Fine Finger Food

Oh, our economic woes: As if we’re all not depressed enough, try visiting a once-thriving restaurant and finding tumbleweeds blowing through it. Especially now, everybody is looking for good food at the right price, but also something that doesn’t feel like you’re skimping. Thriving spots in this downturn feed more than your belly. We want some kind of communal life raft to cling to – preferably one with a party on board.

Enter Flip, a “gourmet burger boutique” that somersaulted onto this daunting scene with the panache of a 5-year-old’s “Ta-da!” It has that kind of audacious innocence and daring.

Anyone who’s observed the career of Flip’s “creative director” Richard Blais will be instantly intrigued: Atlanta’s most wildly inventive chef takes on the most basic of American foods: Burgers, fries and shakes. It almost sounds a little like a Quickfire Challenge from TV’s Top Chef – where, incidentally, Blais made it to the final episode before critiquing himself out of a win. The concept is risky, but with Blais in the kitchen, everyone wins – picky Tom Colicchio wannabes and even pickier kids, along with unpicky straight-ahead carnivores and sandwich mavens of all types.

The small, square building’s décor matches the adventurous spirit of the enterprise: Inside, it’s all blonde wood, brushed aluminum fixtures and white walls, with a few white-upholstered booths along one side (look closely, and you notice the booths are mirrored overhead – as if you could flip them … get it?). Vibrant oversized graphics frame the back wall’s window into the kitchen, matching the frenetic energy inside. (The counter here is the place to sit for prime viewing of the action.) Big, ornate white frames on mirrors and wide-screen TVs somehow lend the bar the wholesomeness of a soda fountain.

The main event is the burger, offered in two columns on our visit: Beef (5.5 ounces of house-ground hanger steak, brisket and short rib) and “Flip” (non-beef, including turkey, pork sausage, lamb, mushroom patty, shrimp and others). Burger prices range from $6-$9, plus sides for $3-$4, so you’ll have to work pretty hard to run up the tab.

After a few visits, I can see why Flip has become one of the most jumpin’ joints in town. My favorite burgers are the plainest – give me the bacon cheeseburger (butter-griddled brioche buns from Alon’s Bakery, Benton’s bacon, American cheese, housemade pickles, with onion, tomato, ketchup and Flip’s own secret sauce) any old day of the week. But many more are just as thrilling: The lamb burger with “raisin ketchup”; the rBQ (brisket, coleslaw and barbecue sauce); the paté melt (veal, pork, Swiss cheese, cornichons).

All of them get the burger size and all-important proportion to condiments exactly right: These are great big, wide-open treasure bites. A few were fun to try but I probably won’t order them again – like the codfish “burger” topped with pea shoots – but have I told you about the crazy-good fries? The “smoked” mayonnaise? The top-notch onion rings? The out-there but really good sweet potato tater tots with blue cheese foam? You can even find a bona-fide great vegetable dish, such as a recent special of curried cauliflower with marcona almonds and golden raisins.

If you haven’t overdone it already, you have to try a shake. (They’ll even split one for you.) How about a nice pistachio and white chocolate shake? Nutella and burnt marshmallow? All as fabulous as they sound. Or, if you’re feeling extra-adventurous, try Blais’ signature item: The foie-gras milkshake. Yes, it’s made with goose liver. But believe it or not, it’s fantastic – not a trace of liver flavor, just a super-butterfat-rich, mild vanilla.

One last word: Crowds arrive early and stay late, so you’ll need to strategize your visit if you want to avoid waiting in line. Get there as close to the 11 a.m. opening as possible to be sure of sitting down right away.

Flip Burger Boutique

1587 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta

404-352-FLIP (3547)

Credit Cards: All major.

Parking: In attached lot (although it can be chaotic or completely filled on crowded weekends).

Dress code: Casual.

Categories: Art of the Meal