The Ambiguously Foodie Duo has struck again, and this time our victim was Grindhouse Killer Burgers in Downtown Atlanta. In just a few short days, Grindhouse has thrown down the gauntlet, though not for their food. The freshly cooked Sweet Auburn Curb Market eatery is alive and kicking and it is readily apparent that owner Alex Brounstein and his crew have hit the ground running.
Before I wax-foodetic about the specifics, Grindhouse has done something many new restaurants, even those run by experienced restaurateurs, have failed to do: open smoothly, at least from the perspective of a patron. While I am usually inclined to give people new to the restaurant business a bit of a pass in the early stages, Brounstein’s joint requires no such grace period. Perhaps this is do to the abbreviated amount of service, the relative simplicity of the menu, or the layout of the space (how many fooderies can you name that don’t even have walls?). In a number of ways, Grindhouse has gone simple. Some may say they have played it safe, I say they have played it smart.
First, let us pontificate on the digs. The Sweet Auburn Curb Market (website) is kind of like a soul food farmers market mixed with an amped up food court. It’s this locale that gives Grindhouse a real personality, and, when all is said and done, might be their best differentiator. For those of you who have never stepped foot in the SACM, it’s an urban market on the corner of Jesse Hill Jr. and Edgewood. On any given day, the handful of seafood stands, meat stations, veggie counters, or off-beat food court tenants are likely to have their fare share of customers. It’s a solid place to get some fresh produce and proteins, as well as grab a quick bite.
As a quick interlude, this location might also be Grindhouse’s Achilles heel. Parking is a pain in the padded ass. There is a gated parking lot behind the building off Jesse Hill, though your ticket is validated by any vendor for up to 90 minutes of time. For all of you attending Georgia State University, SACM is an ideal place to walk to for a quick bite. In fact, the market deserves its own post – so let’s add this to my to-do list. And now back to our regularly scheduled chatter
Towards the north side of the bustling building is a multi-colored wood-paneled bar topped with a cash register and accompanied by roughly twenty fixed-in-place stools. Just beyond the bar is a demonstrative neon sign and a brick wall that doubles as a movie screen. I must say that Grindhouse’s footprint, or lack thereof, is unnerving for the first 10-seconds, and totally rad for each subsequent tick of the clock. You just feel that much cooler for having a meal there.
All ordering is done at the cash register after which you are left to your own catlike reflexes in order to secure a spot. When I arrived at 1pm, the stools were packed and the line to order was six or so deep. By the time my man date arrived, the place was still busy. However, the most I saw anyone wait for a spot to sit in was roughly a minute and change … so Grindhouse seems to have the system down.
As we all know, the main purpose of a restaurant, or a glorified food stand as the case may be, is to provide us with sustenance. In the case of Grindhouse, that sustenance comes, more often than not, in the form of a caloric intense, gut-busting meat sandwich. The entrées available are burgers, save for the lone chopped salad and the bowl of chili. Sides come in the form of crinkle cut French fries, Vidalia Onion rings, and sweet potato kettle chips. Given the choice of three proteins (beef, turkey, or veggie), three sizes (single/double/slider), and 22 toppings (avocado, green chilies, etc..), the roughly 1,011,600,654,993 available combinations can be somewhat intimidating. Thankfully, Grindhouse offers up a half-dozen pre-defined burgers for you. For good measure, they allow you to really scare your doctor with offerings of hand spun milkshakes/malts and several closely related alternatives.
Seeing as a diverse selection of flavors was in order, we decided to take down two single patties and an order of sliders (three to an order). However, due to lack of stomach space, we decided to stick with Angus beef as our protein. It’s worth noting that the number above is slightly off, the reality is that not all the toppings are available on the sliders (though I’m not sure why). You can put your burger through the combinator for an additional $2.49. If you do, you are rewarded with a regular order of fries and a fountain beverage (with free refills). We tried to combo both of the burgers, however, we were told that you couldn’t do it with rings. Admittedly, the last part seems somewhat pointless and was most certainly frustrating. Still, we forged on.
In the words of my compadré, the eponymous burger was required. So an order of sliders … check … a single Grindhouse burger with fries and a drink … check … an Apache burger … not so fast. Apparently, the chilies were in short supply. Nothing to fret about, and nothing to really rail them for, even the most venerable of establishments run out of goods. In its stead, order up of the cowboy burger. We worked through the hiccups, provided them with a name (used for identification purposes when the order is ready), and found a seat.
While we waited, our station was prepped with napkins, ketchup, mustard, and complimentary and unrequested sides of ranch chipotle and Grindhouse sauce (a set for each of us). Soon there after, we were presented with a couple of trays containing our grub. Each burger and both sides came served up in little branded wrapper bags. Meanwhile, the sliders came military style – lined up and ready to give their life for a greater cause.
The Grindhouse burger (lettuce, grilled onions, pickles, American cheese, and “Grindhouse” sauce). This was, for the most part, a straightforward take on the classic. Speaking to the texture, the patty drifted toward the consistency of ground beef. It was chunky to the bite, soft, and very wet. More on the buns in just a bit, but in the meantime, there was nothing fancy about the seasonings. What we ended up with was a very simple burger that was extremely soft in both flavor and bite. The Grindhouse sauce, seems like a slightly modified take on Big Mac sauce, however, there within we found a reference to pepper and the impression that pickling had been utilized. It didn’t particularly move me in any direction. Meanwhile, the portion control was spot on and each topping made an appropriate appearance throughout my half.
Second on the list was the cowboy burger (bacon, crispy Vidalia onions, shredded cheddar, BBQ sauce). Texturally, this was almost identical to the Grindhouse burger. With such a soft delivery cart (aka bun), and a truly wet patty, the crispness of the bacon was somewhat muted and the fried onions turned completely limp. Again, this is not a complaint, just a description of the product. The BBQ sauce gave the burger a truly sweet flavor, so if you’re looking for something savory – this may not be the order for you.
Last up, in the way of proteins, were the sliders. In a true test of consistency, they were nearly identical to their larger counter parts. The only real difference was that ours were joined by just ketchup, mustard, and lettuce. In what may appear to be a more cynical statement than intended, I’m not 100% sure why these are an available option. As they stand now, the sliders only seem to appear different from their full sized counter parts in form. By comparison, a place like Krystal offers up a completely different experience in their sliders when compared to their larger brethren. Ultimately, I can’t really fault their inclusion … but I do have to wonder why.
The only true disappointments for me were in the sides. The crinkle fries were unremarkable and bland. Meanwhile, the Vidalia onion rings are appropriately described in the subtext. The light use of batter and thinly sliced onions made for a rather soft experience (even outside the burger). They aren’t onion rings so much as onion straws. Despite the lack of a more robust batter, the onion taste was lost on me. Let’s not kid ourselves, these weren’t “bad,” but just not very impressive.
As noted, and later discussed, on the initial post, the buns are outsourced and come from Martin’s. These are some of the softest buns I’ve ever had and the sampled examples were extremely fresh. While I love the idea of Grindhouse utilizing one of our local bakeries, it is clear that Brounstein had a particular experience in mind and he chose a fine product to deliver on that.
Though service is a minor aspect of the experience here, hospitality is not. Our drinks were promptly refilled and we were attended to with care, but not overwhelming eyeballing. Like a chip off the old block (in this case, the owner), the staff was smiley glowy and came with the formulaic “What did you think?” However, they did so subtly, so stars across the board there.
As I mentioned, there were a few glitches in the experience. The lack of an onion ring combination is befuddling, but easily swallowed and nothing to get in a tizzy about. It’s easily remedied by the patron (or a menu adjustment for that matter), so no real harm there. And yes, they ran out of chilies, which rendered their Apache burger non-existent. However, that isn’t worth much more than a ho-hum.
I did find the onion rings and fries to be disappointing, but I was more frustrated by the cooking temperature. Those with a keen eye will be quick to point out that the menu does say all burgers are medium or medium well. However, we were informed that cooking temperature was negotiable. Neither of the burgers came out anywhere close to the requested “medium-rare” temperature. Luckily for Grindhouse, the fact that the meat is thin and high in fat content means the medium-well preparation wasn’t a big deal. Still, I nailed Flip Burger Boutique for the same failure, where overcooking is both rampant and a more notable error, so it’s only fare to mention the exchange here. Again, I know they were attempting to go outside the box for a customer, but I would have understood had they just politely refused.
Though I prefer something a little more resistant to my mandibles, the samples we had were well executed, except for the cooking temperature, and ultimately satisfying. A number of patrons around expressed true satisfaction in the product, and that was in the absence of a nearby employee, so I’ll take those at face value. While their burgers won’t go down in my book as the kings of Atlanta, Grindhouse has every reason to be proud of what they put out. Given the friendliness of the staff, the respectable product, and the totally über cool experience that comes with a meal at Grindhouse, out of the gate, this place is worth a trip [If consistency doesn’t rear it’s head of course]!
Though I know you’re dying to get out of here, I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat, yet again, to the gang from Staplehouse. They were kind enough to give Brounstein the freedom to hand out some fliers at their recent tacos event. Classy as they come.