Marcel Reserve Burger

The culinary legend, James Beard, was once asked what his favorite restaurant was and his reply was something along the lines of "it's the one that loves me back." What he meant was that his tastes embodied perfection to him and him alone. While he cared about other opinions, he was quite clear that his favorites were ones perfectly tailored to his experience.

In the same vein, judging a particular food as "best" in its category is tricky at best. Best pizza? Best wings? Best biscuits? In truth, could there be a more subjective and, if you are honest, futile exercise than definitively deeming one singular superlative item as "best" among its peers? After all, one man's (or woman's) trash is another's treasure. I have witnessed arguments over the styles of hundreds of different foods and which one is better than another. They were all fueled by intense personal tastes which leads the individual on a quest to proclaim their tastes as best.

I say all this because I would like to proclaim what I think is the best burger in Atlanta, possibly the United States. It's my choice, it's my taste. For better or for worse this is my baby.

Behold! The Reserve Burger at Marcel. Not to be confused with their already decadent cheeseburger only available on the late-night menu. The Reserve Burger is a very limited edition dinner-only phenomenon (less than 10 are served each night). This is a one-pound colossus of 28-day dry-aged ribeye and chuck, ground into a fist-sized patty. It's then cooked perfectly in a pan, finished on a broiler, then topped with some exquisite gruyere cheese and laid into a sesame seed brioche bun from Alon's and served with perfectly crispy, salty, garlicky frittes. Beside it, a beautiful small salad and a single hollowed-out bone, its roasted marrow inside and ready to slather on the burger as a final pièce de résistance. It comes out super-hot and ready for action.

Some would knife-and-fork this sexy beast but not me; I snatched mine up like a fumbled football and buried my face in it. Surprisingly for a bounty so massive it held together as I devoured it bite by bite and while very juicy, did not make a gargantuan mess. In short, it wielded very well. And the flavor: this burger is an umami bomb, unlike anything you've probably tried, a blast of salty protein that will reintroduce you to richness and subtle flavor. The bun beams a spotlight on the star of the show--the meat, and the gruyere offers a subtle creamy texture while upping the ante on the density of the flavor. And then, just as you think you've hit top speed, that you cannot possibly accelerate your palate any further, you smooth on some of the bone marrow and it's like the booster rockets kick in and you hit another level of orbit. Mind blown. The tariff for this masterpiece? $34.95. Get em while their hot!

But again, this is not for everyone nor do I expect a universal adoration for a cheeseburger that costs as much as a decent steak in many restaurants. But for me, this is a burger that loves me the most and in so many ways was more satisfying than a steak. It was a glorious chore to eat. It was its own event. And I was present throughout the experience, even feeling an emotional connection to it even days later. It haunts my dreams and beckons me to come back for more. That, to me, is why Marcel's Reserve Burger is the best. You judge for yourself!

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