It arrived like any other hamburger of its type, crowding the plate, oozing melted cheddar cheese from which lengths of crispy bacon jutted. Above all, it glowed with the nostalgia of every American kid's favorite meal. The economy has tanked, the plutocrats bid the lawmakers to let us eat cake, the teabaggers exhort us literally to vote against our own interests. The world has gone mad, but we've still got hamburgers.
Sort of. I took a closer look, as did those sitting at nearby tables in the bar of the new Burger Club (4300 Paces Ferry Road, Vinings, 678-888-9036). There was a barely discernible gasp. A woman's hand flew to her chest. "Yeah," I said, "it's the 'Artery Annihilator.'"
The 8-ounce Angus patty's bun wasn't a bun at all – it was two Krispy Kreme doughnuts. As my gaze took in the concoction, childhood nostalgia melted – like the sugar glaze on the doughnuts, the globes of fat in the burger, the crystallized fat in the bacon and the drooping fat of the cheese – into an adult's vision of slow suicide. Why wasn't it served with Lipitor and beta-blockers?
Although it looked too thick to fit between my teeth, I picked up the burger. How could I forget? The doughnuts are famous for their collapsible, melt-in-the-mouth construction. They flattened instantly in my hands and I easily took a bite, rolling it around in my mouth while Wayne watched, backing away slightly, as if an alien might suddenly erupt from my body.
It was dreadful. Nothing besides the wanton assembly of fat made sense about the creation. There was nothing to bind the savory and the ultra-sweet – no mysterious ingredient, as Richard Blais might invent, to make playful sense of the combination. No, I was a garbage disposal with taste buds. I winced. I ate every bite.
This is not the first time such a burger has been on an Atlanta menu. The defunct Mulligan's in Decatur served one. And there's an infamous YouTube clip of Paula Deen assembling and tasting such a burger, to which she also added a fried egg. That clip should become a major object of study in some doctoral student's dissertation on performance theory, cooking and eating. In less than two minutes, you see the insane circumstances of our culture. An overweight woman, in a society that reviles the obese, prepares a disgustingly fatty and unhealthy dish, and then eats it with masturbatory zeal. (Apparently, to get a job on the Food Network you must be able to produce a series of expressions and sounds that would do a professional fellator proud.)
Apart from this travesty, which I assume was added to the menu for novelty's sake, the Burger Club mainly succeeds. It's the latest project of Great Food Inc., which is owned by longtime fine-dining chef Paul Albrecht and his son Patrick. The interior of the restaurant is rather retro, with walls and tables that have biomorphic forms. The walls are actually chalkboards where you may scribble your burger-induced fantasies. There's a cozier bar area where we ate during my second visit. No less than six TV screens provide wrap-around viewing.
Besides the Artery Annihilator, I've also tried the lamb burger, which is wrapped in pita with feta cheese, cucumbers, tomato and tzatziki sauce. Wayne ordered the Gastro Pub Burger, which features the standard Angus patty with bacon, red-onion marmalade and Roquefort cheese on a toasted baguette. Don't worry. It's not a real baguette; it's more like a bun shaped like a baguette. A real one would make eating a burger a total mess.
Four friends with whom I dined during my first visit ordered mainly from the "build-your-own-burger" side of the menu. Toppings (including country ham, bacon and the usual others) are 50 cents each, added to the basic cost of $7.50. Generally, the burgers were rated good but not as interesting as Flip's.
Besides classic sides such as french fries, onion rings, house-made potato chips and tater tots, the Burger Club offers steamed spinach, broccoli with melted cheddar, a decent chili, braised apples and more. There are also plenty of salads, other types of sandwiches and starters.
The fried Moon Pie dessert isn't really a Moon Pie, but a bakery interpretation of one, featuring far better chocolate than the real thing. Doughnuts make another appearance in the Krispy Kreme Sundae, which I could not face. You might want to try one of the "leaded milk shakes" – ice cream blended with booze and various flavors.
Another new burger joint, FuzeBurger (265 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-685-9988) has opened in Midtown, between MF Sushi and Krispy Kreme (although, praise Jesus, no doughnuts make it to the menu here). It is owned by the same people who operated a short-lived Thai restaurant in this location. Like that restaurant, the new incarnation features a terrific interior – smaller but far more impressive than the Burger Club's.
I am assuming "Fuze" is short for "fusion," since a good many of the burgers here feature tastes from other cultures. Unfortunately, my two visits have been mixed successes. During my first, I ordered the Kalbi, an Angus burger marinated in Korean barbecue sauce. Unfortunately – and I'm not exaggerating – I tasted no barbecue flavor at all. I even asked the server to check what she'd turned into the kitchen and the manager checked with the chef, too. I got the Kalbi, but with no flavor. They were apologetic and explained that they've been tweaking flavors to gratify the mainly mainstream clientele.
Wayne ordered a burger with Malaysian spices. While it definitely featured some added flavors, they didn't seem much different from the usual spices added to turkey and vegan burgers.
Things were better when we visited a few days later. I ordered the lamb burger and Wayne ordered "the works," with cheese, a fried egg, bacon and guacamole. I thought the egg was overcooked but he was happy. The lamb burger was considerably smaller than the Angus burgers and was topped with an anemic quantity of tomato relish. The menu says that ginger wine sauce was also in the mix, but, like the Korean barbecue sauce, I didn't detect it.
Sides include the usuals – french fries (good), onion rings (too thin) – but there are also tempura-fried green beans. Starters of fried dumplings, veggie rolls and crispy tofu chips were all near flawless.
Weirdly, the restaurant offers no desserts.
Although I enjoy the renaissance of the hamburger as much as anyone, the extreme weirdness of the Artery Annihilator does both disguise and point to some real health concerns. Ground meats are now pretty universally regarded as the most unsafe meat choice a diner can make. (See CDC's studies. Read Michael Pollan's books. Read Jonathan Safran Foer's new Eating Animals.)
It is disturbing that such an icon of American cooking should become so risky, but honestly, if you choose to eat any ground meat in a restaurant, never order it cooked less than medium. Most kitchens won't do that now, anyway, but resist the temptation to ask, even when the restaurant claims to grind its own meat.