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Kirkwood Aces plays a winning hand with burgers

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"Are they there yet? Are they there yet?"

Like kids trapped backseat in a cross-country car trip, Atlanta's east-siders have been whining for the past few months while driving past the tantalizing but not quite up and running Kirkwood Aces Bar & Grille. Located next door to the Sweet Java Brown cafe (the first hospitality establishment to put up shop in the slowly gentrifying bar and restaurant zone), Kirkwood Aces is hopefully a sign of what's to come.

Laid-back and stylish: Much care and attention has been lavished on Kirkwood Aces' comfortable, stylish interior. Walls painted a deep, alluring shade of crimson (think Snow White's lips) are hung with vintage produce labels. Black wooden booths are wonderfully intimate. The feel is mildly retro, with a touch of biker goth.

Green and clean: A busy bar might be the last place you'd want to order a salad, but Kirkwood Aces' house salad ($6) is surprisingly bright and fresh. The huge helping of icy romaine and sweet butter lettuce tossed with juicy tomatoes, cool cucumber slices, several fistfuls of salty, crunchy croutons and properly cooked hardboiled eggs marries best with the house-made ranch. Pick this salad if you've got a mild junk food craving (you are eating in a bar, after all) but you don't want to slide fully into that realm of guilt.

Ring toss: Beer-battered onion rings ($4.50) are a bit too large. The batter is crisp and zesty, but the onion slices are so thick that after a stint in the fryer, they wind up halfway between raw and just right. Skinnier rings in the same batter would be nothing short of addictive.

Crusted with a tangy char from the grill and tucked into a cushy Kaiser roll, the cheeseburger ($7.50) boasts a moist, rosy interior. Swig a pint of Bass with this baby, and you're in absolute bar food heaven.

'Wich hunt: The corned beef sandwich ($7.99) requires serious squashing before you can pack it into your mouth. Your fingers smoosh into and indent the fresh rye bread while your teeth sink into an impressive mound of corned beef, plenty of whole-grain mustard and a slice of jack. It's exactly the sort of plump, soft sandwich that makes you happy to be a beer-loving meat-eater.

I'm hoping this month-old bar and grill will keep up the excellent eats and fast, friendly service. If every casual eatery putting out a shingle in the 'hood can do as well, I'll never move.

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