Newcomer Wins Atlanta’s First Battle of the BurgersBy Todd • Oct 7th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog
It was a picture-perfect fall Saturday when I hit Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood. A sizable crowd had already gathered, and there was just something special in the air. It was… smoke. Lots and lots of smoke, tinged with a hint of beef. This was the inaugural Battle of the Burgers.
Almost 20 local restaurants were represented, all grilling up bite-sized portions of their best burgs to feed the hungry masses and contend for the title. Some local legends were there: Farm Burger, Grindhouse Killer Burgers, and Ted’s Montana Grill.
But perhaps almost as noteworthy were the establishments not taking part. No Vortex Bar and Grill. No Ann’s Snack Bar, although it’s hard to imagine her participating in such “foolishness,” as I’m sure she would call it. No FLIP Burger Boutique… which came as a disappointment to the foie gras crowd, I’m sure. Local heavyweights George’s, Holeman & Finch Public House, and Yeah! Burger were conspicuously absent from the lineup as well… all of which would be sort of having like the March Madness basketball tourney, only without the conference champions of the Big Ten, SEC, Pac 10, Big 12, ACC, and Big East. The day would crown not necessarily the best burger in Atlanta… just the best burger in John Howell Park that day.
Undeterred by the no-shows, I forged ahead along with my 7-year-old daughter, who was riding shotgun as my burger buddy for the day. Our goal was to try as many of the burgers as we could in the 4 hours allotted for the event. Our very first nosh was a grass-fed beef burger topped with Taleggio cheese and bacon jam from nearby Atkins Park, the city’s oldest continuously-licensed tavern.
While Atkins Park ended up winning the People’s Choice Award in the meatless category, I thought their beef burger was sensational. In an event like this, the first contestant always has a slight edge simply because it’s first… and I was hungry. But this was a seriously tasty burger.
Not all of the samples were nearly as burgerrific. Some were downright bad. Too much bun was a common problem, along with widely-varying degrees of doneness. Check out this pimento cheese burger (from an eatery that will remain nameless) that looked like it had just barely glanced at the grill on its way to me:
Others were right on the money, like Manuel’s Tavern, consistently ranked one of the ATL’s best bars, with their caramelized-onion-and-Maytag-bleu-cheese-topped burger served up alongside sweet potato steak fries.
Some booths blew it out of the box and went wacky. The Nook on Piedmont Park took the overall People’s Choice prize with their shrimp-and-grits-stuffed burger. Diesel Filling Station, a cool joint situated on the site of an old intown service station, served up venison burgers:
Cypress Street Pint & Plate dished out their Cypress’s Sublime Burger, a miniature version of the Luther Burger, using glazed doughnuts from what many call the finest shop in town, Sublime Doughnuts:
And West Egg Cafe, known for their all-day breakfast menu, turned heads with a PB&J Burger. No, not that kind of PB&J… this kind of PB&J:
But personally, my favorite find of the day was a burger fit for a King:
That’s The Andy’s Burger, from a place I wasn’t familiar with called Cafe di Sol. They describe it as “all-natural ground chuck topped with herb and garlic-roasted shiitake mushrooms, melted gruyere cheese and fluffy garlic aioli on a sesame seed bun.”
I’m not sure what you have to do to garlic aioli to make it “fluffy,” but after tasting this bite-sized flavor bomb, I’m a big, big fan. Buttery, creamy, just the right earthy chew from the mushrooms, and a wonderful beefy burger taste that, quite frankly, some of the other competitors plain forgot about amidst their off-the-wall ingredients and toppings.
With any first-time event, you expect some logistical issues, and there were some here. The park felt uncomfortably jam-packed for most of the afternoon, with too many of the booths crammed too close together. I’d like to have seen some sort of map handed out or high-visibility identifiers used so you could tell whose booth was whose from afar, making it easier to seek out your favorite. Too few tents selling beverages. A confusing phone-text voting system. And some crazy-long lines. Like, stand-here-for-a-personal-blessing-from-the-Pope long. For an event like this, that’s just inexplicable to me. If I have 4 hours to try 16 or 18 burgers or whatever it was, but I have to spend up to 30 minutes in a single line… I’m not a math major, but I don’t think I’m gonna make it. So, sadly, there were several burgers that I simply never got to…
…including the ultimate winner. The panel of judges gave the title to Kaleidoscope Bistro and Pub. Not heard of it? There’s a good reason. It’s not even open for business yet. Chef Joey Riley, formerly of the world-famous Buckhead Diner, spent the day cranking out mini-burgs that are “all-natural beef,” but, as he points out, not 100% grass-fed. Cows that become Kaleidoscope burgers are fed corn during the “last third of their lives” to improve the beef’s flavor. But his real secret? He gets an almost-magical char from a cast-iron skillet. Here’s a look at the staff doing the prepwork in a shot by David Eckoff, who obviously got closer to the front of the line than I ever did:
Even without the city’s Big Four burgermeisters in the running, it’s quite a coup for a place that hasn’t even framed its first dollar bill to walk away with a contest like this. I wish the lines had been shorter so I could have tried this award-winner. But now I’ve got extra incentive to get to Kaleidoscope Bistro and Pub when they open in early November. And here’s hoping that the Battle of the Burgers folks will make a few tweaks for next year’s event… like asking me to be a judge.