I subscribe to a blog called A Hamberger Today, which discusses such eternal topics as “regular bun vs. ciabatta bun” or “mayo vs. no mayo”. They also review burger joints and link to other reviews of such places. So when I saw glowing reviews of a place called Flip Burger Boutique in my original hometown of Atlanta, I just knew I had to go there over the Christmas holidays. As luck would have it, Lisa wanted to meet an old friend (who now lives outside Chattanooga) at some point midway between Atlanta and that city… so I had the Sunday after Christmas free. My Dad offered to take me to Flip in exchange for some computer lessons. Score!
We got there around 1:30 or so on a Sunday afternoon. The place was swingin’ – so much so that the line was out the door! We faced around a half hour wait for a table, but thankfully two spots opened up at the bar, so we were able to sit immediately.
Flip’s creative director is Richard Blais, who is famous as a runner-up on the TV shows Top Chef and Iron Chef America. Blais graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and worked for Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Ferran Adria (yes, that Thomas Keller). Blais has been called one of the “Top Five Rising Chefs” in America and has been profiled in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and Food & Wine Magazine. He is also an advocate of molecular gastronomy, “a scientific discipline that studies the physical and chemical processes that occur while cooking”. The guy has some serious credentials; this isn’t your typical “bar burger”… not by a long shot.
Flip’s interior is clean and modern, mostly white with a lot of red accents. It actually reminded me of a noodle bar (especially Wagamama, due to the long, cafeteria-style tables). The stereo pumps hip, dancy music loudly enough to get the crowd going, but not loud enough so that you can’t have a conversation. There are several widescreen HDTVs behind the bar, which were showing a Keith Urban live set on Palladia when we were there (much to my dad’s chagrin, as he really wanted to watch the Falcons game). The servers were efficient, professional and hip, without being off-putting. They answered all my questions fully without rolling their eyes at the “squares”. In fact, although Flip is a pretty “hip” place, there seemed to be plenty of families and middle age couples around, which makes me think that the staff had special training in dealing with “normal” folks like us.
The main problem with Flip is the menu (PDF here). There were just too many choices! Should I go for the “Butcher’s Cut” (with caramelized onion, blue cheese and red wine jam)? Or how about the “Korean BBQ” (with American Wagyu beef, kimchee ketchup, pickled vegetables and tempura fried onions)? Or how about the “Farm” (with organic grass-fed beef, smoked mayo, heirloom tomatoes, locally-sourced lettuce, grilled Vidalia onions, and homemade bread and butter pickles)? Or how about the daily special – a pork belly burger?
Actually, at the bartender’s suggestion, I went for the “Southern”, which is “a country fried beef patty, house-made pimento cheese, bread and butter pickles and green tomato ketchup”. I also ordered a side of the hand cut fries (which come with smoked mayo and ketchup). My dad went for the “Bacon & Cheese” which had “onion, lettuce, tomato, house-made pickles, Benton’s bacon, American cheese, ketchup and FLIP sauce”. He also got an order of fries and an order of fried pickles, which we shared.
The next decision had to do with what to drink. Aside from the burgers, Flip has America’s only “nitrogen milkshake bar”. The restaurant makes all its ice creams from scratch, using only standard Kitchen Aid mixers and a tank of nitrogen, which freezes the mixture so quickly that ice crystals do not form and long “setting” periods are not needed. You simply mix the ingredients together and hit it with nitrogen and BOOM! you’ve got ice cream! The only question for the diner is which one to order. “Spicy chocolate mole” sounded good, as did “pumpkin pie” and “Krispy Kreme”. But really, my heart was set on “Nutella and burnt marshmallow”, so that’s what I ordered. And a few minutes later, it’s exactly what I got:
Staff pour a bit of liquid nitrogen on top of the shake before they bring it out to you, and the shake “smokes” like dry ice when it arrives at your table. You’re cautioned against digging right in to it, unless you want to freeze your lips or teeth off. So I had to wait a couple of painful minutes before digging into it… but boy, was it worth it! The marshmallows – burnt with a torch – give the shake a sticky sweetness, while the nitrogen “top off” gives the shake a variety of textures. It’s smooth and creamy at the bottom, but there’s a layer that’s almost crunchy near the top, where the nitrogen was. Thankfully, the coldness of the nitrogen doesn’t kill the delicious, chocolate-hazelnut taste of the shake. It was plum delicious, and the Nutella flavor only became more pronounced as the shake warmed up.
But as great as the shake was, that wasn’t why I was there. No, I was there for a burger, which is made from “five and a half ounces of hanger steak, brisket and short rib” ground daily by a local butcher to Flip’s exact specifications (indeed, the grind is so specialized that said butcher refer to it as his “Flip grind”). And when the waitress brought us our burgers… I fell in love.
I honestly can’t describe how fucking delicious this hamburger was. Every bit was like a little taste of heaven, and I actually began to get an honest-to-God buzz from eating such great food. I think it has to do with the Flip’s “fine dining between two buns” philosophy: everyone knows burgers, and almost everyone (even most vegetarians) has eaten one at some point in their lives. But burgers have become one of those “routine foods” to us, something eaten so often (and so frequently on the go) that we don’t even think much about it anymore, except as it curbs our hunger. There’s nothing at all revolutionary about the concept of Flip’s “Southern burger” – country fried beef on a bun with pimento cheese – but it’s the execution of the dish that makes it so transcendent. Fresh beef, with care and attention paid to the cut and grind, pimento cheese made by hand, homemade pickles and ketchup… it all comes together into something far greater than the sum of its parts – even with such delicious parts as this. I won’t say the burger was one of the best burgers I ever ate… it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, period!
The fries were just as good. I was initially alarmed to find them a bit limp in spite of the fact that they’re cooked Belgian-style. But they were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, just as you’d want them to be. In an interview, Blais said that the fresh potatoes are given a three-day “spa treatment” before being turned into fries:
It takes away some of the starch from the potato. Potatoes are harvested once a year. They sit in a cooler for a whole year so their starch gets all messed up, and they’re really stressed out. We need to get the sugar and starch right so they sit in the water for 48 hours. Then from there, we cook them really low, at 200 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes so that the fries cook all the way through. From there, they get dipped in the nitrogen. The nitrogen biogenically flash freezes them…. Then I freeze them real quick so we have this super soft potato that can cook all the way through. When you order, we fry them.
The care shows, as does the amazing flavor from the grease, which is a mixture of lard, peanut oil and duck fat. I’m normally not one to dip my fries in anything, but I do get a annual hankering for the Dutch-style “fries in mayo” thing, and the homemade smoked mayo here didn’t disappoint. In fact, my only problem is that they didn’t give me enough of the stuff!
The only miss for me was the fried pickles. Part of it has to do with the tempura batter, which I normally like, but not in this case. Another has to do with the homemade (man, I keep using that word!) pickles, which are of the sweet “bread and butter” variety, and not the dill variety they use up here in North Carolina. Don’t get me wrong – the pickles weren’t bad (and I especially liked the homemade ranch dressing on the side), they were just disappointing. My dad seemed to like them, but he’s never been to The Penguin here in Charlotte, so he don’t know fried pickles.
One of the very best things about Flip was… the check! Lunch for the two of us only set us back around $36, which is kind of expensive for burgers, but dirt cheap for gourmet eats, which Flip no doubt is. It’s not “Thomas Keller gourmet”, but then again, we didn’t have to make reservations six months in advance and take out a loan to eat there. And that’s what I like about Flip. It’s world-class execution of blue collar favorites at a price that won’t break the bank.
I can’t wait to go back again!
Flip Burger Boutique
1587 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318