Over Presidents’/Valentine’s Day weekend, one of my DC gal pals was scheduled to come to Atlanta and party it up. Alas, the shit-tastic winter weather screwed everything up, and she was unable to make the trip. Since we had already sent our pup to “camp” for a couple of days, Jason and I decided to take advantage of the lack of responsibility and head into the city for a dinner date. We bounced a lot of ideas around, but we settled on taking our inaugural trip to Holeman & Finch.
Why did it take us so long to visit this happenin’ Buckhead spot? Well, for starters, we had a pretty lousy experience at Restaurant Eugene, and both restaurants are owned and run by the same chef (Linton Hopkins). Yes, I know they are two separate concepts, and yes, I know that I could have easily hit RE on an off night, but there you have it – I was gun-shy after dropping triple-digits on a disappointing meal at Chef Hopkins’ other establishment, whether that was fair or not. Also, our “must-try” list has been seriously languishing since we moved to Gwinnett County, for obvious reasons. But I had finally heard enough wondrous and magical things about H&F – and its mysterious and much-discussed burger – to give it a go. And on Valentine’s weekend, no less!
We arrived at about 8 PM on Saturday night, and we only had to wait for a few minutes to snag a table in the bar area. The space is much smaller than I imagined, but the vibe is pretty comfortable. Our server was attentive and helpful from the start, and he brought me a great French white by the glass that was surprisingly affordable. The spirits list is creative yet accessible, so it should be fairly easy for folks to find something to suit them. As for the food, the plates are smaller so you can try a lot of things without breaking the bank. We started with the bread and salted butter, the deviled eggs three ways, and the crisp B&B pickles. The bread “box” consisted of Parker House rolls, a slice of pumpernickel, a slice of crusty baguette-type bread, and a slice of rye. The rolls and the pumpernickel were definitely the standouts – and the butter would have been as well, had it not been inconsistently salted (some bites were bland, and some were SUPER salty). I loved the deviled eggs, though I can’t for the life of me remember the “three ways.” I’m not normally a huge fan of bread and butter pickles, but these fried babies were absolutely delicious, especially when paired with the spicy mayo. Round one, overall, was a pretty resounding success.
Round two started with a perfectly-crafted Aviation cocktail for me, and a gin cocktail called the “Cloak and Swagger” for Jason. Delicious, both. As for food, we decided to do a fish course, ordering the pan-seared black bass with braised Vidalia onions and the fish and chips. The former was somewhat underwhelming – the fish was cooked perfectly and the overall flavor was nice, but I suspect that there were leeks accompanying the dish rather than Vidalias, and they were quite stringy and tough. The latter, however, was frickin’ fantastic. The fish was tender and flaky, and the batter was flavorful and just the right thickness. It was fried perfectly, with just the right amount of grease (come on, you gotta have SOME). The potato wedges were fine, but they needed some kind of sauce (besides the malt vinegar served with the fish). So round two was good, but we wanted to move on to something really special.
After ordering more drinks, Jason and I decided that round three would be all about offal (or, what is labeled on the H&F menu as “Parts”). We knew we wanted to try the gratin of marrow, but we were torn between the sweetbreads and one of the less commonly found choices. In the end, we let our server decide for us, and he brought us the peppercorn crusted veal hearts, served with a parsnip puree and a blood orange marmelade. I was quite hesitant at first, because as much as I love “parts,” some organ meat has that very metallic taste, like sucking on a penny (and clearly that doesn’t make me happy). Thankfully, the heart was rich and tender and not organy at all, kind of like eating a really high-quality steak. The star of the dish, though, was the parsnip puree – not only was it delicious, but it was the smoothest, lightest, most velvety puree I’ve ever encountered. I didn’t care for the blood orange marmelade (I found it bitter and overpowering), but Jason loved it. As for the marrow, I’m not sure I have the words to describe it. It was so ridiculously decadent and over the top, and it was just as good on its own as it was spread on bread and topped with a parsley and onion salad. Round three for the win!
We could have easily stopped at this point and been completely satisfied. That would have been the mature/smart/healthy thing to do. So, clearly, we did exactly the opposite and stayed for a burger.
The H&F burger is a mysterious, mythical creature. From the official website: Around 9:30 each night at Holeman & Finch Public House, the energy shifts from the constant mirth that seems to shroud this establishment to a sort of jubilant tension. More folks start streaming into the place and by 9:50, it’s full—teeming with those eager for the stroke of ten o’clock followed by the squawk of a portable bullhorn announcing, “it’s burger time!” Each night, 24 exquisite, double patty cheeseburgers are assembled on house-made buns and served alongside hand-cut fries and homemade ketchup, mustard and pickles—only 24. Some nights they sell out in under a minute. The thought behind the minimal number and the 10:00 serving is not a gimmick; it’s just the opposite. A handcrafted burger takes a lot of time to prepare correctly. In order to pay the proper respect to this iconic American food, Linton Hopkins and company decided that only a handful would be made and served each night. This way, the burger is done right; and because generally, a burger on any menu tends to trump other items, it allows the rest of Holeman and Finch’s menu to take its place with due respect.
Could a burger possibly live up to such fanfare? Such top-billing? Such cult-like following and devotion? We were gonna find out, gosh darnit. Originally, we reserved two burgers, but when we flagged our server down post-marrow to cut it down to one, he winked and said knowingly, “Yeah, I was waiting for that.” We were such amateurs, but when that bullhorn sounded, we didn’t care. The whole place started to smell like a diner, and I mean that in the best possible way – the meat, the fries, the buns, all of their aromas began wafting into my nose and making me drool (even though I was pretty darn full at that point). Finally, the beautiful creation was placed on our table, and all of the people who were too late to reserve burgers, or who didn’t know you HAD to reserve them, were staring at my meaty monstrosity with lustful envy. Yeah, I said it.
Was it worth the hype? Abso-frickin’-lutely. The meat, while cooked medium throughout, was tender and juicy and flavorful (I’m not sure what the mix is, but it’s good stuff). The bun was fresh and light, but it still stood up to the burger and toppings. Speaking of toppings, the meaty, cheesy, melty goodness was perfectly salty, so the homemade bread and butter pickles were a welcome change from the usual dill. Of course, the mustard and ketchup were homemade, and of course, they were top-notch. The fries were really awesome – I just wish I had room to eat more of them.
While we dealt with the meat sweats and waited for the check, we started playing the “what did that meal cost?” guessing game. Jason thought it would be $170, and I picked $150. The actual total? With tax, all of that food, and three rounds of drinks apiece, the final number came to $129. Not an inexpensive meal, of course, but we felt that it was a fantastic value, considering the atmosphere, the service, and the quality and variety of food and drink.
I may never return to Restaurant Eugene. But I can tell you with certainty that I cannot wait to go back to Holeman & Finch.