Ann’s Snack Bar: Ghetto (Fabulous) BurgerBy Todd • Nov 24th, 2009 • Category: Burger Blog
According to a 2007 Wall Street Journal article, the best burger in America is served at a ramshackle 8-seat diner in a sketchy East Atlanta neighborhood. I’m embarrassed to admit that, despite living in Atlanta since 1994, I hadn’t even heard of the place until Raymond Sokolov’s list came out. But this past week, I finally made my pilgrimage to an honest-to-God burger shrine… an absolute must-visit for any true cheeseburger chowhound… Ann’s Snack Bar.
The first thing you need to understand about Ann’s is that there are rules. Rule #1? Get there early. And even then, you may be in for a wait. Ann’s opens at 11:30, but by 11:00, the line has already started forming in the screen porch outside the front doors. Inside, a 66-year-old woman barely visible over the counter busily preps for the day’s lunch rush. Should you be so clueless as to walk right in to claim one of the 8 barstools, Miss Ann will give you a sharp reprimand and send you back out to the screen porch and the knowing, snickering looks of your linemates. Odd, but I love places where they yell at you.
When a seat finally opened up at 12:15 (after an hour-plus wait on the porch), I asked about the difference between the “World-Famous” Ghetto Burger and the slightly more-expensive ‘Hood Burger. The Ghetto is a double cheeseburger served with chili, lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, ketchup, and mustard. The ‘Hood swaps out the lettuce and tomato for slaw. I’m not a slaw man, and I’m not a fan of tomato, ketchup, or mustard, either. But my one question had already clearly tested Miss Ann’s patience and thrown her a good thirty seconds off schedule, so I didn’t push my luck with a special order. I politely requested a Ghetto Burger exactly as advertised.
Watching Miss Ann work is like dinner theatre. She moves through the impossibly tiny kitchen with the careful precision and astonishing efficiency that only years of practice can produce. She grabs enormous fistfuls of ground beef (I’d guess each one to easily be three-quarters of a pound) and smashes them onto the hot griddle.
She deftly slices a huge onion, dropping the thick rings onto each burger. I use the term “burger” rather generously, because these aren’t hand-formed patties. They aren’t patties in any sense of the word, actually. Piles of beef become loose patties only after Miss Ann has pressed them into the griddle’s surface, heavily seasoned them, pressed them again with a spatula, flipped them repeatedly, and pressed them some more. Slices of good ol’ American cheese are unwrapped and laid atop each burger.
During all of this, homemade chili has been ladled onto each open-faced bun. Bacon has taken a dip in a deep fryer. Condiments have been swirled into place. Then the absurdly-large, cheese-blanketed patties are double-stacked and the final assembly takes place. The result is a monument of breathtaking burger beauty.
Although Miss Ann cuts each Ghetto Burger in half before presenting it, just picking it up requires something of a plan. It’s supremely sloppy and massively messy. Once you get it off the plate and to your lips, though, you quickly realize, even before the first mouthful is gone, why this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hole-in-the-wall has garnered such heavy-duty buzz and hype. The Ghetto Burger is earth-shakingly, ground-breakingly, life-changingly phenomenal.
It’s so good that I ate it with the ketchup and mustard and tomato perfectly intact. As previously stated, I simply didn’t have the stones to ask Miss Ann to customize my Ghetto Burger. But watching her work, I suddenly felt like it would be downright disrespectful to ask her to change her recipe for me. The woman has single-handedly made thousands of what the Wall Street Journal called “the next level in burgerhood” for longer than I’ve been alive; who am I to argue with how she dresses it?
Ann’s Snack Bar is not for everyone. Many won’t venture into “that” part of town with its liquor stores and razor-wire-topped chain link fences. Many find the long wait to be absurd and intolerable. Many find the place to be dirty and trashy. Many are offended by Miss Ann’s strict, the-customer-is-rarely-right rules.
But I defy you to try the Ghetto Burger and tell me that it doesn’t instantly deserve a place on your all-time Mount Rushmore of Cheeseburgerdom.