The Nook on Piedmont Park
1144 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, GA 30309 (map); 404-745-9222; thenookatlanta.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Cool hangout with a killer view serves up burgers stuffed with wackiness every Thursday night
Want Fries with That? You're better off upgrading to the Totchos appetizer, in five addictive flavors
Price: Shrimp & Grits Stuffed Burger, $13.95
Location, location, location. True in real estate is also pretty accurate when it comes to burgers. The Nook on Piedmont Park has that figured out on both fronts. As the name suggests, it sits adjacent to the 211-acre park that is to downtown Atlanta what Central Park is to Manhattan, with a patio view that's unique within the city. Stop in on a Thursday night and you'll find that there are some crazy burger "toppings" here that have a pretty unique location, too. That's because what The Nook has become best known for—apart from that panoramic view and a severely-addictive appetizer specialty—is that all-too-rare burger subspecies, the stuffed burger.
Not content with fromage fillings alone à la a Jucy Lucy, The Nook gets nutty with what they'll cram inside their 81/19 Montana Black Angus beef. Lobster and crab, for example. Or four-cheese lasagna. Not all are winners, though: co-owner Adam Gajadharsingh told me about a ricotta-and-blueberry-sauce attempt that he described as "not the best idea." But what the kitchen puts in there is always a little out there, and it's always rotating. Well, almost always. Thursdays are Stuffed Burger Night at The Nook, with a new special each week, but on a recent Thursday visit, I was left with the lone stuffed burger that's a permanent menu fixture, the Shrimp & Grits Stuffed Burger.
Invented last year specifically for the city's inaugural Battle of the Burgers event, it won the People's Choice (Beef) Award. It's "stuffed with sauteed shrimp and Gouda cheese, topped with an Andouille sausage-studded grit cake and a smoked tomato beurre blanc sauce." That's verbatim from the menu, but I found a few surprises when it hit my table. For starters, there's a tomato slice and a bed of spinach leaves to provide some colorful "curb appeal." And upon careful dissection, there's actually not one, but TWO grit cakes—one up, one down in this high-rise hamburger.
Sitting there for its photo shoot, the Andouille's smell was unmistakable. Biting into the burger, the taste was downright overpowering. As Adam explained to me, "We want our guests to be able to taste the sausage because it has so much flavor." I agree. In principle. But re-read that menu description. Sounds like the Andouille is studding the grit cake(s), right? Nope. It's folded into the beef. And forget studs; my burger had giant hunks of sausage still in the casing. According to Adam, "the chunks allow for some texture," but to me, it was wholly unexpected and, honestly, off-putting. It's a very good burger, and one I'd eat again, but I'm not convinced that you wouldn't get the same spicy Cajun kick by grinding up the Andouille and really incorporating it, resulting in a patty that doesn't involve freezing mid-chew and making that wide-eyed "What the hell did I just bite into?" face.
The sweet potato fries were just ok; the onion rings were oversized and doughy. Instead, skip the sides altogether and order The Nook's signature app to go with your burger. They're called Totchos, and the staff takes quite a bit of pride in this particular creation, as evidenced by the ™ symbol plastered after the name EVERY TIME IT APPEARS ANYWHERE ON THE PREMISES. I was prepared to hate all over Totchos. I mean, you haven't bagged Bigfoot or cured the common cold here. You've piled nacho toppings over tater tots and then given them a too-cute name and made sure I realize that you trademarked it. You call them "World Famous" on your menu and ship them anywhere via your website. It all reeked of trying too damn hard.
Except they totally rock. Some of the best tots I've ever eaten, with a remarkable show of restraint toppings-wise that lets the spuds shine. My "Redneck Totchos" featured cheese sauce, jalapeños, mesquite-smoked pork, and Coca-Cola barbecue sauce. My brother and I actually haggled over the last few as we worked through our burgers, and I can't wait to go back to sample the other four flavors. (He may not be riding shotgun on those trips so I get more of them to myself.)
So why didn't The Nook have a special stuffed burger on the Stuffed Burger Thursday I was there? Turns out that the chef and staff were so immersed in experimenting with their planned entry for this year's Battle of the Burgers that they simply ran out of time to throw a stuffed special on the menu. I can live with that, seeing as how last year's entry turned into one of the more unique burgers I've had this year. If the 2011 burger is half as tasty (and preferably only half as chunky, please), The Nook is a location where I'll be finding myself a lot more often.
About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and recently penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.