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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Holeman & Finch Public House

2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, GA 30309 (map); 404-948-1175; holeman-finch.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Quite simply the best griddled burger I've ever eaten
Want Fries With That? Oh yes
Price: $12

When I made plans to go to Atlanta last weekend, my top eating priority was a visit to Holeman & Finch Public House to try some of that establishment's legendary head-to-tail meat artistry. And on early Saturday night, I feasted on the best house-made charcuterie I've tasted, pimento cheese, deviled eggs, glazed pork belly, rooster testicles, pan-fried veal brains, and beef heart, all of which was washed down with some of the finest cocktails I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. I did not, however, have the famous burger, though it was not for lack of desire.

Every night at 10 p.m., someone gets on a megaphone and announces that the evening's 24 cheeseburgers are ready. And six days a week, that's the only chance diners have of getting their hands on a burger. As I was committed to going to watch former Cub Theodore Roosevelt Lilly III toy with the Atlanta Braves that evening, a 10 p.m. stop at Holeman & Finch was not possible. But because my Saturday night meal was so good, I altered my Sunday plans so I could return for brunch when another 120 burgers are made available.

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Regular readers know that I prefer my patties thick and rare. That's true for four reasons. First, the hotter meat gets, the more fat cooks out, taking juiciness and beefy flavor with it. Second, which is surely related to the fat issue, the more a burger is cooked, the more difficult it is to develop a stark textural contrast between a crisp exterior and soft interior. Third, more meat equals more deliciousness. And fourth, my preferred style is grilled and a grilled thin patty is easily overwhelmed by smoke. My third reason is easily dealt with by piling two thin patties on top of one another, and the fourth is rendered moot when the burger in question is griddled.

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After my mind-blowing meal the night before, I arrived at H&F with virtually insurmountable expectations. These guys had had me close to licking the bottom of a plate of rooster testicles, so I thought their burger might be life-altering. And in a sense it was: This was, hands down, the best griddled burger I have ever eaten. The patties, made with equal portions of brisket and flank steak from grass-fed cows, were oozing with juice and packed with beefy flavor despite being cooked to medium. The flavor and the temperature of the meat are a combination that until last Saturday I would have thought was not possible. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize I need to get back to Atlanta to make sure my mind wasn't playing tricks on me.

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In addition to the patties, the staff at H&F played a role in manufacturing every part of the burger except for the American cheese and sliced red onions. The bun, a delicious toasted unsweetened brioche, is made next door at H&F Bread Co., the restaurant's bakery arm which supplies a ridiculous number of Atlanta's finest restaurants. The bread and butter pickles are made in-house, as is the ketchup and the mustard.

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There is no weakness in this burger. The ketchup is heavy on the vinegar, but still sings delicious natural tomato. The mustard is so good that I couldn't decide whether to put it on my burger or dip my fries in it, so I did both. The pickles, a perfectly balanced combination of sweet and tart, are made in jars lined up at the top of the restaurant's walls along with a variety of other pickled products (including very intriguing peaches). The red onions are ingeniously placed between the patties, allowing all taste buds to experience meat and bread before encountering their mild zing. And the American cheese, theoretically out of place on a beautiful in-house creation like this, declares itself fit for any burger anywhere.

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I don't know what kind of potatoes are used for their fries, what kind of oil they're fried in, or how many times they're dropped in the oil. But I do know this: They're crisp on the outside, almost creamy on the inside, packed with natural potato flavor, and sprinkled with large grains of salt. And yes, they are every bit as good as they look.

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The previous night, I ran out of time and could not order dessert. The thought of what might have been between the deep fried peach pie and me haunted me throughout the evening. When I saw it was still on the menu at brunch, I had to give it a shot. Imagine a perfectly fried piece of flaky buttery pie crust from a top notch bakery. Now, think about what it would taste like if it was coated in a glaze that reminds you of Krispy Kreme glaze at its absolute best. And then dream of what that would be like filled with fresh Georgia peaches that have been cooked in a light syrup that serves only to enhance the natural peach flavor. Think about that, make it a little better in your mind, add a scoop of high quality vanilla ice cream, and now you know what the fried peach pie tastes like.

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