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Churchill’s: Better Than the Best

By • Oct 20th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

Say you’re a movie junkie.  Not a professional film critic, but a good judge of what at your local cineplex is good and what’s crap.  How would you react if someone said that an independent student film you’ve never heard of is better than “The Godfather?”

Welcome to my state of mind not too long ago.  Beloved food writer John Kessler announced that he was beginning a search for Atlanta’s best burger, and he was taking nominations.  The catch?  No usual suspects allowed.  So right out of the box, Ann’s Snack Bar (maybe the best burger I’ve ever eaten) and the Vortex Bar & Grill (my favorite place on Earth) were out of the running.  Kessler praised these hotspots, but wanted to focus on lesser-known burgs.  Okay, I can go along with that, I figured.

Then I got blindsided by a runaway MARTA bus barreling down the middle of Peachtree Street. In the long list of eateries culled from reader suggestions, I saw this:

“Churchill’s Pub – In Marietta, and better than the Vortex.”

Now, them’s fightin’ words.  You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.  You don’t spit into the wind.  You don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger, and you don’t just say you’re better than the f**king Vortex! This would require an immediate investigation.

Churchill’s Pub is exactly 3.4 miles from my front door.  I’ve cycled to the strip mall it’s in.  It’s sandwiched between a swimming pool supply store and the barber shop where I get my hair cut.  No way they serve a better burger than a joint where you enter through a 20-foot-tall skull, right???

While the place is named after the WWII-era British Prime Minister, there isn’t a trace of anglophilia inside.  The decor is Early Neighborhood Sports Bar.  Framed jerseys from Johnny Unitas and Terry Bradshaw.  A guitar autographed by the members of classic rock band Kansas.  A ginormous collection of beer cans displayed on built-in shelves and protected by chicken wire.  What any of this has to do with Sir Winston, I haven’t the foggiest.

The menu, apart from fish and chips, has zero to do with English cuisine.  It’s standard sports bar fare: wings, sandwiches, deep-fried appetizers.  What you’d expect at a place that has a dozen-plus flat-screens within eyesight of anywhere you sit.  And burgers.

Churchill’s offers 3 kinds of burgers.  Three.  With cheese, without cheese, and buffalo-style.  That’s it. Additional toppings for 50 cents a pop: bacon, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, jalapenos, chili, coleslaw, and sauerkraut.  The Vortex offers 21 burgers with chorizo, fried eggs, peanut butter, and grilled cheese sandwiches as condiments; how could this possibly stack up?

I ordered the cheeseburger with Swiss and mushrooms:

Lovely looking, but legendary tasting???  I can’t say that.  It was a good burger, to be sure.  Nicely cooked, juicy, well seasoned.  Bonus points for putting the ‘shrooms under the protective blanket of Swiss.  (Too many places want to make sure you see their mushrooms by placing them on top of the cheese.  You’ll see them, all right: on your plate, on the table, on your lap.  Everywhere but on the burger once you bite in.) The bun was a little soft and absorbed a tad more juice than I prefer, but it didn’t completely disintegrate like many do.

Churchill’s Pub Burger is not, however, better than the Vortex. I actually find it hard to imagine someone would actually say that with a straight face.  (Wouldn’t surprise me if it was Churchill’s owners who made the claim in the first place.)  I’m glad I found Churchill’s, though.  It’s a welcome lunch option for the next time I want a better-than-fast-food-or-casual-chain cheebie.  It’s very close to home and doesn’t require a half-hour drive downtown or paid parking, and that’s worth something.  And it proves that a good burger can come from anywhere.

But Superman is still the Man of Steel.  My spit sails safely downwind.  The Lone Ranger’s identity is still known only to Tonto, and the Vortex is still Burger Nirvana.

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