I just happened to be in two such places recently, within a week of each other, and I thought I'd tell you about them with the obligatory swipe at hipsterdom to boot.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, yes you know what a hipster is. Or to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, you know one when you see them. I'm always taken aback when I end up in a place rife with hipsters, but then I'm sitting here writing this wearing a 20 year old Maggie Simpson t-shirt, so I don't think my hands are 100 percent clean.
First place: I had occasion recently to have a Saturday evening dinner at The Federal
in Durham, NC. It's pretty nondescript and right in the middle of a very restaurant/bar heavy area. It's apparently known for having both really good food and a very respectable selection of local and specialty beers. There were four of us but I only had the nerve to take pictures of my and Julie's food. I had the Italian sandwich (note not a sub) and fries:
Our friend Michele said something about the cured meats being locally sourced and they are delectable, salty and spicy and piggy, and with delicious fresh mozzarella to boot, but the fries were even better. They're listed as garlic fries, but not in the obnoxious greasy mound of garlic vein. They're perfect. Julie went for the carnitas, also known to be a fave:
And she pronounced them good but not great. The pork had a nice citrusy marinade going on but seems very soft and crock-pottish, if that's a word, and I think she's used to a barkier piece of pork when she orders carnitas. The accompaniments, especially the guacamole, were very good. Truthfully I think Julie was brought up a little short by the waitress forgetting to bring the cider she ordered. This was otherwise a good waitress and she did do that very brief quizzical look thing once as she passed the table.
Our other dining companions had the chicken sandwich, very solid, and probably the star of the night was a cheeseburger, cooked as you like it, with gruyere and in a nice bun, with more of those terrific fries.
We were tucked behind a short wall at the door and were seated facing the bar, and I probably would not have become alarmed at the hipster quotient if lots of bearded, low-slung-jeans-wearing guys weren't going up to the bar while they waited. We got out of there pretty quick, but the hipster thing came up again much later that same evening with a stop at the Raleigh Times
in Raleigh. I really only had part of a plate of nachos (pulled pork, very good) there, but that place was total hipster infestation. Maybe I just need to get myself to larger cities now and again, and I wouldn't be so shocked.
So the next weekend we found ourselves in Atlanta looking for someplace to eat with some work colleagues of Julie's and the suggestion was made to try Flip Burger Boutique
. This is the joint where there is some level of participation by Richard Blais, the fauxhawked neurotic dude that just won Top Chef All-Stars.
We went as a party of eight and were afraid we'd have some trouble getting a table despite it being about eight on a Friday night and luckily one of the ladies was a smooth talker. So we were seated pretty much right away at a largish boothy type thing against a wall, and given menus. The menu apparently changes every day. There are a rotating cast of about eight traditional-ish beef or lamb burgers, an equivalent number of 'flips' or sandwiches featuring other fillings, about six to eight salady type things that your mom or the ladieeez might like, a few sides that almost always include fries and onion rings, some very creative looking alcoholic drinks, and milkshakes. Not just milkshakes, you Top Chef fans, but liquid nitrogen-produced concoctions, in some interesting flavors. For instance the night we were there, a foie gras milkshake was available.
Again, only pictures of my and Julie's food. I started off with a strawberry shortcake milkshake:
Which was absolutely excellent. The 'shortcake' was in the form of what felt like cookie crumbs in the bottom, and it tasted homemade. Fresh cream and strawberries--very very happy with the milkshake. One decent sized glass for $6, and worth every penny. Julie had the local burger:
Which was as you'd expect beef from a local source--again, they'll cook it to your order--with caramelized onions, pickles they made, and a very very nice bun. People all around the table commented on the buns--maybe brioche-y, not too heavy, but enough to stand up to the food too. I also think the ketchups and mayos are homemade; the mayo in particular is some smoked concoction that I think made an appearance on Top Chef, and it's addictively good. The fries are as if the fellow running the fryer at Five Guys looked straight at you for when you wanted them out of the oil; they are perfect.
I had a hard time deciding but I settled on the simple bacon cheeseburger:
And the burger was pretty near perfect; more of those great pickles, really nice smoky bacon. The 'flip' sauce is a silky dijon-meets-thousand-island stuff, good but not as good as that smoked mayo. The one serious misstep here is the onion rings; they are listed on the menu as 'vocka battered' and it really makes you miss beer or whatever else anybody batters them in. They have almost no taste, very light and tempura-ish, but not what you expect an onion ring, particularly someplace like this, to be. The one true disappointment.
The star of the evening really turned out to be the milkshakes. As I was working on my strawberry shortcake, a couple other folks at the table were having turtle milkshakes, which I tried, and they were suitably turtley. Of course since we're sassy old ladies we had to ask the waiter (a patient hipster saint) if there was actual turtle in them. (Well! the foie gras!) But after we had finished our food, one of Julie's colleagues asked for another of the milkshakes to go, this one made with Nutella and toasted marshmallows. It came as we were sorting out the bill, and promptly got cracked into. Oh. My. God. I don't love Nutella but this thing was unbelievable, and the (I assume) torch-char on the marshmallows on top really made the whole thing taste like s'mores. NOM. Oh, I said 'nom.' They got me.
Oh, the atmosphere. Very cute and hipstery:
Except for the insistent BOMP-BOMP-BOMP gay bar music, altogether pleasant, even if I did feel a smidge old in there.
All summed up, both places were very good, and totally worth the self-loathing you might experience to eat there. Flip Burger Boutique was actually less expensive than I thought it would be; I think the burgers were all 7 to 10 bucks, the sides 3 or 4, and the shakes 6, except for the foie gras which weighs in at 9 bucks. And oh the shakes are worth it. Just don't get those onion rings.
Anybody else got a hipster doofus habitat they'd like to describe, feel free to tack on.