One Eared Stag
1029 Edgewood Avenue NE, Atlanta GA 30307 (map); 404-525-4479; oneearedstag.com
Cooking Method: Flat top
Short Order: Quirky bar and grill with great food does a codenamed burger that deserves more praise than it gets, and is almost among the city's elite
Want Fries with That? You absolutely do; the ones not buried under the burger are crisp and seasoned to perfection
Price: Meatstick (w/fries), $12
That was the word I was told to utter to my server at One Eared Stag, an industrial cool corner bar and grill in the Inman Park neighborhood. I'm all for a fun cloak-and-dagger mission, but must admit, I wasn't entirely sure what would happen here. I mean, meatstick?! Am I about to piss off some line cook by bringing up their long-forgotten high school nickname? Am I about to get slapped by unknowingly suggesting some weird illegal-in-some-states S&M move?
Thankfully, no. Turns out I was ordering a pretty excellent hidden gem of a burger that, while not perfect, certainly has the foundation to be included in any conversation about this city's great burgers.
While not a "secret" item per se, this burger isn't blatantly obvious. It's listed on the menu only by its naughty-sounding codename, and with zero accompanying description that might clue you in to the fact that it is, in fact, a burger. At one time, it was available only at the bar, only after 5 p.m., and only to those in the know. Word spread, though, and the Meatstick ($12) was added to the lunch menu. (Want one during dinner hours? Just ask.)
What you'll get is a gorgeous double patty burger made from pasture-raised grassfed chuck supplied by Painted Hills in Oregon. Added to the beef is salt, pepper, and some ground slab bacon from Eden Farms in Iowa. But this is no 50/50 burger. Personally, I didn't pick up any hey-that's-bacon-in-there flavor, but that may be attributed to how well the other hardcore burger elements work here.
After the roughly-four-ounce patties are griddled up on the flat top for maximum char and exterior crispness (the Meatstick comes in just one doneness), each one is draped with a good ol' Kraft Single. Chef Robert Phalen jokingly calls it "government cheese," but credits its great melt and nostalgic childhood-memory flavor as the reasons he chose it. Great call; that smooth creaminess beautifully balances the tangy crunch on top.
Phalen told me that he finds most sliced onion to be too thick, too abrasive, and too prone to falling off the burger. These shaved rings stayed in place and added just the right bit of crisp, cool flavor without overpowering the burger underneath. Pickle lovers will also dig the housemade bread-and-butters that have become a staple of seemingly all of Atlanta's other noteworthy double-stack burgers (Holeman & Finch, Bocado, The General Muir, etc.). I truthfully felt a little guilty pulling them off.
All of the double-stacks I reference in that last paragraph are truly destination-worthy burgers. And the One Eared Stag's is aaaaallllllmost there for me. I found the bun to be the Meatstick's lone weakness, and enough of one to bump it down a notch in my book. Phalen claims to have gone through "a LOT [his emphasis] of trial and error" before settling on this housemade brioche. He touts its "perfect consistency," but to me, it was a touch too dense. Not spongy or pillowy, this bun bordered on "tough" and seemed to fight back a little bit upon squeezing. As a result, it made the entire mouthful drier than I might have hoped for. Not a dealbreaker, and not enough for me to not recommend this burger, but I couldn't help but fantasize about my Meatstick on an airier, squishier bun.
The Meatstick is served with a serrated steak knife stabbed through the middle, and on top of a bed of fries. That's "to catch all the delicious juices that drip from the burger," Phalen told me. In my case, it made for two very different kinds of fries, with those right under the burger kind of soggy—more from being steamed by the burger's heat than being dripped on with beefy goodness.
The fries on the outer rim of the plate, however, were spectacular. The hand-cut spuds are blanched in a fryer at a low temp and then fried to order in hotter oil for outstanding exterior crispness. They're salted beautifully, and while addictive is an overused word when it comes to food, I couldn't shovel these in fast enough. I was more than a little sad when there weren't any more.
Oh, yeah, that codename. Turns out that Meatstick is a somewhat obscure, never-released song by Phish, and Phalen chose it simply because he's a fan of the band and thought the word fit the quirky nature of the One Eared Stag. (Personally, I kind of liked it better when I thought it was a sex move.)
As for the name of the joint, yes, it was named after the slightly-mutilated deer head that's mounted over the bar. The stuffed head was attacked by a dog and lost its right ear, and when the time came to fill out the paperwork for the restaurant, it just happened to be lying nearby.
A random restaurant name, a randomly named burger...but there's nothing random about the Meatstick. I love how every element has been carefully crafted, and even though the bun had some flaws, this is still one of the better burgers I've had lately, and one I'll be back for again. Or maybe I'll branch out and sample some other menu items, 'cos this place goes above and beyond bar food to rock a legit lineup of honest-to-God capital-C cuisine that's earning rave reviews around town—despite me having the place to myself during my recent lunch. One of the city's top-dog food scribes went so far as to proclaim, "If One Eared Stag were in LA or San Francisco, people would be freaking the fuck out over it."
Based on the Meatstick, I can see why.
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, pizzas for Slice, and desserts for Sweets, 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 The Gaslight Anthem. Or both.