For chef Linton Hopkins burgers are first and foremost about memory. So when he set out to create a burger for his beloved Atlanta restaurant Holeman & Finch Public House, he turned to his childhood memories to create his ideal cheeseburger. Tasking himself with creating "almost a Platonic picture on the cave wall" of a cheeseburger that's "as American as apple pie and baseball," Hopkins focused on the individual burger components, zeroing in on what each contributes to the whole of the burger and making them work better together. The result of this thoughtful approach is a double patty burger topped only with cheese, onions, and pickles. It is his memory of a cheeseburger, critically evaluated and then "distilled ? down to its essence."
As if creating a Platonic cheeseburger weren't enough of a challenge, Hopkins offers his burger as a defense against the "demonizing of the classics." In creating a burger with fresh bread, ethically-raised beef, and homemade toppings, Hopkins asserts that "cheeseburgers are healthy." His carefully considered cheeseburger has helped earn Holeman & Finch a spot on Eater's 38 Essential Burgers list and a place on the Eater Atlanta 38.
Eater Atlanta editor Sonia Chopra explains the phenomenon:
The Holeman & Finch burger is an institution. Only 24 are sold a night at the restaurant (they're more readily available at Sunday brunch and inside Atlanta Braves stadium Turner Field), and they're usually all sold out by 8 p.m., even though they're not served until two hours later ... The atmosphere alone is worth going for, but the burger lives up to the hype: It's a double stack that uses house-made everything from the bread to the patties and the ketchup (but not the cheese— that's good old pre-sliced American), and it's rightfully and consistently called one of the South's burger greats.
Below, the elements of the Holeman & Finch burger:
1. The Bun
The Holeman & Finch burger is served on a pain de mie bun made fresh daily by Hopkins' Holeman & Finch Bread Company. Hopkins concedes that his bakery came about, in part, to produce buns for the cheeseburger. Hopkins decided on pain de mie because he wanted something "very simple." It was sort of a process of elimination. Hopkins finds true brioche too fatty for burgers, and he didn't want the seeds of a sesame bun adding additional flavors, getting stuck in teeth, or "interfering" with the burger. The final pain de mie bun he now uses is a milk bread that has enough structure to "hold the shape until the last bite" burger despite being a soft white bread. It's been designed to fit the burger perfectly which, to Hopkins' definition, means there is about ? of an inch of burger outside the bun. Before serving the burger, the bun is sliced in half. A thin layer of butter is applied, and the bun is then toasted on the griddle before the patties are cooked. Toasting the bun adds crispy texture and, because the buns are griddled before the patties, a distinct buttery, caramelized flavor that stands out from and complements the burger.
2. The Patties
Not a fan of big burgers, Hopkins opts for two four ounce beef patties. He uses a blend of chuck and brisket, which is ground in house twice before it is "pattied." Two patties means double the amount of caramelized burger surface, which Hopkins finds nicely balances the fat of the burger. He uses ethically sourced, pasture-raised beef that's been finished on corn, which he finds evokes "that memory of beef taste that I grew up with." The decision to use chuck and brisket came about after much blend taste-tasting (that also initially included short rib) as Hopkins honed in on "the right flavor balance of true beefiness." Realizing short rib was skippable, Hopkins further streamlined the patty production process by using a simple 1:1 ratio. The resulting blend has a high fat content, however, which means that the patties must be cooked a bit more to achieve the right texture.
To cook, the tops of the patties are seasoned simply with kosher salt before being placed salt-side down on the hot griddle. As the salted side cooks, it is pressed once to encourage maximum caramelization. After flipping, the patties are pressed again before cheese is added to all patties and red onions to half the patties. Patties are cooked to medium well, and then transferred to the bun. The patties with red onions are placed at the bottom of the stack.
3. The Cheese
In keeping with the idea of creating a "memory burger," Hopkins uses classic Kraft American cheese. Hopkins praises Kraft as the "original" American cheese, and likes its exceptional "melt quality." As the cheese melts it hits the griddle, creating a cheese crisp on the side of the burger that adds yet another element of caramelized flavor which Hopkins seeks. Hopkins also uses the progression of the melt to gauge the doneness of the burger: Once the cheese is melted, the meat is done. Because the cheese is layered with two patties, it melts even further, turning into what Hopkins calls an "amazingly delicious cheese sauce." Hopkins is proud of his choice to use Kraft explaining: "It's what I grew up with. This is my burger. I ate Kraft American cheese singles and I love them."
4. The Toppings
In the spirit of stripping the cheeseburger down to its bare essentials, Hopkins serves his burger with only two toppings: sliced red onions and bread and butter pickles. While Hopkins says he enjoys the flavor of raw red onion, with this burger he didn't "necessarily want the crunch." Instead, he shaves the red onion and places the extremely thin onions on top of the patties just before adding cheese. The result is that the onions almost melt into the burger as they cook in its fat, but still have a bit of heat and sharpness to them too. That sharp, allium flavor is why Hopkins chose red onion as opposed to a sweeter onion like Vidalia.
The recipe for the bread and butter pickles comes from Hopkins' mother, and is a fairly standard pickle recipe. Hopkins takes local cucumbers and brines them for 24 hours in salt water that includes onions and turmeric. After they are jarred, the pickles are shelved for two to three weeks to develop flavor and maximum crunch. Hopkins eschews tomatoes and lettuce because out of season tomatoes are "travesties" and lettuce too often wilts with the heat of a burger.
5. The Condiments
Part of creating his perfect burger meant Hopkins had to tackle two iconic condiments: Heinz ketchup and French's mustard. For the Holeman & Finch burger, Hopkins developed recipes for homemade ketchup and mustard inspired by the two classics that are both served on the side. Hopkins' mustard recipe (which he calls "so easy") includes vinegar, mustard seed, sugar, and allspice. Hopkins wants his mustard to "evoke the memory of mustard" without having a single spice dominate. The housemade ketchup is about creating the "most umami tomato-ness." To that end, Hopkins uses "San Marzano-type" tomatoes and a light hand with the aromatics, keeping his ketchup closer to "the memory of what ketchup should be" as opposed to "a gourmet chef ketchup."