As mentioned yesterday, in a frenzy of magnanimous delight, burger fiends have descended on Farm Burger in Decatur with fervor and excitement. Like cows set out to pasture at Augusta National, people just can’t seem to get over this organically inclined burger joint. Case in point: by noon on day one, tables were filled and the ordering line was 15 deep for the better part of the lunching hour. Despite this welcomed intrusion, Farm Burger dusted off a few opening day jitters and managed to set the stage for potential success as one of Atlanta’s better options when your waste line isn’t given a second thought.
Though hitting restaurants early and often is just part of my MO, I too must admit an adrenaline rush during the drive over. Thankfully stationed just a few miles away, had I been forced to commute any farther, there’s a good chance I’d have gone telephone pole all up on Ponce. Yeah, I was kind of giddy.
Upon arrival, this excitement quickly turned to a case of “The burger loves me, the burger loves me not.” For lack of a better term, parking at Farm Burger was a bitch, and it will probably stay that way. You see, Farm Burger shares the same lot with Watershed and some dry cleaner whose name I’ve never taken the time to notice. Excited that the place was a buzz, but pissed that people didn’t have the decency to save me a spot, I shoved my car in illegally and strolled on in (don’t worry – I didn’t block anyone). I was dead on shocked by the size of the crowd; fortunately, the thought of running past my 45-minute time limit for lunch quickly dissipated … you just can’t help but feel good when a newborn baby grows up in a matter of moments.
Immediately, I soaked up the ambiance. White walls, stone floors, and the heavy use of wood give the restaurant a cool farmhouse feel. The thematic pictures give way to a handful of signs that deal with the operation. Meanwhile, there’s a standing board with the daily burger special and the salad du jour, and some signage that gives you the skinny. The latter espouses ethics, goodness, and consciousness in short declarative statements. Yes, it’s all the hippy dippy crap, but it’s delivered in an approachable fashion so that even the most cynical of people shouldn’t feel intruded upon. Meanwhile, in all my conversations with the handful of über friendly staffers, not a single one of them tried to regurgitate what was already said … the ethics were left for the signs. I hope it stays that way.
The line of hungry eaters takes form against the back wall; to help, there is a little fence to separate out the dining space. Yes, we too can be herded like cattle! Seating inside is dominated by one clear theme: it’s a place to say hello to your neighbor. Several communal tables take up the floor, leaving those of us flying solo to fend for seats at the full service burger bar or at the glass-side counter. Thrown in are a handful of two tops for the romantic in you. In a move reminiscent of Flip Burger Boutique and encompassing the experience at Grindhouse Killer Burgers, that burger bar faces the kitchen. Not a bad place to sit, especially if the activity is as ruckus as it was on day one.
As my mind turned from crowd to grub, I began to jet back and forth between the stylish paper menu in my hand and the “blackboard” menu behind the register. Both say the same thing, but something about the menu makes it kind of hard to process. Some re-organization would go along way. It boils down to this: there are a handful of apps (corn nuts, housemade onion dip + chips, chicken croquettes amongst them) that will help you bide your time. Then there are build your own burgers ($6), with a slew of toppings (some free, some $1, and some $2), and some prefab selections meant to tug at your creative side ($8-11). Though not as off the wall as Flip, and a little more adventurous than Grindhouse, Farm Burger has managed its own identity, unique to these parts. Like their brethren, they do offer a veggie friendly option; but, the inclusion of a few salad selections makes them a little more open-minded than Flip or Grindhouse. Did you forget about the fries and rings? I didn’t … nor did I forget about the Butternut Porkslap Pale Ale and Moo Stout … the names and logos alone may drive me to the ways of hopiness (spelling?). Witness:
By this time, the messaging had sufficiently sunk in. For once, the term farm to table is appropriately in use. As with Farm 255, their close cousin in Athens, Farm Burger is the very definition of farm to table. Owners Jason Mann and George Frangos source everything from nearby establishments. In fact, many of the items come from Full Moon Farms (website) and Moonshine Meats, which Frangos operates as well. The most notable outsourced item is the bread, which hails from Masada Bakery in Norcross. They provide the sesame buns that house the leading actors.
By the time I got to the front of the line, I had exactly zero idea of what I wanted. While I concocted my custom burger, I thought “What better way to ruin a good meal than with unnecessary amounts of carbs and fat?” Thankfully, the French onion dip with housemade potato chips helped satiate my inner Vern Tessio. Like a gift from powers I don’t pretend to understand, my order just came to me: burger … add lettuce, tomato, thousand island (cough … overplayed “secret sauce” concept), a fried egg, and caramelized onions. Not to be outdone, make that a combo (+ rings + drink).
Cash register malfunction … no credit cards … fish through pocket and extend wad of crumbled cash. Having just dispensed approximately $14, I wheeled and looked for a seat amongst the many carnivorous clans. Luckily, I found a seat at the window counter amongst amongst a fellow blogger and one of the few Yelpers I actually respect. We are slaves to the trends … and proud of it. I settled down with my number sign in hand, wondering if the meal would match the madness.
Moments later, I was treated to a stash of chips and dip. The housemade onion dip was rich, full of sour cream, and laden with strings of caramelized onions. I quickly tore through it, eating everything but the kitchen sink … in this case … the kitchen sink being the mason jar that briefly held my dip. Chips were crisp, full of yummy oil flavor, and definitely not greasy to the touch. Disco!
Suddenly, my eyes began to jet around like a raving lunatic. I wanted to see what was in store. Just about then, a burger showed up. Unfortunately, my requested onion rings were supplanted by an order of fries. Good in their own right, it was day one and so I dove in without so much as a second thought. At a glance, the assembly looked perfect. The vegetables were rich and colored by nature. The caramelized onions tangled like spaghetti on top of the proud glob of pink “FB sauce.” Though I find the need to classify any form of Thousand Island/Mac Sauce as something special and secret to be totally off-putting, if it’s good … I’m happy. Bites of this thick patty against the soft, fresh bun went down with ease … albeit messy easy that was briefly interrupted by the crunchiness handed out by the large stack of lettuce. As I moved through the meal, the burger began to pull a Johnny 5 … falling apart despite its best attempts to “No Disassemble.”
The egg was fried perfectly and touched with just the right amount of salt. The FB sauce was rich on the relish, and the slippery goodness of the perfectly caramelized onions was not loss. The meat itself was marked with quality, but something about the grind didn’t quite brand my cow. It’s a bit on the gamier side (as it is grassfed). With such an array of toppings on the menu, I can’t say with any certainty that all of the toppings hold up as well as the egg did on mine.
Most importantly, knowledge of cooking temperature is a must, especially at burger joints. Here’s where judging a joint on one stop is particularly dangerous. My burger came out in the low 140’s … the entry point to “medium.” Though I’m a sucker for a good medium rare, you’re not given the option to request your temperature. Maybe that will change … maybe it won’t … but regardless, mine was just a little bit pink and still juicy. That’s enough to keep most people happy, but not me and certainly not him.
I whipped my hands, made sure not to burp on any of the nearby patrons (your welcome @FoodieFitness), and slipped away into the comfortable Atlanta afternoon. Was this a burger of legend, worthy of drawing legions of fans from the four corners of the US? Nope, not even close. But it was a burger of quality products and satisfaction.
Though the culinary bliss I’ve experienced early on at H+F was not to be found, Farm Burger performed admirably. It easily bested anything I ever sampled at Flip, and functionally satisfied about as much as the burgers from Grindhouse. It’s not cheap, but it’s big enough and organic enough that you know why. GH and Farm Burger, while different, are competently executed visions of their intended ideals.
I’m not sure there is any room for noticeable improvement save for a tinkering with the meat mixture and a reduction in cook time. More importantly, I doubt a place this well organized on day one will slip any. But time will tell, and even I am wrong from time to time. ;-) In a city where above average eating is becoming more and more common place, we can score this one as likely to please and worth at least a little bit of a drive. Still, I yearn for the days when Atlanta is a food Mecca … biding my time on the overused theme that is the burger trend.
[Pardon the Android Photos – I left my camera at home]