It’s 8:30 on a Friday night, and I’m huddled in the corner of a bar no bigger than a shoebox. It’s dark, loud and full of young, spiffy professionals hitting on each other and drinking cocktails set on a fire by the bartender. Some people are drinking water. In both cases, only a few plates of food hit the tables. People really aren’t ordering, and yet the air is thick with their appetite, thick with suspense. Everyone, it seems, is waiting for the same thing. We wait patiently.
Any dish that has customers sacrificing their own comfort and time for a chef’s demands is special. At Linton Hopkins’ Holeman and Finch Public House, that special dish is a cheeseburger that culinary giants such as Food Network, Food and Wine magazine and Southern Living have declared one of the best in the United States.
The burger is not just elite but also elusive. Only 24 are served Monday through Saturday, and for optimal bottle-neck effect, the heavenly aromas of raw meat being seared on a griddle don’t fill the room until 10pm. My friend and I arrived an hour and a half before service and placed our order at the bar before finding a place to stand out of the way.
The H&F burger has been around for at least two years, and I’m struck by how many people are still clamoring for it. Still waiting for it. To pass the time and control our appetite, we order a nice plate of fried oysters and two pork buns that can’t compare to David Chang’s original in New York City. H&F’s are smoky, but the buttered bread gets in the way of the thin pieces of pork belly. Wine, beer and hard cider follow, and I quickly forget that we even ordered the buns.
Finally. It’s 10 p.m, and our waiter walks over to the side of the bar and picks up a bullhorn.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girl, undecided and in-between — it is 10 o’clock here at Holeman & Finch and that can only mean one thing. Does anybody know what time it is?”
“BURGER TIME!” we roared.
“Let’s try that one more time. Does anybody know what time it is?”
“BURGER TIME!” we roared again.
“Lets fire some cheeseburgers.”
Here’s a video of Holeman & Finch at 10 p.m. Burger Times
Instantly we smell and hear something beautiful. The Holy Ghost of burgers is here, and from our stools we peer into the kitchen and see plates of grilled bread laid out next to condiments of homemade ketchup and mustard. By 10:08 servers are delivering burgers.
A couple sitting behind me gets their burger first, and for a brief moment I consider assaulting them. I was here before they were. Shouldn’t I be served first? My friend tells me to calm down, and within minutes our burgers arrive.
Staring at my plate, I think about the hype and doubts that had been rushing through me for the last three hours. The best burger in America? Recognition from Food Network’s Alton Brown? This is going to be a gimmick, I think.
I take my first bite, and the unexpected happens: I start laughing. In fact, I’m leaning back on my stool laughing to the ceiling. Laughing to my friend. An uncontrollable smile stretches across my face — a silly, goofy reaction that happens only when I’ve discovered something special: the risotto in Paris, lasagna at Mario Batali’s Del Posto, foie gras at Bacchanalia and now, a cheeseburger at Holeman & Finch.
Two grass-feed patties are cooked medium-well for maximum searing but stay juicy as ever. Thinly-sliced red onions are meshed between the patties and are a crispy, sweet contrast to the salty meat, which is a 50-50 mix of brisket and lean chuck. Two gooey slices of American cheese and crunchy buttered pickles round out the moment.
Yes, this just might be the best burger ever or at least the best $10 burger ever. Should one not be up to the long wait and late dinner, Holeman and Finch offers burgers all day at brunch on Sunday, but let’s be honest. Hype can taste good, too.Read More