Atlanta: Bocce and Burgers at Ormsby's, Atlanta's Favorite Speakeasy
1170 Howell Mill Road, Suite 20, Atlanta GA 30318 (Map); 404-968-2033; ormsbys.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Super-fun speakeasy with killer pub grub on the main floor, grown-up games downstairs... and bars on both levels
Want Fries with That? Oh yeah, plus at least one of the dipping sauces... preferably house-made cheese whiz
Price: Bruno Burger, $10 with side
The first thing you need to know is how to find the damn place. There's no signage. Anywhere. This self-described "neighborhood tavern" hides in plain sight in a sprawling former-industrial-plant-turned-mixed-use-complex amidst some high-rent retail tenants and literally in the shadows of some of the city's most esteemed restaurants. But tucked away underneath a fairly nondescript stairwell is a solid wood door marked with a script O. Behind that door is Ormsby's: a place with a cult-like following, an extensive menu of craft beers and bar cocktails, and more than its share of awesome surprises, only one of which is a tasty-as-hell burger.
The Bruno Burger is the only one on the menu at Ormsby's, but this one comes with a full backstory. It's named after Warren Bruno, who founded Atkins Park (the city's oldest continuously-licensed tavern) and Aunt Charley's (a popular Buckhead hang back in the day, now defunct), and today is a partner at Ormsby's. The Bruno Burger has been on every one of his restaurant menus since 1976, meaning that millions of them have been sold to hungry Atlantans over the decades.
Eight ounces of finely-ground 80/20 Painted Hills grass-fed beef are hand-pattied in the kitchen, seasoned with salt and pepper, then tossed on the griddle to develop an even crust. After cooking, the Bruno gets a pile of caramelized onions and mushrooms and a melty provolone blanket. Juicy? Um, yeah. The crimson stain on the bottom half of my bun can attest to it.
The danger with onions is that they can overpower even a fine burger, and sure enough, the first sensation I got upon biting in was that telltale tang. Often, a rich cheese will jump into the fray at that point to keep the puckering sharpness in check until the beef can take over, but a subtle variety like provolone kind of lets the onions run the show. None of that is to say that I disliked my Bruno in the least. Au contraire—I happily lapped up every bite. I might simply request a lighter touch next time with the onions to let the mushrooms and provolone be more prominent.
Of particular note is the egg bun, which was exceptional. From La Petite France Bakery, it had a wonderful texture and stood up beautifully to the burger.
Idaho potatoes are hand-cut in the back, 80 to 100 pounds per day. They're blanched ahead of time, then fried to order, and seasoned with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and chopped Italian parsley. Mine had an incredibly crisp exterior with lots of visible skin and were superb on their own, but I heartily encourage you to have some fun with Ormsby's selection of dipping sauces from the "Snacks" menu. I love to see options like peppercorn steak sauce, bacon jam, and pot roast gravy, but they totally had me at "House-made Cheese Whiz." I did some liberal dunking with my fries, and may or may not have allowed a stray finger to scoop out whatever was left over. In fact, there's every likelihood that my next Bruno Burger will get slathered with this liquid gold immediately upon hitting my table.
The stout mustard is also out of this world (and this from a longtime and hardcore mustardphobe), perhaps best experienced on the kitchen's Guinness-dipped pretzels. Holy crap. Basic ballpark-quality nosh, it is not. Teamed up with a starter of pimento cheese corn fritters, every single thing I tried at Ormsby's impressed. (The rest of the menu offered intriguing choices like house-made beer-braised bratwurst, fish and chips, a spicy lamb merguez gyro interpretation, and bangers and mash.)
But I would be remiss if I didn't also spend some time highlighting the thing that Ormsby's is best known for. Traipse down the center staircase, and you find yourself in a true speakeasy from a bygone era. Carved out of a rough-around-the-edges cavernous crawl space with its own massive bar, the downstairs will test your "athletic" skills with pool, darts, shuffleboard, skeeball, and even two bocce courts. Add a cozy corner stocked with overstuffed leather chairs and every classic board game imaginable, and Ormsby's is a fantastic place to tip back a glass, hang out with friends, and enjoy top-shelf pub grub that goes way beyond bar food expectations.
How much did I love hanging at Ormsby's? Enough that I want you to come hang there with me. Ormsby's has graciously agreed to host the Atlanta celebration of International Serious Eats Day on February 25. RSVP here, then come on by for a beer, some bocce, and a Bruno Burger...or whatever else you'd like to try smothered in house-made Cheese Whiz.
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 for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and 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.