3934 Veterans Boulevard Metairie, LA 70002 (map); 504-309-7474; theatomicburger.com
Cooking Method: Flat-top
Short Order: Picture perfect, ground in-house, crusty, griddle cooked burgers, with top quality ingredients and superior locally made buns.
Want Fries with That?: Yes; the skin-on, twice fried fries are great
Prices: Hamburger, $4.99; bacon cheeseburger, $6.49; Jamburger, $2.99; fries (regular), $1.89; shakes, $4.49
The Jetsons-era appeal of the Atomic Burger sign in Metairie, Louisiana, is certainly enticing to the kid in me. Regardless of clever marketing, I just haven't bonded with most of the newer burger-themed places I've tried lately. Between the crowds and online buzz, it was definitely time to see if these guys could deliver.
Brothers Joe and Nick Spitale opened Atomic Burger last November to offer freshly made unprocessed foods in a drive-thru setting. At first glance, it's hard not to like the shiny colorful space. Inside, a massive metal cone descends from the overhead ducts breathing vapor onto the counter—this is simply their device for making ice cream to-order in less than 30 seconds, with the help of liquid nitrogen, for their custom blended milkshakes. As gimmicky as it may sound, it's fun to watch. The molecular gastronomy technique for the shakes is as much about freshness and speed as it is about showing off.
But the main draw are their beef burgers made of fresh chuck ground in-house daily. (Portobello mushroom and turkey burgers are also available.)
Unwrapping what looks like a picture perfect bacon cheeseburger ($6.49) is a welcome surprise: the six-ounce patty is noticeably wider than the bun. The intense char from the griddle covers the whole well-done patty, even down to the edges. The interior is tender but not exceptionally juicy; the star is the flavorful crust. The bacon slices are bold, crisp, and wide, covering most of the top. Slightly melted shredded cheddar is a somewhat sharp complement, but the bacon is the enjoyably dominant flavor.
The locally baked bun from Weiss Guys' Bakery is soft and evenly toasted—a totally superior bun in the local fast food arena. It gets a mix of mustard and mayo applied to each side.
The leafy romaine lettuce and tomato slices on the top are fresh and plentiful. Diced onions on the bottom—once common in Southern burger joints—are covered in the condiment mix along with a couple of pickles.
The regular hamburger ($4.99) is constructed in the same fashion as the bacon cheeseburger, but it has a refreshing hit of salt not found on the latter. The meat is the star of this excellent rendition.
With its three-ounce patty, the Jamburger ($2.99) slider with bacon and onion jam, melted cheddar, and mayo is bigger than what might technically be considered a slider. The onion's sweetness subdues the bacon's saltiness for a mildly complementary jam that doesn't overpower the meat. It's a worthwhile combination for a smaller burger.
It's easy for me to pass up fast food fries, but I'd go out of my way to get these fries again. Atomic Burger's hand cut fries ($1.89) are twice fried, tender throughout, and not overly browned on the outside. The downside is that they're a bit salty, but brushing off some of the extra salt is easy. If you can resist the fries, steamed edamame is also offered as a healthy side option.
The cream cheese and cinnamon in the limited edition king cake-flavored Atomic Freeze Milkshake ($4.49) did capture the essence of the popular brioche Carnival treat, and the little sprinkles of gold, green, and purple sugar were a clever touch. Besides this Mardi Gras season-only shake, the everyday shake menu features 12 flavors.
The composition of these burgers is so precisely planned—just the right amount of everything—that there's no doubt the founders love burgers. The atmosphere is honestly playful and lighthearted, and their offerings are handily superior to chain fare. If Atomic Burger offers the fast food of the future, it would be a step towards hamburger utopia. I'd love to see them expand closer to my neck of the woods, but for now I'm lucky all I have to do is brave the beastly Metairie traffic.