1409 N. Highland Ave. NE, Suite D, Atlanta GA 30306 (map); 888-919-8277; burgertap.com
Cooking Method: Flattop
Short Order: Rectangular half-burgers are tasty, but don't fully satisfy at this start-up still looking for its identity
Want Fries with That? Go with the Korean sweet potato fries, which outshine the other 4 choices
Price: Classic/Southwestern/Sesame, $3.80; Truffle, $5.80; sides, up to $2.80
In three years of professional cheeseburgering, I've never been as conflicted about a joint as I am about Burger Tap. Atlanta's newest patty purveyor has been open less than a month, so I know it won't be a well-oiled machine right out of the blocks; a restaurant can (and should) gradually evolve as it finds its way with its clientele. But first impressions count, too. And my knee-jerk take on Burger Tap is a mixed bag. For every thing this fledgling eatery gets right, there are multiple other things that leave me scratching my head in bewilderment.
Let's start with the obvious. That photo above is of one of the burgers, exactly as it comes. I did not cut it in half before photographing it. The quarter-pounders at Burger Tap look, well, rectangular—approximately four inches by two inches. Not sliders per se, but awfully damn close.
Four varieties comprise the menu. Served medium well and open-faced, the carefully-piled toppings and artfully-laden sauces make for a pretty presentation. Executive chef Sean Park has a ton of high-end SoCal sushi cheffing on his resume, with that attention to detail (and perhaps an affinity for cutesy-small portion sizes) showing here.
At the top of that shot is the Classic: American cheese, LTO, and house spread. Just below is the Southwestern: Jack cheese, fried jalapeño halves, and chipotle BBQ sauce. Next, the Truffle: Gruyère, crispy onions, garlic aioli, and truffle glaze. On bottom, the Sesame: Asian slaw and roasted sesame aioli. All are of a brisket/chuck/short rib blend that's brought in fresh daily, pre-formed to the "signature Burger Tap shape."
That shape is mirrored in the buns, the true rockstars of the Burger Tap menu. Super squishy and slightly sweet, the flat-out spectacular buns hold up exceptionally well to the sometimes-heavy toppings. Park played coy when I asked for details, saying, "We'll reveal everything about our buns at some point. But not yet." (Personally, I tasted strong Martin's-esque qualities.) Some of the buns have nicely-rounded, baked-over edges. Others clearly look like they've been sliced in the kitchen, leading me to believe that these buns start out as 4x4 squares and are halved to accommodate that oblong patty.
So what to make of Burger Tap's diminutive dimensions? The official PR line states, "We went with this shape and size to change people's perception of what a burger should be. We wanted the experience of eating a burger to be different." It's different, all right. Beyond the initial visual jolt of a Twinkie-shaped burger, I found the loaded oblong snack-sizers difficult to hold and manipulate gracefully.
The Classic was easily the best of the bunch. The Truffle was rich and creamy and juicy, a further reminder that this particular flavor combo works best in small doses. The Southwestern, as expected, was all BBQ, jalapeño, and bun—it could have just as well been beefless. And while traditional Asian flavors aren't my cup of tea, Burger Tap's Sesame is a unique twist on the theme.
None of them filled me up. They look like half-burgers, so your mind starts thinking in multiples. But at $3.80 apiece (and almost 6 bucks for the Truffle), a sackful of these would get pricey in a hurry. I suspect most people will go with one burger and one of Burger Tap's five sides.
A Panko shell covers the standard fresh-cut fries, huge onion rings, fried zucchini, and fried jalapeño halves, but I recommend the sweet potato fries. Park uses Korean sweet potatoes, with purplish skin and yellow flesh that had me thinking at first glance that they simply botched my order. I don't have much experience (or any) with the Korean sweet potato, but I can say that it's got a completely different taste than what I'm used to (almost nutty?) and that more places should be slicing and breading these bad boys and giving them a deep fryer bath.
Which brings me back to my mixed bag outlook on Burger Tap. Adored one side, would pass on the others entirely. Thoroughly enjoyed two of the four burger flavors, but was greatly frustrated with the size, shape, and price. The space is downright strange: Harsh fluorescent lighting and bench seating underneath a 2x4 lumber archway give the impression of a construction site. They have a kick-ass list of 25 beers on tap, but with no bar or table service, the setting discourages bellying up and just hanging out for an evening. Oh, and it's in a residential neighborhood that's neither a destination district for car-riders nor a pedestrian-friendly hotspot.
Ultimately, Burger Tap feels like it doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up. Right now, there's a lot that I just don't get. But there's enough promise there that I hope they figure it out.
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.