Local Three Kitchen & Bar
3290 Northside Parkway, Atlanta GA 30327 (Map); 404-968-2700; localthree.com
Cooking Method: Griddled on a plancha
Short Order: "A Big Mac that kicks ass" in a quirky and cool setting
Want Fries with That? Skin-on Yukon Golds are spot-on with simple salt, pepper, and parsley
Price: "The McDowell," $11
It all started in a meeting. A trio of new restaurant partners were hashing out the menu of their soon-to-open Local Three Kitchen & Bar, and the conversation had turned to burgers. While discussing the merits of a big, sloppy, fast-food grease bomb after a night on the town, the light bulb went off over Chris Hall's head. "I got it," he said. "We should do a Big Mac... but a Big Mac that kicks ass." Well, Chris...mission accomplished.
Local Three is doing brisk business after just a few months' operation and despite a tough-to-find locale. Google Maps spits out the wrong location when you plug in the true street address (our link above is correct). There are signs everywhere in the hoity-toity office building complex it's buried in, all literally pointing you to the end of a nondescript hallway in the lobby, where the door is actually hidden in a wall of wood paneling.
But once you find Local Three, you're rewarded with one of the more visually appealing restaurants in town. The more you look, the more quirky details you spot. And if you ask, you'll find that almost every detail has a great story behind it. There's the wall of vertically-banded reclaimed materials making up the main focal point. There's the set of hand-painted pigs on the opposite wall, one representing each owner. There's the collection of mismatched salt and pepper shakers, a different centerpiece for each table. At the host stand, there's the framed portrait of Jeff Bridges as "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski. And there's the massive bar—slabs of a single tree that was felled by lightning just a mile from the restaurant.
The eclectic vibe carries over to the menu, in an approach to food and drink that Local Three calls "Foie Gras in Flip Flops." Their dishes are often named with pop culture references, like the Abe Froman (Ferris Bueller's Day Off), the Gunga Galunga (Caddyshack), and a recent lamb special called Good Evening, Clarice, served, naturally, with fava beans and a nice Chianti (insert your own creepy slurping noise here). For the burger, they turned to an Eddie Murphy classic from 1988.
In Coming to America, Murphy's Prince Akeem goes to work at a fast food joint for the quintessential American experience. His new boss at McDowell's has a flagship burger which sounds a lot like the most iconic burger in history. "Look, me and the McDonald's people got this little misunderstanding," he says about his eponymous knock-off. "We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds."
Local Three's McDowell starts with 75/25 Halperns' Angus beef, seasoned with salt and pepper and griddled on a plancha (like a regular flat-top, but hotter and with a water bath surrounding it to create a steaming effect) with any patty-pressing strictly forbidden. The thin quarter-pounders are served well done (they don't ask for your preference, though they'll cook to order upon request), but mine were quite juicy with a wonderful crusty char on the exterior.
As for the other crucial elements (lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions), Hall told me that they did a lot of experimenting with overly-cheffy ingredients, but "it just wasn't right." He almost always came back to the simplest tastes and flavors: a chiffonade of lettuce, regular American cheese, thin Schorr's pickles, and diced Vidalia onions. The challah bun (sans sesame seeds, just like in the movie) is steamed after a quick egg wash. Unlike the real Big Mac, the Local Three clone has no middle bun (called a "club layer" in Mickey D verbiage) because as Hall says, "it's just too bready." It's one of my own gripes with the Big Mac, so I welcomed this departure from the original. I also applaud the cheesing of both patties, a technique the clown has never embraced (most people assume that the Big Mac comes with two cheese slices—not true). Local Three inherited a 4,000 square-foot kitchen tricked out with every gourmet-grade gizmo and gadget imaginable (ask for a tour), but they take it back to basics with this burger...and knock it out of the park.
What about the special sauce, you ask? Chef Hall called it "the hardest part" to get right. The kitchen staff played ingredient trial-and-error in a process that "took months to perfect." In the end, they went with their own in-house remoulade from their fish and chips, mixed with...Russian salad dressing. Sounds odd, perhaps, but, like Local Three on the whole and in accordance with The McDowell's original mission statement, it "kicks ass."
I won't eat a real Big Mac, but as for the McDowell? This dude abides.
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.