the spot: Hampton + Hudson 299 N. Highland Ave Atlanta, GA 30307
the eats: Smoked Shitake Chicken Burger
the bucks: $12
the full nelson: first non beef burger on Bang. best recognize why.
Way back when, like all the way back to the 1990s, I was a Midwestern transplant in Southern California, surrounded by a mishmash of edible opportunities. Often I look back at this time as when I was introduced to real deal Mexican and Asian food beyond take out Chinese. But Southern Cal is also California: the republic of sensational produce, farm to table chefs and the health conscious. College roommates encouraged my trial of “good fast food” like In-N-Out and my embrace of red meat alternatives. I soon developed a thing for turkey burgers, and it became my “feel good” burger of choice for a spell. The Turkey Burger era hit an absolute peak with the now closed Ammo, a fancy, farm to table driven restaurant that was good enough to convince my broke friends in the early 2000s that an $11 burger was worth the money. And it was. The patty was chopped in house and had a perfect blend of white and dark meat, carefully navigating the taste of turkey breast while never ever hitting the bun dry. Of course I would eventually move on to beefier options as the burger scene in LA full on blew up with the likes of Father’s Office and Umami Burger, and soon the turkey burger era was put to rest. Also, to be frank, I did turkey burgers because of health reasons and the buns; those rich, buttery, large enough to skip fries with your burger sized buns, meant that I was taking on plenty of calories(and fat) from the carb factor alone. If I wanted a healthy option, a lentil salad with poached chicken breast tossed in a mustard vinaigrette would have been the play.
Then I came across this gorgeous specimen while shooting Cheap Eats in Atlanta last December. Though we didn’t feature H+H on the show, this burger is certainly worthy. My first thought when I was told about the shiitake mushroom component was “gimmick”. I remember a burger trend back in the 80s where mushroom and swiss was suddenly meant to elevate 6oz of Hardee’s beef. And while I was fooled once back then, I’l be damned if I would be fooled twice. But this wasn’t just some mushroom on top of a burger, this was blended inside the burger. And I know enough from making turkey burgers that the addition of strong flavors within the patty, like fresh herbs, works awfully well to fight the blandness that comes with ground poultry. But rather than add some sage, rosemary or any other typical complimentary flavor profile, H+H went for smoked shiitake which adds an intense meaty flavor and, well yes, smoke too. Some digging online brought up the interesting fact that dried smoked shiitake mushrooms are common in Chinese cookery and I seldom think of “bland” when I think Chinese. Overall the shiitake added a beefy flavor to the burger the way some recipes call for adding Worcestershire. And hey, the sauteed spinach, white cheddar and rosemary aioli didn’t hurt either. I went for a side salad in keeping with my veil of health while indulging in this burger but you could easily get fries, the burger tastes naughty enough to go the spuds direction as well. And in the end of the taste is what I’m chasing at Bang for your Burger Buck and the Chicken Burger at Hampton + Hudson is certainly that.