Seed Kitchen & Bar
1311 Johnson Ferry Road Suite 504, Marietta GA 30068 (map); 678-214-6888; eatatseed.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Fine dining menu and a stylish atmosphere may fool you you into thinking (wrongly) that this suburban burger doesn't rock
Want Fries with That? The fries are carefully considered and well-executed... like everything else at Seed
Price: Merchant Burger, $12
Among Atlantans, East Cobb County has a reputation for being the home of several things in overabundance. Outstanding public schools. Neatly-manicured swim/tennis communities. Imported SUVs. Toned and tucked soccer moms. (Yeah, it's called "East Snobb" for a reason.) But for all of the suburbanite superlatives in this part of town, you know what's never really made that list? Fine dining.
That may have changed, though, with the recent opening of Seed Kitchen & Bar. Owner/chef Doug Turbush's new venture grabbed a coveted spot on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's 50 Best Restaurants list, to the collective jaw drop of locals for whom fine dining has previously required a commute.
Now, a fancy-pants restaurant certainly doesn't guarantee a great burger experience. And a great burger is in no way a pre-req for being a great restaurant. I, in fact, have been accused of unfairly dinging a genuinely top-notch eatery based solely on what I perceived to be a lackluster burger. But I happen to believe that if a truly exceptional restaurant puts a burger on its menu, they should be able to execute it exceptionally. Seed delivers.
The Merchant Burger (named after the shopping center Seed resides in) is an unassuming selection on a menu boasting veal meatloaf and a scallops/pork belly combo, but for the lunch-rushers and date-night diners making a table at Seed the hottest ticket in town these days, it's becoming an increasingly popular choice. It starts with eight ounces of certified 70/30 Angus from Buckhead Beef. The chuck is pattied on premises and hit with salt and coarse-ground black pepper before spending some quality time on a Blodgett gas grill, where it picks up a noticeable crusty char and pronounced grate marks before being slipped inside a buttered and grilled challah bun.
Turbush told me that the kitchen first used grass-fed beef from a local purveyor, but that "the public wasn't having it." He went on: "I've never had so many burgers sent back to the kitchen. They didn't understand the color when it was cooked to temp and certainly were not ready for the dry nature of that beef, even though we had buttered the heck out of it."
Topping the Merchant is gooey white cheddar from Udderly Cool Dairy (located about 90 minutes to the southwest) which displayed a gorgeous melt job and had a bit of mild tang to it. The burger also piles on caramelized onions, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, and the kitchen's own Merc Sauce, which appeared to have been applied pretty liberally on both bun halves. Described as "a riff on Russian dressing," it's the staff's own secret sauce and quite tasty, although its upstairs/downstairs presence combined with the melted cheese, slick onions, and significant juiciness of the meat itself for a serious amount of lubrication. As soon as I gave the bun a hearty pre-bite squeeze—a necessity given its squishy structure—stuff started slipping and sliding everywhere.
But I'll readily forgive the collateral mess when the beef centerpiece is this good. Well seasoned, nice char, juicy interior—this was a top-notch burger. True, it costs like a top-notch burger at $12, but that's more or less in line with what other restaurants of this tier charge for theirs. It's all about perceived value; the Merchant I had was spectacular to the last drop.
My Merc puddle offered a nice dipping sauce for the french fries, which were plenty good on their own. Turbush specifically selected Kingston Idaho spuds, calling them "the finest cured potato on the market." They're given a 24-hour soak in cold water, then cooked twice: once at 300 degrees, then 350. The result is a crisp-on-the-outside fry that never strays into "crunchy" territory, and the first fry I've had in a while that didn't need any extra salt once it hit the table, showing an attention to detail that seems to permeate everything I've experienced over a handful of meals at Seed.
Like the magnificent color on that medium-rare. Seed certainly doesn't profess to be "a burger joint." Hell, the Merchant is the only one on the menu (although Turbush told me he's playing with a lamb burger that could join the party). But it's a gourmet version done right that's making a name for itself in this burger-mad city. A recent Atlanta Magazine feature on "upscale burgers" put Seed's in the same spotlight as just six others, including stalwarts like Bocado, Kaleidoscope, and Miller Union. Pretty heady company, and deservedly so. This is a kitchen that's hitting all the right notes, and showing that it truly is a destination restaurant in a part of town that's never had one. You may not venture into East Cobb specifically for the burger at Seed Kitchen & Bar, but it's a damn great option once you're here.