Review: Farm Burger

Healthy cows and greasy burgers in Decatur

Our culture’s current food obsessions are not particularly sane. Comfort food is enjoying huge popularity. At the exact same time that we’re gravitating toward the healthful virtues of organics and sustainability, we’re also infatuated with grease, bacon and burgers. Simplifying our tastes means both getting back to the land and getting back to our little-kid food fantasies. So why not have both?

Farm Burger aims to do just that. Sharing a building with Watershed, the restaurant offers burgers made from grass-fed cows that were happy happy la-la until they became your lunch.

Like many things regarding Decatur, the best thing about Farm Burger is its feel. The airy space, speckled with bright blue chairs and long wooden tables, is pleasant in the extreme. Standing in line, waiting for that ethical burger, neighbors wave to one another. Along the communal tables, people jovially pass ketchup down to strangers. A cheap bottle of wine is poured into short glasses among restaurant workers after their shifts on the small patio out front. Music wafts. Life is good.

The menu provides a few concept burgers, pre-stacked by the kitchen. But the main game here is build-your-own, bolstered by a number of inventive toppings, including bone marrow, and a selection of interesting cheeses such as feta and Sweet Grass Asher Blue. Step up to the counter, choose from the somewhat boggling list of toppings, take a number and wait.

During my first visit, I made the mistake of going low-key with my burger, opting for simple goat cheese and arugula. My friend did the opposite, piling on pimento cheese, bacon and sautéed onions. My burger was bland and boring. His was sloppy, slightly pornographic and completely delicious. Which presents Farm Burger’s strange dichotomy: The less healthy your burger, the better it’s likely to be.

Of course, you could slather just about anything in pimento cheese and bacon and it’d be good. But the burgers themselves are slightly under-seasoned, so the toppings make the meal. Which is fine if you’re in the mood for salty, fatty, goopy yum. If you’re not, however, the burgers can be underwhelming, even when the toppings should pack a punch. The bahn mi burger, for instance, comes topped with pickled veggies, jalapeños, pork pâté, salami and mayo. It has all the anticipated crunch, acid and creaminess, but lacks substantive umami heft, which should be provided by the burger (the salami somehow doesn’t make a huge impact). It needs salt. And that’s true of every burger I’ve had here that wasn’t loaded with salty toppings.

Luckily, there are a couple of quick fixes. The shredded, deeply flavored oxtail marmalade adds exactly the meaty relish that should be found in any great burger. The “farm burger” (No. 1 on the “blackboard burgers” menu) is all smoked cheddar and caramelized onion sloppy goodness. Add bacon and that’s one tasty meat fest.

Beyond the main event, sides and starters have mixed success. The chicken croquettes are pure savory comfort, the shredded, pot pie-ish filling coated in breadcrumbs and fried. The chicken livers are completely bizarre, though; the tempura-style batter is fluffy and sweet enough to make them taste kinda like liver donuts. The oil, vinegar and cinnamon dipping sauce only aids and abets in the confusion. Collard greens taste farm-fresh but bland. Pickled eggs are garishly magenta and fun, but were inexplicably and harshly overcooked when I had them, as if someone had left them to boil for hours rather than minutes.

Fries and onion rings are of the rough-hewn, inconsistent variety. The fries particularly vary in quality depending on the time of day you’re there. Early lunch or early dinner and they’re likely to be hot and have that pleasing crisp/floppy duplicity. Mid afternoon, they taste as though they’ve been sitting a tad too long.

The burger craze shows no signs of slowing, with major chefs opening new burger spots as I write, and more on the horizon. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons for our hunger for classic Americana on the plate, but I think the folks at Farm Burger are on to something: It’s not just about the burger. It’s about the community. We want to feel like we are part of something good, something friendly, something fun. Farm Burger gives us all those somethings. So the health-conscious ideals that propel organics don’t exactly mesh with a bacon-cheese-oxtail burger. So what? Give us a break. It’s been a rough few years.