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The Best Burger I Ever Ate

Courtesy of Southern Living, Photo: Iain Bagwell, Food Styling: Angie Mosier

I've been obsessed with burgers lately. You may know that we're working on a burger story for our July issue, so we've been talking about, eating, and evaluating lots of burgers in recent weeks, all unique and all delicious.

That said, I'm sure my burger obsession started with a recent visit to Holeman and Finch Public House in Atlanta. Although the burger is not listed on the menu, it's not news to anyone that they offer 24 every night beginning at 10 p.m. Now, I've heard lots of nay-sayers argue, that's just a gimmick to move their scraps. And I'll admit I was willing to buy into that theory until I took the first bite, and wow! I'm a total convert. [Southern Living named this burger the South's Best Late-Night Burger.]

Maybe it helped that I was snacking and drinking at Octopus Bar on Saturday night (a notorious hang-out for Atlanta cooks, my kinda place), and my group happened to meet the former sous-chef of Holeman and Finch. We had to ask: what's the secret to the burger? Is it worth the hype? To which he sheepishly replied, yeah. Didn't seem so convincing, so we pressed with more questions.

(I gotta say that I'm very partial to the burgers I make at home, where I start with a mix of ribeye—or sometimes short rib—and hanger steak and grind my own meat. I'm religious about forming the patties ever so delicately, so they don't become dense hockey pucks as they cook. And I've gotten a few compliments on those burgers.)

So naturally, I asked if they grind their own meat. Yes, came the answer. OK, so what's your grind? Brisket and chuck: 50/50 he replied. And though he dropped the name, White Oak Pastures, as the source of their fantastic meat, in my mind I still felt sure that my burger could stand up to their legendary version.

It may be a little-known fact (outside Atlanta, anyway) that H & F serves an unlimited number of burgers all day on Sunday during brunch/lunch. So when we pulled up, saw what a 2 1/2-hour wait looks like, and ducked straight into the bar to order our burgers with no wait at all, I was still feeling a bit smug.

We struck up a convo with the young ladies sitting next to us, locals, also worshippers of the famed burger. Is it worth all the hype, we asked. A resounding yes was the answer. So we ordered: 2 burgers, please. And with one bite I realized what an idiot I am. It was, without a doubt: The. Best. Burger. I've Eaten. Worth every ounce of ink spilled in its praise. House-made buns that are perfectly round, perfectly browned, and perfectly proportioned for the juiciest, meaty-est-tasting patties ever. Yes, I said two patties, but don't interpret that in a Super-Size Me kind of way. Chef Hopkins and crew start with just the right amount of beef. Then they divide it into two patties so there is more surface area exposed to the grill, resulting in sublime texture—crispy char on the outside and meltingly tender meat inside—and flavor. He also does something mystical with what seems to be American cheese, but I won't even hazard a guess as to what kind of black magic is going on there. Onions and house-made pickles top off the stack of perfection. I don't recall lettuce or tomato anywhere in sight, yet there was not a thing missing.

I recently learned there will be three stalls at Turner Field (where the Atlanta Braves play) that will offer Holeman and Finch burgers. And while I'm skeptical whether they can maintain their quality on such a mass scale, you can look for me standing in line, no matter how long the wait.

What's the best burger you've ever eaten?