Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub
1410 Dresden Drive, Atlanta GA 30319 (map); 404-474-9600; k-pub.com
Cooking Method: Flat-top, finished in a cast-iron skillet
Short Order: A juicy burger loaded with house-made Southern-staple toppings and a superb bun
Want Fries with That? Yes, especially if they come with a side of duck fat bacon mayo for dipping
Price: Award-Winning Kaleidoscope Burger, single, $8; double, $12
When Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub was named the winner of the Judges' Choice award at Atlanta's inaugural Battle of the Burgers back in early October, the reaction from me—and probably more than a few others—was a resounding, "Who???" See, the place hadn't even opened its doors for business, yet they bested almost 20 other restaurants, including a few of the city's elite burgermeisters. And despite being at the event, I hadn't even been able to sample the winning creation due to some absurdly-long lines at the booths nearest the beer tent.
It was a long three months as I waited for Kaleidoscope to debut, wondering if I had really missed out on the best burger in Atlanta. While "THE best" may be (and should be) subject to personal preferences, based on my first visit, I'm willing to put Kaleidoscope in the discussion.
Kaleidoscope may be less than eight weeks old, but executive chef/owner Joey Riley is a veteran of the Atlanta dining scene, having spent time running the kitchens of local landmarks Goldfish, Tom Tom, Indigo, and the world-famous Buckhead Diner. Now in his own restaurant, Riley vacillates between capital-C cuisine like sage-roasted pork porterhouse and pub grub like fish and chips. But the self-proclaimed star of the menu is the "Award-Winning Kaleidoscope Burger," available as a single or a double, and dressed in pimento cheese, slaw, green tomato chow chow, and bread and butter pickles.
Staying true to its colorful name, Kaleidoscope offers two donenesses when you order the burger: red or brown. "They're thin quarter-pound patties, so it's hard to pinpoint it much past that," our server told us. My "red" patties were beautifully cooked and thoroughly juicy.
I'd seen an interview where Riley qualifies his meat as "all-natural beef," but points out that it's not 100 percent grass-fed. No, cows that become Kaleidoscope burgers are fed corn during "the last third of their lives" in an effort to improve flavor. Riley also goes the extra mile during cooking, pulling the burgers off the flat-top early and finishing them in a cast-iron skillet to produce a heavenly crusty char.
The bun was terrifically squishy, soaking up burger juice to the point of saturation. I worried that it would fall apart on me at any moment, but it never did. "You can do anything to that bun," our server told us. (I chose to eat mine.) Not just a means of gripping the burger, this bun was exceptional. Curious, I asked about its origins. From "a specialty bakery up north," was all Riley was willing to divulge. (Check a map—there's an awful lot of "up north" when you're in Atlanta. This didn't narrow it down one whit, but I'm willing to let it remain a tasty mystery.)
The oozy pimento cheese (spread atop both patties—yay!), the slaw, and the chow chow are all made in-house and give the burger a noticeable Southern twang. (The pickles are homemade, too, but I left them off; I'm just not a pickle guy, no matter how good you say they are.) It all came together with the smooth beef for a wonderful mix of tastes and textures, with everything in balanced proportion. It made me wonder, though, about the single burger. If the double feels just right as far as beef-to-other-stuff-ratio, how does a single patty not get lost? That question may remain unanswered since I can't imagine not ordering the double on future visits.
I found the fries served with the burger to be unremarkable by themselves, but ask for a side of the duck-fat-and-bacon mayonnaise, and you've got something special. It's actually paired on the menu with the starter portion of pub fries, but upon mentioning my interest to our server, he immediately suggested a small dipping bowl of it as a $1 add-on. Rich and smoky, it was the best dollar I've spent in a while.
There's that word again. "Best." I kept thinking about that Judges' Choice award as I plowed though my Kaleidoscope Burger. It's definitely a top-notch burger, but I'm just not sure I can call it the best in the city. I'm certainly willing, however, to go back on a semi-regular basis to be swayed.
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.