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[Photographs: Todd Brock]

Stax Burger Bar

690 Holcomb Bridge Road, Suite 160, Roswell, GA 30076 (Map); 770-992-2229; staxburgerbar.com
Cooking Method: Flat top
Short Order: Strip mall shop offers creatively topped burgers and promising sides, but you may need to hold your nose
Want Fries with That? Yes you do, but not the sweet potato variety
Price: Bacon and Cheese, $6.99; Blue, $7.15; Nacho, $7.15; Turkey, $6.92; Saltimbocca, $7.75

You can usually smell a winner. A restaurant's website can be misleading. A menu never tells the whole story. Yelp reviews? Please. But once your gluteus maximus actually hits a seat and you start to really soak in a place—the vibe, the energy, the way the staff interacts with the clientele, and especially the amalgamation of aromas wafting from the kitchen—you start to get a sense. True, there can be surprises, both good and bad, that prove you wrong once your food arrives. But way more often than not, the nose knows.

Having said that, you should pretty much ignore your olfactory receptors at Stax Burger Bar. It won't be easy, mind you, but you'll be rewarded with some surprisingly tasty beef (and non-beef) options and a mostly impressive roster of sides that make this Roswell strip mall spot worth your burger buck.

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As the name of the place suggests, all of the burgers at Stax are two-patty jobs. A blend of tenderloin chuck and shank—all Black Angus—is on prominent display in the menu's five beef burgers (there's usually a daily special, too), griddled up to feature a sexy diner-style exterior crust.

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Those two pics are the Bacon and Cheese Burger ($6.99), simply dressed with red onions, tomato, and bacon, plus American draped over each patty. Not a lot of color in the inside, but that's to be expected with patties this thin. Fear not, though—the burgers at Stax are plenty juicy, so have napkins at the ready. This may have been my favorite burger of the evening out of five sampled.

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The Blue Burger ($7.15) has a lot of blue cheese tang to go with its BLT, but I found the caramelized onions a smidge overpowering.

Stax uses a spectacular brioche bun for all of their burgs—squishy and soft, but with a full and dense chew. It's substantial enough to stand up to the squeezing it'll take to get these burgers in your mouth.

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Manhandle this one too much, though, and you've got a crumbly mess on your hands. That's because the Nacho Burger ($7.15) is topped with queso sauce, pico de gallo, shaved lettuce, guacamole, pickled jalapeños...and crisp corn tortilla strips. "Crunchifying" a burger is a stunt that rarely does much for me, but the fresh guac and pico added some bright zip to the Nacho that made it better than I had expected.

There are alternative burgers at Stax, too, with the list of alternative "specialty" burgers outnumbering the beef choices. I might argue that a fried chicken patty cannot possibly qualify as a "burger" no matter what else you do it, but several of the non-beef models are perfectly viable stand-ins for the real thing if you're not in a cow kind of mood.

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The Turkey Burger ($6.92) promises jack cheese, tomatoes, guac, ketchup, and alfalfa sprouts. (The sprouts were M.I.A. on this one in favor of some mixed greens.) I've never seen a turkey burger executed with the thin-twin treatment before, and I'm not sure it does anything but highlight the meat's inherent dryness. (The guac helps combat that nicely, though.) I found the turkey itself to be fairly flavorful on its own, making this bird burger one I'd recommend if you're so inclined.

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The burger that arguably gets the most buzz at Stax is the Saltimbocca Burger ($7.75). Double veal patties are crowned with mozzarella, tomato, prosciutto di Parma, a sage leaf, and sage mayo.

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As with the turkey, the two-patty thing was a little odd at first. With beef, thin and dense patties immediately register in my brain as "diner-style burgers." Any other meat in that format just screams "sausage breakfast patty" to me and takes a little getting used to. But once I gave in, I loved it. The prosciutto was perhaps the star of the show here—more so than the veal that it topped—but I'd call the Saltimbocca a must-try and worthy of a special trip to Stax for those on the north side.

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But be forewarned about a few things. Stax is small. Eight tables grace the space. Fewer than 30 chairs, with another five at the bar. But the thing that will undoubtedly hit you when you step through the door is the smell. The interior is tricked out in wood—thick, chunky slabs of two-by (on the walls and comprising the tables and bartop) that lend an earthy atmosphere and definitely look like they've been repurposed from somewhere else. I love the look, but whatever's been done to this lumber (polyurethane, tung oil, lacquer, varnish?) has a residual odor that permeates this restaurant to the point that I can't just ignore it. I'm guessing you won't be able to, either. My next visit to Stax will be in warmer weather so my nose can seek refuge on the sizable outdoor patio.

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And there will be a next time, because I enjoyed the food at Stax Burger Bar very much. Go with a group as I did, overorder, and turn it into a sampling party. The sides alone—ordered separately from the burgers and served in big, shareable portions—make for a fun and filling visit. Start with the basic Sea Salt Hand Cut French Fries ($2). These deep golden brown beauties are accompanied by an herb aioli that you'll end up wanting to slather on a few other things before you're done.

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Less successful are the Sweet Potato Hand Cut Fries ($2.50), which I'm officially declaring a backlash on in general. Sweet potato fries were a novelty not that long ago. Different, unique, and superbly tasty, at least with the early adopters. But now they're everywhere. And sadly, most of them suck. These were soggy and bland beyond belief. Even the ill-advised honey mustard horseradish sauce didn't add enough punch to make them palatable. Stay away; everyone at my table did.

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Ring fanatics might just flock to Stax for their Buttermilk Onion Rings ($3.98). These big battered bracelets have a crisp, peppery outer shell and a wonderful homemade gorgonzola dipping sauce. Have a buddy, though; one order is a lot of onion rings. They're quite good, but I was done after one.

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Stax goes beyond the norm with other sides, too, like fried okra, green pea risotto, and ten-vegetable fried rice. The Mac and Cheese ($3.50) is outstanding: penne noodles swimming in soupy American, with goat cheese crumbles and crisp pancetta dotting the top.

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And in a move that will surely make my mom's day, I am now going on record as a fan of Brussels sprouts, at least when they're prepared like this: sautéed until crisp around the edges, served with shallots and pancetta bits for added saltiness, and drenched in rich brown butter sauce. It may just be the best three bucks you spend at Stax.

Really good and creative burgers. Mostly excellent and imaginative sides. A big beer, wine, and sangria menu. Even some fancy milkshakes and floats. There's a lot to like at Stax Burger Bar. If you can get past what your nose tells you.

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.

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