Remember when life was simple? When restaurants were just restaurants, and they didn’t have to have a theme or a mantra or a code of ethics? When a burger was just meat (of a regular ol’ cow) between two slices of bread, possibly with a slice of (non-artisan) cheese?
I don’t think we can ever go back to those days, now that phrases like “farm to table” and “locavore” and “burger boutique” have entered our lexicon. And hey, I’m not necessarily arguing that we SHOULD go back to those days – I’ll save that debate for another day. However, after three visits to Farm Burger in Decatur, I can’t help but wondering if complicating the simple things only distracts us from old school, pure, unadulterated deliciousness.
All of my visits were on Wednesdays at about 5:30 PM (gotta fuel up before my evening swim workouts). However, I ordered different things each time and had three unique experiences.
Visit #1: Found a parking space up front, woo hoo! The line was long, so my first impression was, “One register?!?!?!” I ordered a #1 (smoked white cheddar, caramelized onions, and FB sauce) with fries, and I took it to go. I ate the fries right away, but they were UNGODLY salty. As in, if I hadn’t been so hungry, I wouldn’t have eaten them. And even though I ate them shortly after ordering, they seemed a little limp and soggy. The burger, on the other hand, seemed to benefit from the travel time – the cheese had melted beautifully, the patty was juicy and flavorful, and the onions and FB sauce (which seems to be spicy Thousand Island) were tasty without masking the flavor of the beef. The bun had sopped up some moisture during the ride to the pool, but it still managed to hold everything together. I enjoyed it enough to vow a return visit.
Visit #2: Found a parking spot in back, woo hoo! This time, instead of waiting in line, I saddled up to the counter/bar. There, I ordered some chicken croquettes while I decided on my to-go order. They were really nicely fried and not greasy at all, though I found the breading a tad bit thick and heavy for my liking. For my pre-swim meal, I opted for a #4 (pickled beets, green garlic, arugula, goat cheese, and mayo) and an order of onion rings. I knew the rings would suffer a bit in a take-out situation, but they were surprisingly tasty (the beer batter is really nice). However, they were also surprisingly greasy. The burger this time was even more kickass than the first one – I could still taste the delicious grass-fed beef, but the beets added a subtle sweetness, the goat cheese added nice creaminess, and the arugula kept everything from being way too rich. I don’t think I tasted the green garlic, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t there. Again, the burger seemed to actually improve from being packed away during my drive, and I was able to eat it without anything falling apart (which shocked me, given the amount of toppings).
Visit #3: No parking in the lot, boo! Circled for a while and then gave up and parked on the street. I figured I needed a completely eat-in experience before I could formulate an opinion on the joint, so I sat at the counter and ordered a build-your-own burger (pepper jack, fresh jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, red onion) and onion rings. I thought I would be blown away by the rings, since I had enjoyed their flavor when I took them to go, but I was pretty disappointed. They were still crazy greasy, and the batter didn’t have the nice beery taste that I remembered from the previous order. The burger was also a disappointment. The flavor of the beef was still excellent, but everything – even the patty itself – fell apart as soon as I picked it up. At first I wanted to kick myself for choosing too many toppings, but I quickly realized that wasn’t the issue. Instead, I believe the fact that the meat was RARE was causing the structural problems. Now, please don’t misunderstand – I love rare beef as much as the next person. However, a restaurant that makes a big production about how all of their burgers are cooked to medium for optimum results (which I believe is the right call, for what it’s worth) should make sure that all of the burgers are, in fact, cooked to medium. And yes, I did bring the temperature of my burger to the attention of the staff – I didn’t ask for it to be re-done, but I wanted them to know that they should do some extra QC.
So, what’s the bottom line? I totally respect what the Farm Burger folks are trying to do in terms of sustainability and supporting all things local. I also get that they’ve only been open about a month and are probably still ironing out the kinks. I think they’re bringing in quality ingredients, though sometimes the execution seemed to fall a little short. Is it better than Five Guys? Yes. Is it better than H&F or other “gourmet” burgers in town? No. I feel like Farm Burger hovers in that burger middle ground, where it’s not fast food, but it’s not high-end, either. Perhaps some streamlining and simplifying could benefit the concept.
After all, at the end of the day, it’s just a burger.