Is This Really the Best Burger in America?By Todd • Nov 30th, 2011 • Category: Burger Blog
When I started chronicling my own cheeseburger adventures (193 articles ago!), I began with my all-time favorite, The Double Coronary from The Vortex Bar & Grill in Atlanta. Living in this city has provided me an ideal vantage point from which to sample several others that lay claim to being the best you’ll ever eat. The Ghetto Burger from Ann’s Snack Bar certainly did not disappoint and sits bun-to-bun alongside my B.C.O.M.L. And the A5 Kobe burger from FLIP Burger Boutique was an unmitigated disaster as far as I was concerned, but Richard Blais’ hotspot has helped cement the ATL’s position in the minds of many as the Burger Capital of the World. Sure, NYC has Shake Shack and their linen-napkin burger destinations, and the fast-food cheebie is ingrained in the In-n-Out/Umami culture of Southern California, but every legitimate “Best Burger” list I’ve ever seen includes at least one of the Atlanta eateries I just mentioned… Or this one.
Yes, there’s another major player in the city’s burger biz that I’ve never told you about. That’s the fairly nondescript streetside storefront that’s home to what CNN and Alton Brown have each called the Best Burger in America… and I think it’s safe to say that both sources know a thing or two about a thing or two. It is perhaps the most hyped burger ever… and I’m here to tell you that it’s worth the deafening buzz. Ladies and gents, welcome to Holeman & Finch Public House and their legendary double-stack.
There is more than a great deal of mystique that surrounds this burger. And a lot of that aura is manufactured. For starters, it’s not even printed on the menu. You have to ask for it, but you can’t ask just any old time. Holeman & Finch serves their burger precisely at 10pm each night, never before. But don’t think you can just stroll in after a late night on the town for one of these beauties. The kitchen makes just 24 of them each night. Twenty-four. No more until 10pm the next night.* Some nights, they sell out in under a minute. But they never don’t sell out. It’s a secret, ultra-exclusive item, sold in very limited quantities, and with exceptionally narrow availability. The burger at Holeman & Finch is an event. And of course, that makes the average carnivore want it even more.
So here’s how it works. You need to arrive at the restaurant well before 10pm. Working your way past the valet stand and the $95,000 SUVs parked out front, you’ll realize that Holeman & Finch is NOT a burger joint. Once inside the swanky confines and seated at an uber-trendy too-small table, order something to tide you over if you’re feeling peckish, but give your server a clear heads-up that you’re here for the burger. Since it’s not listed on the menu amidst cheffy offerings like pan-fried rabbit livers, veal brains, and head cheese, here’s the rundown. It’s a double cheeseburger, both freshly-ground chuck-and-brisket patties topped with Kraft American. Tucked between the patties is a smattering of red onion, and atop it all are house-made b&b pickles. It’s nestled in between buns baked by their own next-door bakery (who also happens to supply a who’s who of Atlanta restaurants with buns and breads) and served up with a handful of fries and servings of house-made ketchup and mustard.
At 10pm on the nose, a bullhorn sounds from somewhere in the restaurant that I couldn’t see. The wait staff repeats the call in each of the establishment’s smaller rooms. “What time is it?” she yells. Knowing patrons shout back in answer, “Burger Time!!!” And then it’s like the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, with diners calling out to their servers, vying to get their attention from across the room, holding outstretched fingers to claim their portion of the night’s burger bounty. If you’ve properly warned your server, she’ll be watching out for you at Burger Time and give you a knowing nod. A few minutes later, 24 burgers all come out of the kitchen at once and are delivered to the lucky tables.
Drop. Dead. Freaking. Gorgeous. It’s not a huge burger by any means, and in fact, feels smallish in your hands. But there is heft to it, and you find yourself practically cradling it as you bring it to your lips, pressing the squishy buns into the warm, juicy meat. By this point in the transaction, you’ve already endured a good bit of anticipation, and there is now that small glimmer of skepticism- fear that the burger will not live up to the hype. But the first bite is spectacular, even revelatory. It is nearly impossible to not make an audible noise as your work that initial mouthful around your taste buds. The onion and pickles provide a healthy crunch and slightly sweet tang, while the beef and cheese are in perfect proportion to one another. The thin patties dictate an internal temp that’s closer to well done than anything, but it’s not lacking for juiciness, and is further lubricated by the melting cheese and buttery bun. If this isn’t burger perfection, it’s awfully damn close.
Yes, the whole 24-per-night-and-only-at-10pm-after-we-announce-it-with-a-bullhorn thing is shtick, despite Holeman & Finch’s best attempts to spin it otherwise. “The thought behind the minimal number and the 10:00 serving is not a gimmick; it’s just the opposite,” reads the company website’s page devoted to the burger, “A handcrafted burger takes a lot of time to prepare correctly.” According to my server, the limited number is a function of the tiny kitchen. With a vast menu of overly fancypants items, there’s room on the trays for just 24 of the buns at once. Let me be clear on this: The number of buns that the kitchen can handle dictates the number of “the best burgers in America” that can be served. More buns would mean cutting the menu down and becoming something more akin to a run-of-the-mill burger joint… or maybe even worse, an average restaurant with half a dozen awesome dishes that no one orders because they’re too busy with burgers. It IS a gimmick to elevate the burger to this kind of exalted status; it works at Holeman & Finch only because the burger is totally worthy of this kind of exultation.
When the subject of my job comes up, I’m invariably asked, “So who has the best burger?” My standard response has always been, “Either The Vortex or Ann’s, depending on your mood.” But truthfully, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Holeman & Finch in that answer. Gimmicky hype notwithstanding, it’s a strong contender for Best Burger Anywhere. I may be no closer to finding my true B.C.O.M.L. now than when I started this thing two and a half years ago. In fact, I’m further away, ‘cos I keep adding nominees. But at least I’m in the right city to continue the quest.
Burger on, my brothers and sisters.
*Can’t make it for that 10pm nightly seating? The burgers are also available at Holeman & Finch’s Sunday brunch, where fewer menu items means unlimited burger quantities!