Where There's Smoke, There's Lots of Good Stuff at Stillhouse in Atlanta
Stillhouse Craft Burgers & Moonshine
56 East Andrews Drive, Suite 10, Atlanta GA 30305 (map); 678-244-3601; stillhouseatl.com
Cooking Method: Flat top
Short Order: Gourmet burgers done exceptionally well at this hidden moonshine gastropub
Want Fries with That? Hell, yes! Get yours topped with either gravy or gouda
Price: Classic, $8, Spicy Memphis BBQ Pork Burger, $10
Call it celebrating our colorful heritage or just embracing our inner redneck, but there isn't much that's hotter in the Southern food-and-bev world right now than moonshine. Once just a plot device from Dukes of Hazzard reruns, the stronger-than-jet-fuel DIY booze has suddenly turned legit and is popping up all over upscale menus around town.
Just a matter of time, then, before someone combined the cool culinary flavor of the month with the still-trendy-after-all-these-years gourmet burger biz. Enter Stillhouse Craft Burgers & Moonshine. While a quick glance may have you thinking that this is a flash-in-the-pan gimmick destined to shut down once the next big thing comes along, there's actually quite a lot to like about Stillhouse, for burger lovers and hooch heads alike. And this from a guy who doesn't even drink.
Burgers currently take up two full pages of the gastropub's leather-bound menu, with a half-dozen options for beefeaters. The kitchen uses an 81/19 blend from Bridges Angus Farm in Lexington, Georgia, scooping out three-ounce portions and pressing the beef into the flat top before seasoning with salt and pepper. Stillhouse subscribes to a flip-once-and-don't-smash-again technique that results in a nicely-seared crust on each patty. The burgers all come medium at Stillhouse, but no complaints even from a medium-rare guy. The patties aren't exceptionally juicy per se (the toppings are the star, as you'll see), but the beef has a pleasant texture, and that charred crust goes a long way.
All of the burgers here are doubles, so you're getting six ounces per sandwich—fairly typical of a lot of the gourmet places that tend toward a smaller handheld package that lets them fancy up the toppings a bit without making the burgers outrageously expensive. Personally, I like a slightly larger burger—this size generally leaves me wanting three or four more bites—but I enjoyed my Classic ($8) just fine. The bacon, romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, and housemade pickles were fresh tasting and carefully proportioned and made for a tasty start to the evening.
One of Stillhouse's signature moves is in the presentation. The top bun is turned upside-down and held in place with a skewer, showcasing cheese that's been melted on the toasted bun rather than over the beef. (The better to hold it in place, I'm told.) The buns themselves are superb: incredibly dense and chewy, but in the best possible way, and soft and moist through and through. Developed with Atlanta's Croissant Bakery, the recipe includes corn flour and a hint of sweet potato. They're unlike anything I've had in town. This is a rustic-tasting and substantial bun that holds up to the very last bite and seems to complement whatever it's bookending.
On your first read-through of the menu, you may wonder if the Stillhouse chefs were sampling the white lightning when they came up with some of the burger combos. The Southern Burger is topped with grilled pineapple and collard greens (among other things), and the PB&J Burger has already developed a legion of dedicated followers (Stillhouse has been open just two-plus months) with its Georgia peanut hummus, fig jam, peaches, blue cheese, and pecans. I'm told the most popular burger is the Buckhead Burger, a double patty topped with duck confit, goat cheese, green tomato relish, pickle beets, and spinach.
There are plenty of beef alternatives, too. Get patties made of duck or black-eyed peas, or stretch the definition of "burger" with choices like crabcakes or fried oysters. Or get your pig on with the Spicy Memphis BBQ Pork Burger ($10). The patties are pure pork, with a tidy pile of pulled pork on full display atop a blanket of habanero cheddar (another plus to that upside-down bun trick). I'm not generally a huge fan of barbecue sauce on a burger, but this one isn't drowning in it, and the slaw slipped between the patties offers a nice tangy and textural contrast to a mouthful of Memphis red.
Stillhouse's burgers don't automatically come with fries, but you need to automatically order them upon sitting down, no matter what else you end up eating. Seasoned expertly and served in plentiful quantities in big honking pewter bowls, these skin-on spuds are cooked in their own dedicated fryers so as not to have any other flavors introduced. Cut thicker than your average fry, they stand up beautifully to the either of the sauces that you can (and most definitely should) add on: slow-cooked pork gravy ($5), or North Carolina gouda ($4). It's hard to pick a favorite; I'd suggest getting a bowl of each and doing the mix-and-match thing with your tablemates. You're welcome.
The menu is built for trying a little bit of this, some of that, a plate of one, a basket of the other. Bring a crew and hang for a while, 'cos there's a lot to try, from apps to desserts. And that's not even including the bar menu. Sure, sure, there's beer and wine, spirits and cocktails like you'd find anywhere. But Stillhouse's claim to fame is that moonshine roster: 50+ varieties (including apparently every kind that's made in Georgia) with flavors like peach, caramel, and apple pie sprinkled among the more traditional ones. Chat up your server about them; they're all more than happy to nerd out about the shines and casually toss around stats like "160 proof." (Do the mental math while you're still upright.)
But this, I've never seen anywhere or even heard of. (Feel free to tell me I'm a sheltered idiot who just doesn't get out enough.) For an extra three bucks, you can have your whiskey, bourbon, or cocktail smoked. Belly up to the bar and select your wood type (apple, cherry, pecan, peach, maple, or aged oak bourbon barrel). The bartender will place a handful of chips on a cocktail strainer over an empty glass, light a torch, and burn the wood until it's flaming. Then the strainer is moved to the glass with your drink in it (to ensure that there's no residual butane making its way into your cocktail) and capped, where the smoke rolls around inside for two minutes and imparts some intense aroma. I can't personally speak to the taste, but my brother (always ready to take one for the team, that guy) wasn't complaining.
I half-expect the comments section to now turn into a free-for-all about whether or not this technique actually does anything to the taste of the liquid, or if it's just a super-slick parlor trick that deposits some smell into the vessel where you'll be sticking your nose... and basically makes the bartender look like a badass. But I'm a sucker for a blowtorch and some labor-intensive methodology... and it was pretty damn cool to watch.
So, yeah. It's easy to look at things like blowtorch-smoked cocktails and gourmet duck-patty burgers with peanut hummus and fig jam and upside-down buns and just write off Stillhouse as all show and no go. But everything I had there was really fricking tasty, and I found myself wondering which burger I'd try when I go back next time. And making a mental note to save room for the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. The flaming apple pie moonshine is a little lost on me...but I have other weaknesses. And Stillhouse does a fine job with several of my other vices, thankyouverymuch.
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.