Atlanta: The Carpetbagger from Edgewood Corner Tavern
Edgewood Corner Tavern
464 Edgewood Avenue SE, Atlanta GA 30312 (map); 404-577-2310; thecornertavern.com
Cooking Method: Deep-fried
Short Order: This neighborhood bar serves other burgers, but the buffalo chicken-inspired Carpetbagger is the one getting the attention. Rightfully so.
Want Fries with That? Absolutely... but save room for dessert, too
Price: The Carpetbagger, $11
Die-hard purists should probably just stop reading now. (You already clicked. It counts. My feelings won't be hurt.) Perhaps, for you, the only burger worth eating (or reading about) is a thin diner patty griddled 'til crusty on a flat top, dressed with the classic lettuce/tomato/onion trifecta, nestled in a toasted-to-perfection bun, and delivered in wax paper by a gum-smacking waitress who calls you "hon." If that's you, chances are you won't like today's recommendation.
No, you may be more comfortable surfing around for our latest trashing of the fast food industry's latest sesame-seeded debacle...or detailed instructions on how to hack your own grassfed beef with a cow you bought on Craigslist, a meat grinder MacGyvered out of a paper shredder and a rubber band, and a bag of lawn clippings (much love, Kenji!)...or a nice safe In-N-Out post. 'Cos the Carpetbagger ($11) at the Edgewood Corner Tavern in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward is decidedly NOT for everyone. But for the adventurous carnivore who enjoys the occasional walk on the wild side, grab a napkin and meet me at the last paragraph.
That's owner Mike Rabb and his evil-genius brainchild, the Carpetbagger. The idea, Rabb told me, was to come up with a burger version of a buffalo chicken sandwich, but a version that was better than the usual easy way out, where you paint a regular burger with wing sauce and throw some blue cheese at it. That almost never works to satisfaction—and Rabb's version didn't work for a while, either. "There was a lot of trial and error for a month or two," he admitted.
The Edgewood Corner Tavern has been a favorite local hang here—on the same block as the Martin Luther King Center and historic Ebenezer Baptist Church—for 11 years, and Rabb was determined to maintain the place's rep of dishing out "better than typical bar food." The breakthrough came when Rabb and GM Chris Sheehy decided to break their standard Buckhead Beef eight-ounce patty in two, flatten out each half, add a mound of blue cheese crumbles, sandwich the cheese between the patties, and crimp the edges to seal it all back up. Then, with a blue cheese Jucy Lucy on their hands, they treated the whole damn thing like a buffalo wing.
It's dunked in a batter made of flour and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (along with some spices and Cajun seasoning), and tossed in a bowl of dry salted-and-peppered flour. This essentially seals the burger, Rabb reported, preventing the unfortunate and automatic-fail leakage issues that happened to mar my last Lucy. The burger then gets a bath in bubbling oil for five minutes, and is finished with a quick swim in the kitchen's housemade buffalo sauce.
Placed on an H&F Bread Co. bun, it's offered with LTO, but Mike told me that after trying it every way imaginable, he prefers the Carpetbagger without that run through the garden or any condiments whatsoever. That's good enough for me, so after the photo op, I undressed mine and dug in.
The Carpetbagger may be haunting my dreams for a while. With an audible crunch and that addictively-tangy hot sauce clinging to the crisp nooks and crannies, the outer shell definitely put my taste buds' fried chicken sensors on high alert. But that juicy, meaty, still-rosy beef bum-rushes the door a moment later and reminds you that this is, unquestionably, above and beyond all else, a big fat hamburger. The just-liquefied blue cheese stuffing brings up the rear and offers a rich creaminess that complements both the beef and the buffalo.
Lots of people hear about the Carpetbagger and write it off as as a stunt. Lots of people are idiots. This is a superbly tasty stunt that surprises with how genuinely spectacular it really is.
Granted, it is a messy stunt. While it doesn't drip with excess sauce, it does require some napkin work between bites. And the top-notch bun does absorb a good bit of the buffalo sauce, so it's best to not dilly-dally (like, say, if you were taking 100 photos of your lunch, or interviewing the restaurant's owner); my first bite was definitely the best, while my last was largely an exercise in holding the components together.
The skin-on fries are also excellent, hand cut in house and nicely seasoned after a spot-on fry job. (Other side options include rings, pimento mac and cheese, even a salad. Like that will zero out the Carpetbagger...) But you must save room for dessert, because Edgewood Corner Tavern does that exceptionally well—and a little over the top—too.
That's their made-from-scratch Chocolate Silk Stout Pie: just your average chocolate silk pie... soaked with Guinness. And while the kitchen was out of the Bailey's ice cream and Jameson syrup they usually top this bad boy with, they made up some whiskey-spiked whipped cream on this day. So it's basically a Car Bomb in a pie crust. It's actually even better than it sounds and a highly recommended way to end your meal.
There isn't much that's ordinary about Edgewood Corner Tavern. (There are three other Corner Taverns in different parts of town. The menu is 80 percent consistent across them all, with the remainder left up to each kitchen staff's inventiveness; one location takes the Carpetbagger and subs pimento cheese for blue cheese and gravy for buffalo sauce and calls it the Southern Gentleman.) From the extensive beer list (only American craft beers, plus PBR and Miller High Life) to alcohol-infused popsicles to beer-braised brisket to the french fry platter with your choice of nine housemade dips, the Corner Tavern took me totally by surprise. The only downside is that next time I go, it'll no longer be a surprise. Oh, well. A small price to pay for a repeat of one of the best burgers I've had this year, stunt or not.
Now back to your regularly-scheduled (and perhaps now just a little bit lackluster) AHT programming.
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.