Atlanta, GA: Miller Union Lives Up to the Hype
999 Brady Avenue, NW, Atlanta GA 30318 (Map); 678-733-8550; millerunion.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Atlanta's buzziest restaurant also boasts a superior handcrafted burger with killer attention to detail
Want Fries with That? Absolutely! And ask for an extra crock of the house-made ketchup
Price: "The Daily Grind" cheeseburger with fries, $13
No restaurant in Atlanta received as much buzz in 2010 as Miller Union. The farm-to-table venture on the town's old-industrial west side—it's named after the stockyards that once stood on the same site—was among the "Best New Restaurants" of Bon Appetit, Esquire, and Southern Living, and quickly became the must-dine spot in a city that feeds on hype...even when it sometimes ends up being unwarranted. (Remember the '96 Olympics, y'all? Sorry about that.) Sure, they can crank out five-star fancy-pants eats like pan-seared duck breast, chicken liver mousse, and rabbit and prune terrine. (No way do I eat any dish where "and" is the most appetizing-sounding part.) But as it turns out, Miller Union also knows how to do, fittingly, a spectacular burger.
Miller Union's owners pride themselves on their relationships with local farms and farmers. The grass fed beef for "The Daily Grind" cheeseburger comes from White Oak Pastures, about three hours south of town, and is ground...yes, daily. The cheese used is aged Red Hill cheddar, made by Wright Dairy and Yellow Moon Cheese Company just a two-hour drive away, barely over the Alabama state line. The burger's toppings vary depending on what's in season. In the middle of winter, there would be no tomato—just shredded lettuce and red onion.
Executive chef Steven Satterfield has long been one of the city's superstar chefs and I was confident that his kitchen staff would be able to hit medium rare out of the park without blinking. I was right: a very pink but warm center, just like Kenji says it should be. The beef was super-juicy and loosely-packed, with the hometown H&F Bread Co. bun stalwartly holding it all together. I didn't detect a lot of seasoning, and frankly, think that would probably go against Miller Union's simple approach to everything. Great food cooked expertly shines all by itself, and that was certainly the case with "The Daily Grind." This was a truly exceptional burger in every way and by any standard.
The burger is served with fries, and while I don't know whose farm the potatoes came from, I loved what the Miller Union crew did with them. Crisp, not oily in the least, fluffy on the inside; these were top-notch fries. Condiment connoisseurs take note: The house-made ketchup at Miller Union is ca-razy good. (This coming from a guy who doesn't even like ketchup, but had heard so much about it that he tried it and subsequently couldn't get enough.) Slow-cooked all day long with a complex mix of spices, the sauce contains cloves, coriander, garlic, and cinnamon. This is more like a rich and silky high-end barbecue sauce than the stuff that gets squeezed out of the upside-down bottle that's crammed in your refrigerator door.
From the ginger beer made at the bar (one of the day's drink specials) to the housemade ice cream sandwiches for dessert, everything about Miller Union thoroughly impressed me and exceeded the deafening hype. That doesn't mean I'll be lining up for that rabbit and prune terrine anytime soon, but I'm down for MU's cheeseburger any ol' time.
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.