Diesel Filling Station
870 North Highland Avenue, Atlanta GA 30306 (map); 404-815-1820; dieselatlanta.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The gas station exterior and heavy-metal vibe may turn off some, but they rock out burgers with a near-cheffy twist
Want Fries with That? Sure, they're nicely done; the sweet potato version may be even better
Price: Green Tomato Burger, $10; Bacon Blue Burger, $10
If you have a personal problem with tattoos and body piercings, you may not like Diesel Filling Station. If you're not a fan of zombies, you probably should stay away from Diesel. If you'd rather not be treated to a mealtime soundtrack of GWAR, I'm afraid Diesel may not be your kind of place. If, however, a down-and-dirty metal-shop vibe where the late-night bar grub gets a slight and surprising injection of fancy does appeal to you, then let's talk. They may not be dishing up burgs that earn them a share of the city's spotlight, but Diesel is a better-than-you-might-expect choice for Virginia-Highland's drinking crowd and worth a visit for your after-hours (or pre-Zombiepocalypse) burger fix.
Diesel tends to get lost in the mix sometimes. The legendary Atkins Park (the city's oldest continuously-licensed tavern) and the sprawling English/Irish-styled Hand in Hand seem to get all the pub pub(licity) on this stretch of North Highland. For capital-C cuisine, there's Murphy's and Surin of Thailand, among many others. Even if all you crave is a burger, perennial fave George's is just down the street. The tiny ex-service station stands out only as an "Oh-yeah-that-place" also-ran for many.
But on the other side of that old gas pump is a no-frills dive that actually has a hardcore following. It's become a regular hangout for fans of The Walking Dead, the TV series shot in Atlanta, where season premieres and viewing parties are well-attended by scores of costumed zombies. And the Sunday brunch packs the spacious patio with a regular crowd looking to un-do Saturday night's festivities (or kickstart Sunday afternoon's) with either the bar's extensive high-gravity/craft beer list or the widely-acclaimed Bloody Mary with bacon-infused vodka. A little unexpected for a joint with a diamond-plate-and-welded-steel bar and a ginormous demon hanging from the ceiling? Maybe.
The burger menu offers more surprises. My Green Tomato Burger showed a spot-on amount of pink, way more than I thought I'd see when I requested medium rare. The 100 percent Angus showed lovely grill marks and gorgeous color, but also had somewhat densely-packed strands of meat that, while juicy, could have used a touch more seasoning.
Thankfully, the patty was elevated considerably by the creaminess of the roasted tomato goat cheese, the tangy bite of the horsey mustard, and the earthiness of the well-browned portobellas. Less successful was the fried green tomato itself. Usually fairly bland—this Southern specialty almost always sounds better than it ends up being—this one made itself known only when I caught hold of a big chunk of its crunchy crumb coat. That said, there were enough positives here that I'd order it again (if for no other reason than the novelty), right along with the cinnamon-dusted sweet potato fries.
My companion's Bacon Blue Burger didn't have quite the same interior color, but was again solidly good thanks to toppings like crisp and meaty bacon and plentiful blue cheese—despite an onion ring that was MIA, taste-wise. The standard fries it came with were excellent, skin-on and hand-cut in the kitchen each day.
Diesel's potato buns are soft and squishy with a nice flavor of their own and enough sponginess to handle the meat juice and still remain intact as a burger holder.
While they aren't breaking new ground with offerings like a Bacon Blue or 'Shroom & Swiss, Diesel does get a bit off the wall with some other varieties. The Bailout Burger has feta, cucumber, pepperoncini, roasted tomato, and hummus on it. The Happy Meal Burger features a bacon/beef patty topped with cheese, grilled onion, homemade pickle, and Coca-Cola ketchup. And the Oh Deer God! Burger includes venison, chutney, mixed greens, and aioli on ciabatta. I've tried it before, and while venison isn't my thing, I love that Diesel offers such borderline cheffy options, even if they seem out of place among the mechanics' memorabilia, tatted-up waitstaff, ever-present threat of zombie attack, and death-metal musical accompaniment. Diesel may not be for everyone. And I think that's kind of the way they want it.