade hiding under the bottom patty announces its presence with authority once you bite in. There's a noticeable tang that's reminiscent of relish or tartar sauce.

__BK:__ It's super satisfying. Especially alongside one of the Pinewood's fine cocktails. It's a true bargain at $5 during weekday happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m.

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__
!THE FARM TO FABULOUS
__

#3. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/miller_union/Location?oid=1305729|Miller Union]

__VITALS:__ Grass-fed beef burger

A patty made with ground rib-eye and flat iron steak, and White Oak Pastures ground chuck, cooked on a gas grill with applewood chips on a toasted, buttered H&F sesame bun, and topped with housemade mayo, ketchup, dill pickles, red onion, romaine, tomato, and extra-sharp cheddar cheese.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Lunch only

__SIDE:__ Comes with fries

__PRICE:__ $12

__SCORE:__ 40.5

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---?
__BK:__ Now, this is gorgeous. They're going for maximum lift, building the top bun up above layers of pickle and tomato and onion and lettuce stacked just so. And the colors play beautifully off each other, from the smear of rust-colored spicy ketchup on the top bun, to the bright red tomato, down through the almost-orange cheddar cheese, with green shreds of lettuce mixed throughout as you bite into it. Bravo.

__SD:__ Is "verticality" a word? If so, this burger definitely has that. It weirdly comes with homemade ketchup already smeared on. I wouldn't have minded as much if the ketchup weren't so heavily spiced and slightly bitter.

__TB:__ It's a thick bistro-style patty of very well-seasoned beef. The meat itself is loose, not jam-packed into a dense disc. I asked for medium-rare, and there's an awful lot of pink inside. It's actually bordering on too rare, and perhaps depends on your personal interpretation of proper doneness coloring.

__BK:__ The beef here is luscious, soft, tender, but just enough char on the exterior and seared into the meat to balance that out. Finger-licking good, though could use a bit more wow-factorin the flavor department.

__JZ:__ It's a nice grind with plenty of depth. The tomatoes, red onion, and lettuce are tops. You can tell the chef is sourcing great ingredients.

?[image-22]?
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__
!THE SIMPLE PLEASURE
__

#3. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/bocado/Location?oid=1305596|Bocado]

__VITALS:__ Bocado burger stack

A double-patty burger made with ground brisket, chuck roll, and short rib, grilled on the flat-top and served on a sesame seed bun with housemade bread-and-butter pickles, two Kraft American singles slices, and mayonnaise.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Lunch and dinner

__SIDE:__ Comes with fries

__PRICE:__ $9.25-$13

__SCORE:__ 40.5

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---?
__BK:__ I look at Bocado's double stack and I am happy. The melding of the meat and cheese, the thick discs of pickle, the simplicity of it ... and the generous bowl of addictive garlic herb fries ($1 extra).

__TB:__ Seeing three of them plated together as the off-menu Wimpy Platter is impressive. Fries served in a separate bowl put the focus squarely on this photogenic burger. It's melty and steamy.

__JZ:__ The bun is buttered and toasted, and is spread with a thin layer of mayo to prevent any sogginess from the juices of the meat. It's a nice touch. The burger construction is nice and tight. I have always liked the size of these burgers, not too big and not too small.

__TB:__ There is an exquisite crust on the thin patties, with edges that are nicely crisp and craggly. But I recall being blown away by this burger the first time I had it. This is good, to be sure, but not amazing. ... The bun is squishy and soft, but holds together well.

__SD:__ I love how the focus remains on the meat and cheese. It's very elemental, no bells and whistles. It's a fantastic burger, and it's been a favorite for years. This time around, the patty's flavor lacked some of the depth that I remember, like it was missing a secret ingredient or something that has made Bocado's burger so wow-worthy in the past.

?[image-23]?
---?[image-11]?
__
!THE I HAVE TO DO WHAT TO GET A BURGER? BURGER
__

#2. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/holeman-and-finch-public-house/Location?oid=1303868|Holeman & Finch]

__VITALS:__ The Burger, a double-patty burger grilled on the flat-top and served on a housemade bun with pickles, red onion, and American cheese, plus housemade ketchup and mustard on the side.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Dinner and brunch only

__SIDE:__ Comes with fries

__PRICE:__ $12

__SCORE:__ 44.5

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---?
__BK:__ God dammit. After the ridiculous wait, the absurd pomp and circumstance, I wanted to not be taken. I was hoping for a letdown. But from the moment I saw this burger come out of the kitchen, I kinda knew it was gonna be good. Actually, it was almost 20 minutes before that, shortly after 10 p.m., when the aroma came heavily wafting through the room. That aroma was a much better announcement of impending joy than the stupid bullhorn cheer of WHEN I SAY BURGER YOU SAY TIME, BURGER ... TIME! BURGER ... TIME!

__TB:__ Picture-perfect. Look up "cheeseburger" in the dictionary and this should be the accompanying photo. Maybe it's the two-hour wait talking, but I cannot frickin' wait to dive into this little bundle of burger beauty.

__SD:__ Ughhhh, this burger is damn good. Everything about it. It's the Goldilocks of burgers. Not too big, not too small, not too messy. Everything is just right. Is it possible that this burger has gotten better over time?

__BK:__ The patties have got that char, that deep meaty flavor, that salty, juicy dripping through the crust. I love the bread-and-butter pickles, the sweet tangle of onion beneath the melted American cheese. They both play so well beside the beef itself, a touch of acid crunch to go with that oozy cheese. Did I mention the salt? Maybe it's a topping, maybe it's part and parcel of the patty, but it's there ... and it brings everything together. No need to touch that vinegary homemade ketchup, though the Dijon is quite nice.

__JZ:__ I hate the wait for this burger. I am not big on waiting for food in general, but I hate that you now have to come at 8 to reserve your burger for later. It kind of kills the magic of that 10 p.m. "burger time!" call. I also feel this place has lost a little of what made it so special in the past.

__BK:__ How do I score this? The wait is absurd. The rigmarole is ridiculous. But it's kind of endearing, and the burger is legitimately worth going out of your way for ... at least to some extent. Props for having the balls to keep up this madness when they could sell a few hundred every single night out in the parking lot if they wanted to.

?[image-24]?
---?[image-12]?
__
!THE BEST OVERALL
__

#1. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/the-general-muir/Location?oid=7428022|The General Muir]

__VITALS:__ The Burger

A double-patty burger made with ground brisket and short rib, grilled on the flat-top and served on a buttered, toasted housemade bun with Russian dressing, Gruyere, and housemade pickles and pastrami.

__AVAILABILITY:__ Dinner only

__SIDE:__ Comes with hand-cut fries

__PRICE:__ $14

__SCORE:__ 44.75

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---?
__BK:__ "Slutty" may get tossed around a lot when it comes to cheeseburgers, and this one fits the bill. Oozing cheese, grease pouring forth, charred-to-heck patties dripping over the edges. And the crowd of crisp, gorgeous fries hanging out on the side doesn't hurt.

__TB:__ I love the between-the-patties placement of the caramelized onions; it lets that telltale flavor become ''part'' of the burger instead of something just thrown ''on top of'' the burger. Russian dressing is totally underutilized in any dish not appearing in a 1970s TV show. What's up with that? It's a great add-on here. But the star of this burger is the General Muir's pastrami. Thick and succulent, it's draped over the patty in a meat-on-meat love fest.

__JZ:__ The grind is nice and fatty without being too lean and always cooked just enough to stay tender. I love the Reuben-inspired toppings. It's very in line with the concept of the restaurant and works surprisingly well on the burger. Baker Rob Alexander, formerly of H&F, has worked hard to get this bun right.

__BK:__ Fourteen dollars with that load of fries is nice, and the setting is perfect — part diner, part New York deli, part modern brasserie.

__SD:__ It's a beautiful thing when the cheese is so melty it actually becomes a part of the meat. The patties are smashed thin, beautifully charred, and yet, still juicy. The crisped-on-the-outside pastrami lends a long, salty, beefy finish to each bite that's cut perfectly by the tangy Russian dressing. In a burger scene currently dominated by textbook double stacks, it's refreshing to see a burger with some personality level the traditional playing field.

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  string(26520) "    12 burgers. 4 judges. 1 winner.   2014-09-11T08:00:00+00:00 Food - The Ultimate Atlanta Burger Smackdown   Todd Brock 12184336 2014-09-11T08:00:00+00:00  Ask a dozen Atlantans what the best cheeseburger in town is, and you're likely to get a dozen different answers. Sure, there are places that have lodged themselves into the meaty depths of our burger-craving brains — Ann's Snack Bar, Holeman & Finch, the Vortex — but there are also legions of fans for burgers from grungy standbys such as George's and the Earl, as well as upscale restaurants such as One Eared Stag and the General Muir. Crowning a winner is a task no one burger lover could conquer. For Creative Loafing's Ultimate Atlanta Burger Smackdown, we employed a foursome of food writers to systematically survey 12 different contenders.

Over the course of a week and a half, CL Food Editor Stephanie Dazey, Dining Critic Jennifer Zyman, and contributing writer Brad Kaplan teamed up with burger expert Todd Brock. For the last four years, Brock has been covering the Atlanta burger beat for the James Beard Award-winning food website Serious Eats. Our team narrowed the burger smackdown list to 11 of the city's most raved-about burgers before setting off to score each one, including George's, Highland Tap, the Vortex, the Earl, Muss & Turner's, Ann's Snack Bar, One Eared Stag, Bocado, Miller Union, Holeman & Finch, and the General Muir. We then let readers vote for the 12th contender among a short list of finalists. The Pinewood ran away with the win.

All four writers rated each cheeseburger on a 50-point scale in six areas. The patty: Was the meat seasoned well and flavorful? Was it a pleasing texture? Was it cooked to the proper temperature? The toppings: Were they fresh and did they add to or detract from the burger's flavor profile? (If the base-model burger at a restaurant did not come with cheese, we opted to add a slice of American, for consistency.) The bun: Was it a textural complement, hefty enough to uphold a juicy beef patty and all the fixins? We also considered the visual appeal of each burger's presentation, price, and the overall dining experience at each establishment. Once we tallied all of these scores, we took the average of the total number of points awarded to each burger to produce both an overall winner and subsequent burger rankings.

There will be grumbling. Even with a dozen contenders — double the number of candidates in past food-focused smackdowns — the list can't contain everyone's favorite, and we consciously eliminated local burger chains such as Flip, Grindhouse, and Farm Burger. Some of us were rooting for an upset, but the two burgers that came out on top turned out to be competition favorites. There was, however, some controversy. The top two burgers are separated by a fraction of a point. And two in-town heavyweights tied for third. Let the smackdown begin.

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__
!THE VETERAN
__

#11. George's Restaurant and Bar

VITALS: Original Beef Burger (8-ounce)

A charcoal-grilled, 100-percent ground chuck burger, on a lightly grilled wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, plus a pickle spear, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise on the side.

AVAILABILITY: lunch and dinner

SIDE: A la carte

PRICE: $6, add cheese for $1

SCORE: 20.75

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Todd Brock: Umm ... yeah. So there's a burger in a plastic basket. With a plastic fork and knife. Kind of a buzz kill. Having this burger set down in front of me actually made me feel sad. I'm glad it's dark in here.

Stephanie Dazey: It looks like a normal, run-of-the-mill bar burger with the requisite lettuce, onion, and tomato, but on an inexplicable, unremarkable wheat bun.

Brad Kaplan: I like the sheer size of the unce burger. It's daunting. ... The aroma that hits me before I take a bite is nice. Eau de beef. But as soon as I take a bite, I can't say why or how, but it is off. And in desperate need of a severely large squirt of ketchup to save it.

TB: The patty itself looks nice and even sports a touch of char and a little bit of color inside. But there's no seasoning that I can detect. I can feel it rolling around in my mouth, but there's nothing the least bit identifiable about the flavor.

Jennifer Zyman: This burger made me mad. I get angry when food is this bad. It was inedible, and I couldn't believe people still put this up as a top burger in this town. I would definitely classify this under "avoid."

BK: Well, I threw out most of my burger — I actually had them pack it up to go so I wouldn't embarrass them by sending it back. But the price is low. And the beer is cheap. And it's dark enough in there that you might not notice how bad the beef is.

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!THE BAIT AND SWITCH
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#10. Highland Tap

VITALS: Highland Tap Steak Burger

A hickory wood-grilled patty made with ground Angus beef and house steak trimmings, challah bun, leaf lettuce, tomato and crinkle pickles, sides of tomato jam and Vidalia onion mustard.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with hand-cut onion rings or fries

PRICE: $11

SCORE: 29.25

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BK: OK, it looks pretty good, with the lettuce and tomato, etc. on the side ready to build your own. Good portion of 50/50 fries and rings, which you gotta like.

TB: Points off for a lettuce leaf that was way too big and a tomato slice that was way too thick. Does one need tomato and tomato jam? A truly great burger is about simplicity, and that requires attention to the details. Just hacking up the nearest veggies and randomly tossing them on top can sometimes skew the delicate proportions of what a burger should be.

BK: This is supposed to be a challah bun? I'm not getting that. It's toasty, and bready, but actually falls apart a bit too easily.

SD: The meat tastes bland, and the toppings don't add much in the flavor department. I get no char, wood, or smoke, or any of the other complex flavors that come with a well-executed burger patty.

JZ: This is one of the few places that feels old and cool in Atlanta. Even though they have renovated the restaurant, it's masculine, dark, and musky. I also love the servers, who you can tell have been working here a long time.

BK: This should be a classic burger, but I really miss the smoke and char that this deserves. And they need to stick with old-school ketchup and mustard, not the frou frou yuppie stuff. This is Highland Tap, for chrissake.

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!THE PLAIN JANE
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#9. The Vortex

VITALS: The Plain Ol' Original Vortex Burger

A half-pound, 100-percent sirloin patty, grilled over an open flame, topped with lettuce, tomato, sweet red onion, and crinkle dill pickle slices.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with choice of side

PRICE: $8.25, add American cheese $.95

SCORE: 31

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JZ: I see an enormous traditional restaurant burger. The yellowish bun is buttered and topped with a sliced pickle, pristine curly lettuce, a thick slice of red onion, tomato, and a thick patty covered in melted American cheese. It is very appetizing. I want to eat this burger now. It's definitely old-school in presentation and I am OK with that.

TB: Those thick Vortex half-pound patties get me every time, despite being a leaner cut than I generally favor. I've been coming to the Vortex for almost 20 years, and this was the first time I ever recall being asked for my doneness preference. I'd swear that one of the famed "rules" from the snarky menu was that all burgers would be cooked medium well.

SD: Bread and butter pickles are cool, but these flat, crinkle-cut slices of dill pickles add the perfect amount of tang and crunch distributed evenly throughout each bite.

BK: I asked for medium rare. My burger came out well done. Dry. Shrunken. I sent it back, which I rarely, rarely do. The next one did indeed come out spot on, and so much better than the first. But still, for a relatively thick burger, there's not much juiciness. The flavor is nice and classic.

TB: People seem to either love or loathe the Vortex. Some think it's all a bit much — the tattoos, the piercings, the giant skull, the whole L5P vibe that can come across as too in-your-face-scary or too manufactured-touristy, depending on your point of view.

BK: I get it. It's a solid, good burger. Definitely not worth going out of the way for.

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!THE BEST BAR BURGER
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#8. The Earl

VITALS: Earl Burger

A char-grilled, 100-percent Black Angus beef patty with romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, red onion

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with hand-cut fries

PRICE: $8

SCORE: 35

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SD: It's a big, deceptively average-looking cheeseburger on a sesame seed bun.

TB: If you're surprised by the Earl's inclusion in this smackdown, one bite of the beef will turn you right the fuck around and kick you square in the ass. The patty is excellent and juicy to the extreme. It burst open on impact and sent a warm trickle running down my arm. To be fair, it could use an extra shake of salt and pepper, but mine was cooked expertly.

BK: Nice grilled flavor, a bit overdone to medium, a touch dry. ... The tots are actually the highlight, nice and crunchy but still light.

JZ: I love being here tucked in a high-backed wood booth. The servers are attentive but give you enough distance to drink whiskey and have raucous conversations. I hadn't eaten this burger in a long time, and I actually put it on par with the Vortex. Eating both burgers reminded how much I miss big juicy restaurant burger patties. I wish people would bring those back as a trend. I would love to see all the fancy Atlanta chefs take that one, as so many feel like Shake Shack and Holeman imitations these days.

TB: I have to keep reminding myself that this is a dark-and-smoky-as-shit bar that's known for the loud live music in the back room. Looked at through that lens, this burger is phenomenal ... a far cry better than typical "bar grub." This is what George's wants to taste like. I wonder how many of the VaHi diehards have ventured down to the EAV to see what they're missing. The Earl's killer burger is perhaps the biggest surprise of the smackdown.

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!THE OUT-OF-TOWNER
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#7. Muss & Turners

VITALS: The Burger

A grass-fed beef burger grilled on a Big Green Egg and served on a French bun with white cheddar, poblano pepper, red onion, and cilantro aioli.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: A la carte

PRICE: $11.93

SCORE: 36.5

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TB: It's a sexy-ass burger. It's already dripping with burger juice before I even touch it. The white cheese and poblano pepper sticking out offer some visual interest, something a little different and slightly more elegant than the standard yellow American-and-LTO combo.

JZ: The burger is certainly appetizing but looks very lonely on the plate.

BK: This is a thick burger. A juicy burger. A meaty meat burger — especially for grass-fed beef, which can often end up dry. They asked how I wanted it, and they delivered a perfect medium rare, with a good peppery char on the exterior.

SD: I love the poblano. Such a simple addition that adds a pop of smoke and spice to a burger that's already flavorful from its Big Green Egg treatment. Too bad the bun wasn't sturdy enough to stand up to this explosively juicy burger.

JZ: Given what I've heard about this burger, I was expecting it to be much better. It was fine, but I didn't understand the hype. I would order the Reuben over this any day.

TB: Muss & Turners' OTP location is an insurmountable hindrance to some, a saving grace to others. As one of the rare upscale options in this office-park-heavy part of town, the lunch rush can be overwhelming and result in out-the-door lines. But this burger is the real deal. ... While you could argue that price shouldn't matter in a best-taste test, your wallet always weighs in as part of your overall dining experience. I am unabashedly a big fan of Muss & Turner's burger. But at $12, it should come with fries.

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!THE HOT MESS
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#6. Ann's Snack Bar

VITALS: The Ghetto Burger

Two ground chuck patties dusted with house seasoned salt, grilled on a flat-top with onions, and topped with American cheese, mustard, ketchup, onions, chili, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and bacon.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $8.50

SCORE: 38.5

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TB: The Ghetto Burger comes wrapped up in an absurdly large bundle of foil. Based on size alone, though, it is damn impressive. Unwrap that beast and it's a massive, steaming, sloppy pile of pure, gluttonous anticipation. Huge gawker factor: The lady at the next table went totally Linda Blair and swiveled her head all the way around for a better look. "Oh, good heavens," she said. I am positive my heart rate quickened. Interestingly, the Ghetto Burger comes already sliced in half for you ... as if that will somehow make it easier or tidier to manage.

JZ: The beef is super conventional tasting. Watching Ms. Ann squeeze it from that tube of beef and slop it on the grill killed any desire to eat the thing. I guess I am a burger snob now.

BK: I know the quality is not what you'd call artisanal, but there is some kind of magic here in the mayo and the ketchup and the chili and the cheese and the sweet onions and the crisp iceberg lettuce and the thick slice of tomato. It just works.

SD: This was my fifth burger of the day, and despite being borderline burger-wasted, I couldn't stop eating it. It's messy as hell and the service is slow, but Miss Ann's is absolutely destination-worthy.

TB: It's like dinner theater at your sassy grandma's house. With all your cousins. And their cousins. Great interaction with other customers waiting their turn. Much of the overall experience hinges on whether or not Miss Ann is in a good/playful mood that day. ... It occurs to me that Ann's is — bear with me here — a lot like Holeman & Finch, although the places themselves couldn't be more different. A burger here requires planning. And patience. There are hoops to jump through and rules to follow.

BK: Plastic plate, plastic fork and knife — it's that kinda place. The rules, the fear of doing something wrong, the joy of something so anachronistic and out of place in today's glossy burger chain world. ... I love it.

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!THE NONCONFORMIST
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#5. One Eared Stag

VITALS: Meatstick

A double-patty burger made with 75 percent chuck and 25 percent ground bacon grilled on the flat-top and topped with thinly sliced onions and housemade pickles.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $12

SCORE: 39

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TB: The Meatstick is always one sexy cover-model of a burger. Maybe the prettiest we've seen. The steak-knife-through-the-whole-thing shtick is a tired cliché, but it's truly a good-looking burger even without the prop.

BK: That knife! You gotta love the knife. It's a cheap trick, but it sets the mood.

TB: Gorgeous melt on the American cheese. Shades of a cellophane-wrapped youth. Sometimes simpler is better with the cheese. I kind of wish I liked pickles. Everyone's very proud of their housemade variety, and they just end up sitting off to the side for me.

BK: Best bun of the competition. Perfectly pillowy and buttery and still toasty. And the patty, oh so crunchy. You get that there's bacon mixed in there, but what's more impressive is that the overall impression is more steak-y than any other burger in town. Well-charred steak. With a pat of butter thrown on top.

SD: I know bacon is supposed to be ground into the patty, but I don't taste it as much as I smell it and feel it. Each bite coats your mouth with a little layer of grease.

JZ: Love the shaved onions because they give the burger a nice bite and help cut the inherent fattiness of the grind and other ingredients. I always have issues with the service here. It simply takes too long and feels disorganized, but they are awesome with kids.

TB: Objectively speaking, One Eared Stag is putting out a top-10 burger for sure. Cracking the top 5 or making a legitimate run at the No. 1 spot is a whole 'nother thing, though. It's like the difference between being good enough to go pro in your sport and being so outstanding you make the Hall of Fame.

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!THE DECATUR DANDY
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#4. The Pinewood

VITALS: Pinewood Cheeseburger

A double-patty Angus beef burger on a challah bun with housemade remoulade, tomatoes, red onion, local spring mix lettuce, Applewood bacon, and American cheese.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch, dinner, and brunch

SIDE: no side

PRICE: $5-$14

SCORE: 40.25

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BK: Well, dang, the readers spoke and their voices were heard. This is a great burger, among the juiciest I've had. There's not much char texture or flavor, but this burger brings the beefy and manages to overcome the lack of sear.

JZ: While most double stacks are relatively short, this burger stands tall. It is packed with clean beefy flavor punched up with bacon-y goodness and creamy melted cheese. The bun is on par with the best in town and holds up well when you smoosh the burger together to fit it in your mouth. It's definitely a favorite.

TB: This burger is gorgeous. Lots of sexy color-stacking from the toppings, and an overly generous side of seasoned shoestring fries. It was almost slow motion when the bartender walked that burger over to me.

SD: They asked me for a temp on a double stack? I ordered medium rare and it came out to the table medium raw. I had to send it back.

BK: Deploying the "standing knife" trick a la One Eared Stag, though with a wimpier knife. The cutesy upside-down top hat filled with Sir Kensington ketchup is at least unique.

TB: Both patties are blanketed with melty American, offering a lot of creaminess overall. Mixed greens are a nice touch and improve upon the standard lettuce with a shot of color, texture, a nice hint of bitterness, even if your initial thought is that some of it doesn't belong on a burger as much as it does a salad. The remoulade hiding under the bottom patty announces its presence with authority once you bite in. There's a noticeable tang that's reminiscent of relish or tartar sauce.

BK: It's super satisfying. Especially alongside one of the Pinewood's fine cocktails. It's a true bargain at $5 during weekday happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m.

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!THE FARM TO FABULOUS
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#3. Miller Union

VITALS: Grass-fed beef burger

A patty made with ground rib-eye and flat iron steak, and White Oak Pastures ground chuck, cooked on a gas grill with applewood chips on a toasted, buttered H&F sesame bun, and topped with housemade mayo, ketchup, dill pickles, red onion, romaine, tomato, and extra-sharp cheddar cheese.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch only

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $12

SCORE: 40.5

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BK: Now, this is gorgeous. They're going for maximum lift, building the top bun up above layers of pickle and tomato and onion and lettuce stacked just so. And the colors play beautifully off each other, from the smear of rust-colored spicy ketchup on the top bun, to the bright red tomato, down through the almost-orange cheddar cheese, with green shreds of lettuce mixed throughout as you bite into it. Bravo.

SD: Is "verticality" a word? If so, this burger definitely has that. It weirdly comes with homemade ketchup already smeared on. I wouldn't have minded as much if the ketchup weren't so heavily spiced and slightly bitter.

TB: It's a thick bistro-style patty of very well-seasoned beef. The meat itself is loose, not jam-packed into a dense disc. I asked for medium-rare, and there's an awful lot of pink inside. It's actually bordering on too rare, and perhaps depends on your personal interpretation of proper doneness coloring.

BK: The beef here is luscious, soft, tender, but just enough char on the exterior and seared into the meat to balance that out. Finger-licking good, though could use a bit more wow-factorin the flavor department.

JZ: It's a nice grind with plenty of depth. The tomatoes, red onion, and lettuce are tops. You can tell the chef is sourcing great ingredients.

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!THE SIMPLE PLEASURE
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#3. Bocado

VITALS: Bocado burger stack

A double-patty burger made with ground brisket, chuck roll, and short rib, grilled on the flat-top and served on a sesame seed bun with housemade bread-and-butter pickles, two Kraft American singles slices, and mayonnaise.

AVAILABILITY: Lunch and dinner

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $9.25-$13

SCORE: 40.5

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BK: I look at Bocado's double stack and I am happy. The melding of the meat and cheese, the thick discs of pickle, the simplicity of it ... and the generous bowl of addictive garlic herb fries ($1 extra).

TB: Seeing three of them plated together as the off-menu Wimpy Platter is impressive. Fries served in a separate bowl put the focus squarely on this photogenic burger. It's melty and steamy.

JZ: The bun is buttered and toasted, and is spread with a thin layer of mayo to prevent any sogginess from the juices of the meat. It's a nice touch. The burger construction is nice and tight. I have always liked the size of these burgers, not too big and not too small.

TB: There is an exquisite crust on the thin patties, with edges that are nicely crisp and craggly. But I recall being blown away by this burger the first time I had it. This is good, to be sure, but not amazing. ... The bun is squishy and soft, but holds together well.

SD: I love how the focus remains on the meat and cheese. It's very elemental, no bells and whistles. It's a fantastic burger, and it's been a favorite for years. This time around, the patty's flavor lacked some of the depth that I remember, like it was missing a secret ingredient or something that has made Bocado's burger so wow-worthy in the past.

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!THE I HAVE TO DO WHAT TO GET A BURGER? BURGER
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#2. Holeman & Finch

VITALS: The Burger, a double-patty burger grilled on the flat-top and served on a housemade bun with pickles, red onion, and American cheese, plus housemade ketchup and mustard on the side.

AVAILABILITY: Dinner and brunch only

SIDE: Comes with fries

PRICE: $12

SCORE: 44.5

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BK: God dammit. After the ridiculous wait, the absurd pomp and circumstance, I wanted to not be taken. I was hoping for a letdown. But from the moment I saw this burger come out of the kitchen, I kinda knew it was gonna be good. Actually, it was almost 20 minutes before that, shortly after 10 p.m., when the aroma came heavily wafting through the room. That aroma was a much better announcement of impending joy than the stupid bullhorn cheer of WHEN I SAY BURGER YOU SAY TIME, BURGER ... TIME! BURGER ... TIME!

TB: Picture-perfect. Look up "cheeseburger" in the dictionary and this should be the accompanying photo. Maybe it's the two-hour wait talking, but I cannot frickin' wait to dive into this little bundle of burger beauty.

SD: Ughhhh, this burger is damn good. Everything about it. It's the Goldilocks of burgers. Not too big, not too small, not too messy. Everything is just right. Is it possible that this burger has gotten better over time?

BK: The patties have got that char, that deep meaty flavor, that salty, juicy dripping through the crust. I love the bread-and-butter pickles, the sweet tangle of onion beneath the melted American cheese. They both play so well beside the beef itself, a touch of acid crunch to go with that oozy cheese. Did I mention the salt? Maybe it's a topping, maybe it's part and parcel of the patty, but it's there ... and it brings everything together. No need to touch that vinegary homemade ketchup, though the Dijon is quite nice.

JZ: I hate the wait for this burger. I am not big on waiting for food in general, but I hate that you now have to come at 8 to reserve your burger for later. It kind of kills the magic of that 10 p.m. "burger time!" call. I also feel this place has lost a little of what made it so special in the past.

BK: How do I score this? The wait is absurd. The rigmarole is ridiculous. But it's kind of endearing, and the burger is legitimately worth going out of your way for ... at least to some extent. Props for having the balls to keep up this madness when they could sell a few hundred every single night out in the parking lot if they wanted to.

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!THE BEST OVERALL
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#1. The General Muir

VITALS: The Burger

A double-patty burger made with ground brisket and short rib, grilled on the flat-top and served on a buttered, toasted housemade bun with Russian dressing, Gruyere, and housemade pickles and pastrami.

AVAILABILITY: Dinner only

SIDE: Comes with hand-cut fries

PRICE: $14

SCORE: 44.75

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BK: "Slutty" may get tossed around a lot when it comes to cheeseburgers, and this one fits the bill. Oozing cheese, grease pouring forth, charred-to-heck patties dripping over the edges. And the crowd of crisp, gorgeous fries hanging out on the side doesn't hurt.

TB: I love the between-the-patties placement of the caramelized onions; it lets that telltale flavor become part of the burger instead of something just thrown on top of the burger. Russian dressing is totally underutilized in any dish not appearing in a 1970s TV show. What's up with that? It's a great add-on here. But the star of this burger is the General Muir's pastrami. Thick and succulent, it's draped over the patty in a meat-on-meat love fest.

JZ: The grind is nice and fatty without being too lean and always cooked just enough to stay tender. I love the Reuben-inspired toppings. It's very in line with the concept of the restaurant and works surprisingly well on the burger. Baker Rob Alexander, formerly of H&F, has worked hard to get this bun right.

BK: Fourteen dollars with that load of fries is nice, and the setting is perfect — part diner, part New York deli, part modern brasserie.

SD: It's a beautiful thing when the cheese is so melty it actually becomes a part of the meat. The patties are smashed thin, beautifully charred, and yet, still juicy. The crisped-on-the-outside pastrami lends a long, salty, beefy finish to each bite that's cut perfectly by the tangy Russian dressing. In a burger scene currently dominated by textbook double stacks, it's refreshing to see a burger with some personality level the traditional playing field.

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Thursday September 11, 2014 04:00 am EDT
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