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First Look: Farm Burger

photo 5Chef Terry Koval stands by my table, points to my half-eaten burger and says, “That was a good cow.”

I suddenly have an image of Bessie being led by the ring in her nose right into a meat grinder.

Koval continues. “This one is so juicy and has such a good flavor. Much better than that first cow we had.” He sighs. “Of course, I never thought we’d already be onto our second cow by now. But we’ve been so busy.”

You want farm to table? We got you some farm to table right here. Call it cow to bun.

The process of sourcing meat at Decatur’s new and phenomenally busy Farm Burger goes something like this:

The kitchen sources a grass-fed cow from one of several local farms. Koval mentioned a North Carolina farm for this one and says he works with Charlotte and Wes Swancy of Riverview Farms in Ranger to build a network of suppliers. The marked beast is sent to Happy Valley Processing in Dearing to be humanely killed (whatever that means), and the trimmed meat ages up to three weeks before shipping it off to Farm Burger to be ground. Some premium cuts, such as the tenderloins, are sent off to the restaurant’s sister establishment, Farm 255 in Athens.

photo 4
Burger with caramelized onions, gruyère cheese and arugula

Koval and owner George Frangos have devised an appealing menu of burgers ($6) with gourmet mix-and-match toppings. Side dishes straddle an attractive line between homey Southern (pickled eggs, fried chicken livers, braised greens) and greasy diner (fries, onion rings, floats). There’s also a small selection of beer and wine.

I really enjoyed this burger, which came cooked to a juicy medium and had that kind of honest beefy flavor you recognize as soon it hits your palate. I added gruyère cheese, arugula and caramelized onions (an additional $4) as well as a side of the FB sauce (kind of a spicy Thousand Island dressing). Other intriguing options include oxtail marmalade, a fried egg, bone marrow, pimento cheese and house-cured bacon. The roster of cheese sound more like the types you’d find on a cheese trolley than in a burger joint.

The burgers are a good size: bigger than those at Flip, but not one of those pub monsters.

Salad with "farm goddess" dressing (background) and house-cured pickles
Salad with “farm goddess” dressing (background) and house-cured pickles

We also enjoyed this salad of flavorful bitter greens, pickled onions and dried cranberries in a tarragon-spiked “farm goddess” dressing ($4). The house-cured pickles ($2) are exceptionally sharp and vinegary. I felt like my internal pH changed after a couple of those cauliflower florets.

photo 3A basket of rings and fries ($4) came with a smoked paprika mayo. The rings sport a crunchy batter in which you can really taste beer. (That’s what I thought, at least.) The dark fries arrived crisp and turned soggy as the meal went on. But it takes a new restaurant more than a couple of weeks to get its fries down. That’s one of the trickiest projects in any kitchen.

One word of advice: The line to order at Farm Burger can be daunting — like Taqueria del Sol across the street, but in a much smaller space. Go for an early lunch or dinner if you don’t want to wait. We hit it right at 11:30 a.m. By noon: packed.

60 comments Add your comment

AJ

April 29th, 2010
9:35 am

Drool. Can’t wait to try this place.

Foodey

April 29th, 2010
9:36 am

Hah. ‘Humanely killed’ reminds me of the old SNL skit where they only served meat from animals that died of natural causes (like anthrax!).

On a serious note, it looks and sounds pretty tasty.

Vicki

April 29th, 2010
10:33 am

I went to try on the second day and don’t love the sort of wet very rare burger they do. I asked for medium well and it came rare and it was explained to me that this is what they recommend for grass-fed beef. Three very lovely employees explained this to me as I was grossed out quietly in a corner. Toppings and bun were good. If I go again, I will do a veggie-burger, maybe.

Kenneth Braunstein

April 29th, 2010
11:19 am

Enough with hamburger joints. It seems that the only food being reviewed recently by the AJC food critics is ground beef whose fat content is probably high and not mentioned in any of the reviews along with fried potatoes or onion rings.

Petie The Crab

April 29th, 2010
11:22 am

An extension of farm raised catfish except the cows would keep drowning. Now a catfish flavored burger. What a novel concept. Unlike Rothis burger and Metten burger, I think Farm burger will be around awhile. Remember- whatever you do, don’t sell that cow.

Foodey

April 29th, 2010
11:28 am

Kenneth, it wouldn’t be the burger of the week column if he didn’t review a burger every week, would it?

But you are mistaken that the only food being reviewed is ground beef. You must have missed all the reviews of places that serve pork belly. Don’t know how I lived this long without ever seeing it on a menu (other than maybe Chinese), but it seems it’s everwhere now. Is it supposed to be that good?

Ramona Clef

April 29th, 2010
11:41 am

Late lunch is also a good time to avoid the crowd.

REALLY?

April 29th, 2010
12:04 pm

Wow, way to do your homework Mr. Kessler. A food writer that writes about food and is clueless about what “Humanely Killed” means? C’mon dude, let’s start making an effort here. As the main food writer in the city of Atlanta, it might be worth your time to know these sort of things, or…we could just all assume that the meat “just somehow gets to the table, by the Magical Beef Gnome”. Let’s go the distance…..shall we?

Blue Chunkes

April 29th, 2010
12:06 pm

Vicki – thanks for your honest review. I, for one, cannot swallow rare burger meat – it will make me gag. I guess I won’t be trying this place out anytime soon until they learn to serve their customers’ tastes and not their own.

Really, REALLY?

April 29th, 2010
12:17 pm

You couldn’t detect the note of sarcasm in John’s statement including “humanely killed”?

kopp

April 29th, 2010
12:20 pm

John, with the disaster that’s taking place in LA right now, how do you think it’ll reflect on Atlanta restaurants? I don’t mind higher prices too much, but it’s going to be near impossible to get certain items like craw fish. What’s going to be the long term impact on the food scene?

John Kessler

April 29th, 2010
12:23 pm

Vicki – That’s terrible! They explained to me the default was medium, but I could have it more cooked if I wanted. Maybe they’ve changed their tune?
Kenneth – I review one burger joint a week. It is an ongoing series that readers like. Grass fed beef is much lower in saturated fat that grain-fed beef. Farm Burger is one of the restaurants that everyone in town is talking about. We would be remiss in not getting there quickly.
Really? — There is some information on Farm Burger’s Web site. Granted, you can terrify an animal senseless by driving it up a ramp that smells of death, or you can quickly dispatch it when it least expects danger. I was more pointing out that “humanely killed” seems an oxymoron to me. There is a moral equation to consuming animal flesh, and I’m glad that restaurants like Farm Burger make me consider it before I reach for the ketchup.

Vicki

April 29th, 2010
12:40 pm

John, maybe they have bowed to their customers’ wishes a bit more. I forgot to say, and this is a bit picky, that the burger patty fell apart, which along with the rareness…I ended up with a basket of carnage.

Brill

April 29th, 2010
12:55 pm

Bone Marrow is a condiment option ??!? Sounds disgusting. I personally like medium rare burgers but can do medium. Fried seafood and “well done” meat is for children.

Puerquito

April 29th, 2010
1:01 pm

I personally do not mind some grass fed carnage. Bring it on.
My only compaint is that for such a limited beverage program they could have done much better…

John Kessler

April 29th, 2010
1:04 pm

Basket of Carnage…thank you…been looking for a new name for my band…

Kenneth Braunstein

April 29th, 2010
1:24 pm

John, my point is that hamburgers are a nutritional mine field (in which I do occasionally enter) and by having a weekly column recommending hamburger joints you are at least passively encouraging their consumption. Unless you are supplied with the actual fat content, sodium content, and caloric content of the hamburgers and fried potatoes and onions, you and your readers are left without the database to know whether or that what they are eating at these restaurants are good for them, which when is all said and done is the purpose of consuming farm products. Grass fed beef is leaner than grain fed beef per the USDA. However, to make the burger juicy additional fat may be added. You apparently are not privy to the actual fat percentage used at these establishments since you have so far never mentioned them in your reviews. I have no objection to people eating what tastes good and am not advocating food police. However, it seems to me that it is the responsibility of the reviewer when he or she recommends a restaurant to the public that both the sanitation grade of the establishment be of the highest calibre (particularly where foods that may contain E. Coli, a known risk in ground beef, are being served) and that nutritional content be considered safe by the usual nutritional standards. If a coronary clogging or belt bursting burger is served at a restaurant, I personally feel that it should be prominently added to the review that this item on the menu is not healthy (or as Ralph Nader would say unsafe at any meal). Of course, the management of Goldman Sachs may say it is up to the buyer of the burger to do the homework and decide if the risk of eating the burger is worth the culinary pleasure derived from its consumption. After all, the restaurant is only acting as a market maker and has no responsibility to its customers if they in 6 months drop dead. Of course, if in the long run the restaurant loses too many customers to the complications of atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, or E. Coli induced hemolytic uremic syndrome, they will eventually go out of business, as without Government assistance Goldman Sachs would have. So let us all get along and have healthy lives by eating nutritionally safe hamburgers during this apparent burger bubble.

Vincent Vega

April 29th, 2010
1:36 pm

Yeah, but it tastes goooooood.

Michael

April 29th, 2010
1:43 pm

I was there last Sunday. Excellent burger cooked medium, although I didn’t specify and don’t recall being asked. Fries were mediocre. Next time I’ll try the onion rings.

Puerquito

April 29th, 2010
2:01 pm

@Kenneth Braunstein: let me guess – you won’t eat raw milk cheeses either…

Cubanamama

April 29th, 2010
2:05 pm

Vicki– don’t expect much from the veggie burger. It’s probably the worst I’ve ever had, and even the tasty condiments can’t save it. My fries didn’t get soggy, though…and were delish!! I’m looking forward to trying the collards & the floats.

My Name is Hurl

April 29th, 2010
2:19 pm

Best Veggie burger in town – The Righteous Room

Kenneth Braunstein

April 29th, 2010
2:27 pm

Puerquito, I am a diabetic as is about 10% of the US population. I can’t eat raw milk cheeses, raw milk, raw fish, or raw meat due to their potential bacterial content. Raw milk cheeses are forbidden due to the risk of bovine TB. People with HIV/AIDS or receiving chemotherapy are also restricted from consuming them for the same reason. I expect a food critic, who is a rating agent in reality, to inform me that his recommendation may be lethal to me and my ilk. I know his paper’s attorney would recommend that when discussing a potentially lethal food that there be something similar to the usual accompanying warning that comes with raw shellfish that diabetics, patients with HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy patients and pregnant women not consume them. Similarly, if the critic is recommending something that is particularly healthy for me, I expect that he or she mention that in addition. After all, it is all about the food. How good does it taste and how good is it for you.

John Kessler

April 29th, 2010
2:59 pm

Kenneth — You raise a lot of interesting points about the responsibility of food writers. I have, in fact, addressed this very issue in a recent column. Before you condemn me as being another lazy fat pusher, I suggest you spend a little time reading backwards through this blog and look at the sundry ways I have handled issues related to diet, portion, food safety and food sourcing. I’m pretty sure you’ll say that my commentary hasn’t been quanitifiable enough for you. Then again, you will see that I often recommend healthful and vegetable-based meals. More than that, I also make an effort to sound the themes of responsible eating. I’m not inviting a critique of my work, but I sincerely hope you do know what my work has entailed before you lump me with “all the AJC critics.” Thanks.

chazs

April 29th, 2010
4:29 pm

Other reviews state you can only get a medium burger, they will not cook medium rare or rarre. And that is a shame. Guess you were lucky to get an “undercooked” burger.

Misha

April 29th, 2010
4:33 pm

I asked for a well-done burger, and got it more like medium-well, which is actually what I was aiming for. It was perfect. For what it’s worth.

Rabid burger fan

April 29th, 2010
4:46 pm

Kudos to John for introducing us to new choices. If you don’t agree, be polite, don’t berate and don’t condemn. I will never understand critics of critics… Anyhoo, I am now very curious about this place and see how that stacks up against my all-time fave, the bison burger at Ted’s.

Rabid burger fan

April 29th, 2010
4:51 pm

Oh, and let me add – don’t tell a food critic what to do/write/not write about. You’re not one, so don’t hate. You’re an adult, you know what’s good and not good for you. Similarly, you know your own health limitations. No one is pointing a gun to your head and forcing you to read the reviews, or dine on fatty/salty/sugary foods. The choice is entirely yours.

Puerquito

April 29th, 2010
4:59 pm

@Kenneth Braunstein: So sorry to hear about your condition.
However, I think you need to evualte your “potentially lethal” comments about certains foods. The realiyty is that the incorrect handling of food products is what usually leads to illness (as opposed to the “nature” of it – raw vs pasturized milk). There is plenty of healthy microflora in raw milk cheeses and raw millk that would actually benefit everyones health. Pasturized milk can also be “lethal” if misshandled…

REALLY?

April 29th, 2010
5:16 pm

Thanks Puerquito, and my apologies Mr. Kessler, it appears I’ve misconstrued your “humane” education and sarcasm.

EASY Kenneth Braunstein – I’ve been Diabetic for over 23 years now. I eat raw fish, raw eggs, raw milk, and raw meat and I have never been sick from it. I work out and Oh yeah, I get sick maybe once every 6 years from natural causes. Mr. Puerquito has it right, if you mishandle and use bad products, that’s where the CONCERN is. If you have a condition like diabetes that you are in control of, rather than letting that condition control you, your issues are just that, they are “your” issues. So kindly don’t group me as a diabetic, in your victim role, thanks and keep on eating.

Dunwoody Don

April 29th, 2010
5:16 pm

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny – chill. We read and contribute to this blog for fun, not much else. JK has a need to know a cow’s name and family tree before he eats it. I and many others could care less – we go to 5 Guys. When it’s all said and done, we’ll end in the same place, a mess of molecules taking up space in the universe. Peace.

Vicki

April 29th, 2010
5:21 pm

If you like the bison burger at Ted’s, I bet you would like the Farm Burger.
And I do appreciate John’s writing about a wide variety of things, healthy, delicious and often both.

Kenneth Braunstein

April 29th, 2010
5:59 pm

John, I was not condemning you. It is precisely because you have taken up the cause of good nutrition that I am concerned about the weekly reviewing of burger joints without mention of the particular establishment’s fat to meat ratio, sodium load, and ultimate caloric load. The current health care bill will require that all restaurants no matter how big or small have this information. I think food critics should take the lead and start adding that information when they are reviewing eateries that are at high risk for serving above the recommended amount of fat, sodium, and calories. If a restaurant (in this case burger joints) does not know this information yet, at the bare minimum critics should ask for the fat to meat ratio and how much salt they add to their products. Rapid burger fan obviously has not had to figure out what to eat at a restaurant that won’t disrupt his or her diet. It is not trivial. I have tried humorously to point out the problems that burger joints and other trendy eateries poise to individuals with dietary restrictions. Their food items are impossible to figure out when one is considering fat content, carbohydrates, and salt load. Food critics in my view should use their bully pulpits to force these establishments to let the eating public be aware of what is put in their food in the kitchen in order to win a favorable review, which will usually bring new customers to them. If he or she wants to get the seal of approval from a food critic, then a restaurant owner should be willing to let the public know how nutritious the restaurant’s food is. Finally, for those who say just don’t go to them, the current obesity epidemic affects us all. Your health insurance premiums reflect the actuarial projections of health costs due to overeating and eating the wrong foods at home and in restaurants. We all need to eat better. Food critics can help by letting us know where good, wholesome food is available. Your review of Farm Burger does not mention anything about diet or portion control beyond that the burgers are bigger than at Flip. You do mention, “Other intriguing options include oxtail marmalade, a fried egg, bone marrow, pimento cheese and house-cured bacon.” And you state, “I added gruyère cheese, arugula and caramelized onions (an additional $4) as well as a side of the FB sauce (kind of a spicy Thousand Island dressing).” How many calories and how much fat did the cheese and FB sauce add to your meal? How about those intriguing options? It is this type of information that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story. As for rabid burger fan’s not understanding critics of critics, he or she needs to understand the power food critics in a city have over the success or failure of its restaurants. An excellent review can make a restaurant and bring new customers into it. Those new customers are relying on the food critic’s opinion. That opinion should include not only how good the food is but how healthy it is.

Steven A.

April 29th, 2010
6:02 pm

When we ate at Farm Burger on Sunday, we were informed that all of their burgers were cooked to medium and asked if that was okay. We said it was and I was happy with the level of doneness. That said, this would be one place where I would not think twice about ordering it mid-rare. The meat comes from a single cow and is ground in-house. At most places, the ground beef comes from many cows of different grades, often from different parts of the country (or even different countries) and is ground loooooong before it ever arrives at the place where it will ultimately be cooked, giving bacteria plenty of time to set up shop. This obviously makes it unsafe to consume at less than medium well.

Kenneth Braunstein: You’re not describing a food critic. You’re describing a hybrid of a personal food taster, a doctor, and a dietitian. Speaking as someone who underwent an extended bout of chemotherapy, a food critic (even an exceptional one, like Mr. Kessler) would be the last person I’d look to for guidance on what was safe for me to eat, especially with the mitigating circumstance of a serious medical condition. He can tell me what’s new, what’s unique, what tastes good, and why. But what qualifies him to judge what is healthy for me? For any of us? You sound like a very responsible, well-informed person, so I’m not sure why you’d need him to fill that role for you in the first place. But rest assured, it is not his job.

A question of terminology: What exactly defines a “veggie burger?” Does that cover any non-meat burger substitute? Because when I hear that term, I always assume it pertains exclusively to some processed amalgam of soy and vegetables. But the burger here is primarily quinoa, a grain. Sometimes the veggie option is just a big portobello mushroom. And when I’m not eating meat, I’m quite partial to black bean burgers. Do all of these variations fall under the term “veggie burger?”

1000 Cuts

April 29th, 2010
6:10 pm

It’s truly refreshing to be able to at least EAT ethically, considering the lack of integrity in our junk-food, junk-bond, junk-yard universe.

Andrew

April 29th, 2010
6:17 pm

Kenneth, please lighten up. Nobody likes a Debbie Downer.
It’s a burger. If you don’t know it’s unhealthy you have bigger problems than a food review.

REALLY?

April 29th, 2010
6:31 pm

Would you believe, Five Guys has a killer “Veggie Burger”. I had too, I lost a bet.

pkjjfdb

April 29th, 2010
8:10 pm

I eat my red meat really rare – cool in the center. Why kill the animal twice? My husband (who likes medium rare) and I have a rule of thumb – if the restaurant will not cook your meat rare, don’t order it, even if that is not how you like it cooked, because that means they do not buy the best meat. As for bone marrow – oh yummy!! This is one burger joint I will try.

Andy Floyd

April 29th, 2010
10:17 pm

Wow, John you are causing controversy. Good job, sign of a good writer. I love all the food morality banter. Maybe we should put all of the animals to death via lethal injection, we could invite their fellow animals to view the killing (oh wait we already do that). Much has been done to make the animal’s death sentence as the end destination for our carnage in a bun less traumatic. We have Temple Grant to thank for that.
Will there be any consequence for our gluttonous consumption of animals we raise solely for our gustatory and nutritious pleasure? Time will tell.
I’m like you. I prefer to be more aware of the animal I choose to eat. It allows me to reflect on the magnitude of my consumption.
I’m happy I can consciously ponder this. I doubt a lion gives as much thought to the gazelle he has slaughtered, though he certainly exerts more energy to kill it.

LAL

April 30th, 2010
7:40 am

When I went the other day, my burger was pretty rare, cold and red in the center. I had already been to the counter once to get toppings that were left off my order and I did not feel like pursuing another issue with the food. When an employee came around to see how things were, I showed it to her and asked if that was the norm and she said it was and talked about it being grass fed beef… and that it should be medium rare (it wasn’t, it was *very* rare). I’m not sure if she really saw what I was talking about. She offered to have them cook it more, but time was an issue so I declined. I love medium rare burgers, and this was not it. I’ll give them another try, but next time I will clarify things. Not bad, otherwise…

John Kessler

April 30th, 2010
1:51 pm

Kenneth – A shame you didn’t notice that the other two sides we ordered were salads and pickles, and that I also mentioned this burger is smaller than typical pub burgers. I’m guessing it was 6 ounces. All told, I ate two of the onion rings, about three fries and maybe a teaspoon of my sauce. Also went for a 3-mile run that day, had a niçoise salad for dinner and abstained from alcohol, as I do most weekdays. All part and parcel, my friend.
I do have an idea, though. Would you like to write a, say, 400-word editorial on what you think food critics should do to be responsible? Then I could write a follow-up, stick both on the blog, and open the topic to commenting. This could be very productive. I would advise staying away from the whole personal responsibility vs. government regulation issue (that gets mean and ugly fast) and stick to what you would like to see from a restaurant review or blog item. You game?

John Kessler

April 30th, 2010
1:51 pm

Thanks, Andy! Good to hear from you!

Liv

April 30th, 2010
3:12 pm

Great review! But, they are a little picky about their “grass-fed beef must be cooked medium” theory. I asked for well, and had several employees explain their theory to me and told me I needed to try it once the way they recommended. I felt like I was back in middle school dealing with peer pressure all over again. I finally said “No” for the fifth time and they agreed to cook the burger I was paying for the way I wanted. I then received a burnt brick patty…it almost seemed that they purposely cooked the burger to a crisp to prove their point. Everyone has a preference, so I really wish they would say their spill once and then willingly agree to do what the customer asks.

Although not the best burger in town, Ted’s does an excellent well burger that is never charred and still tasty. Cooking a burger well does not have to equal biting into a burnt brick patty which is something their cooks need to learn.

ATLien

April 30th, 2010
3:38 pm

Had lunch there today and took the advice of the column and got there before Noon.
I was asked if Medium was ok for my burger and I got Medium. It was spot on. Fries were crispy and not too salty. I spotted a tin of sweet potato fries getting delivered and will make sure to try those next time.
Bar service was great – friendly and attentive.
The line at TDS was just a bit smaller. Farm Burger just might be giving them a run. Sounds good to me. A little competition never hurt anyone.

Kenneth Braunstein

April 30th, 2010
5:01 pm

John, if you are serious email me and I would be happy to do so.

Jed

April 30th, 2010
5:16 pm

Wow,
John, all someone has to do is write a few 1,000-word comments to get their own post on your blog? That’s very nice of you.
I didn’t even finish reading all of Kenneth’s words, because, well, they were too long (though I can see some of his points).
I mean seriously, WHO THINKS BURGERS ARE HEALTHY IN THE FIRST PLACE? Does John Kessler have to say, “Well folks, remember, burgers and fries and onion rings are really bad for you?”
John, I momentarily forgot how to tie my shoes, could you remind me?
Why should a burger joint have to post its meat-to-fat ratio, or sodium content? Maybe it would be nice for their customers, but don’t buy a hamburger expecting a piece of grilled chicken. That’s just dumb.

Msquared

April 30th, 2010
7:03 pm

Kenneth,

If you keep posting, I will have to quit reading my favorite food blog. I can’t imagine there is much witty repartee at your dinner table. Life, and eating out, are supposed to be about having fun. Can somebody get me a bloody burger and an ice cold beer?

joelle

May 2nd, 2010
3:46 pm

is it my imagination, or is the chef pointing out how inconsistant the quality and taste are in his first sentence!!!!????

A

May 4th, 2010
4:23 pm

It’s an above average burger but not a superior burger. Upside is that I can eat ground beef again without worry, downside is that they lied to me about their onion rings being better than the ones at the Varsity. Do they name the cows? Bet they don’t. Note to Kenneth-look up ‘tl;dr’.

Farm Burger | Eat It, Atlanta

May 4th, 2010
10:48 pm

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