1426 Dunwoody Village Parkway, Dunwoody GA 30338 (map); 770-522-1600; villageburger.com
Cooking Method: Flat-top
Short Order: Neighborhood joint rocks out incredible burgers with personal service in a family-friendly atmosphere
Want Fries with That? Mine were consistently well-done and terrific, but even better "seasoned" and with Village Sauce
Price: House Burger, $3.79; Village Burger, $4.99; cheese & toppings extra
Obvious perks aside, being a professional eater can have its unique annoyances. PR weasels who ingratiate themselves in hopes you'll let them spin your story. Servers who can't or won't answer simple questions about a menu item because they suspect you're up to no good. Snooty managers who flip out at the sight of a camera inside their establishment, like they've got Bigfoot, J.D.Salinger, and Angelina Jolie drawing up Super Bowl plays and nuclear launch codes at the next table over.
But then there are days when I couldn't love this job more, because I get to introduce the world to a hidden gem where they're doing things the right way while toiling away in anonymity. Most Atlantans, even hardcore foodies, have probably never heard of Village Burger in the northern 'burb of Dunwoody. I'm hoping to change that, because this quiet neighborhood hangout is dishing up some of the very best burgers in the entire metro area.
A tiny building that a Bruster's scoop shop used to call home, the unassuming shack in the middle of a strip mall parking lot doesn't look like much from the outside, despite patio seating on three sides. Inside are just six barstools at the counter and fewer than 20 seats at the mismatched tables. The cramped quarters extend to the kitchen, where lack of square footage translates to a pretty limited menu: burgers and hot dogs, a spare chicken sandwich or salad, beer and wine for adults, and frozen custard for kids of any age.
The House Burger is a single quarter-pound patty; a Village Burger is a double. Add your favorite cheese (nothing more exotic than pepper jack) and get creative with your toppings (bacon, mushrooms, jalapeños, etc.). The 81/19 certified Angus comes from a local supplier, and the patties are hand-formed in back. They're sprinkled with the house seasoning blend—S&P, garlic salt, onion powder, even a scant bit of sugar that you'd never know was there—before they hit the flattop. After cooking, your toppings are added in generous quantities and it's all nestled between white or cracked-wheat buns from a local bakery, then served in a cardboard tray.
I got an up-close look at six burgers over the course of two visits; each one was more cover-model photogenic than the next. Cross-section views showed the uniform "medium" hue that most thin diner burgs exhibit, but any disappointment regarding color was quickly outmuscled by salivating anticipation over a more-than-healthy amount of melting cheese and dripping burger juices. A few burgers were overpowered by some of the toppings (diced red onion and raw jalapeño slices, to name two), but there was no mistaking the top-shelf quality of these burgers. Hot and juicy with noticeably fresh toppings and a substantial bun—this burger, from a place I almost tripped over, is the early frontrunner for my Favorite Burger of 2012 and earns immediate inclusion into my personal Top 10. It's that good.
The way a leading man looks even better with a strong supporting cast, my experience at Village Burger was only boosted by the awesome fries. Potatoes are hand-cut in the kitchen several times daily, blanched in water, flash-cooked early, and then given a longer soak in peanut oil when you say the word. My fries on both visits were deep golden brown, to a degree I would classify as "well done," although management swears this isn't necessarily the goal. Personally, I loved it. I wish more places would make some sort of definitive statement with their fries by doing something as simple as letting them bubble away an extra minute or two. If these were an accident, maybe they shouldn't be.
Village Burger goes the extra mile by offering "seasoned fries" heavily sprinkled with the aforementioned blend as a no-charge option. For even more oomph, request Village Sauce for dipping. A house-made mix that includes mayo, hot sauce, relish, paprika, this stuff takes "very good" spud sticks to "phenomenally addictive" in a heartbeat—and would be mad-tasty slathered atop your burg.
The slogan at Village Burger is "For the People of Dunwoody, By the People of Dunwoody," and native owner David Hilley has gone above and beyond to infuse the place with a true neighborhood vibe. From live music on the patios in summer to staying open late for local Little League teams' custard runs to encouraging employees and customers to invent and name their own burger creations which rotate as weekly specials, everything about Village Burger feels like an everybody's-welcome, first-name-basis kind of hangout that actually makes me wish I lived a lot closer. But Atlanta traffic be damned. With burgers this superb, I'll gladly be going out of my way for a Village Burger on a regular basis.
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.