About 25 years ago, the stretch of Memorial Drive bordering Grant Park was desolate. I’m talking one gloomy convenience store at the corner of Memorial and Cherokee where Tin Lizzy’s is today. Its shelves included one can every four or five feet and the place reeked of cat pee that lingered on any can you took home. Besides a couple taquerias, the only restaurant in the area was Grant Central Pizza on Cherokee, still thriving and a place I visit every week.
Now, Memorial has turned into a food hall without the suffocation. New restaurants and housing developments open every other day. The boom stretches to Reynoldstown. El Muchacho, the Golden Eagle, Java Cats Café, Grant Park Market and Petit Chou are newcomers I’ve mentioned before. I’ve yet to visit Farm Burger and Your Pie, both new at the George Apartments. At least five others are scheduled to open in a new development on Grant Street.
The latest to open is the sixth of Alex Brounstein’s Grindhouse Killer Burgers (701 Memorial Dr., 404-228-3722, grindhouseburgers.com). He opened his first about 10 years ago in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market with no more than a dozen stools at a bar. Brounstein was a real estate attorney with a passion for rejuvenating historic properties and, as such, I think deserves credit as one of the pioneers of the food hall craze in Atlanta. The Sweet Auburn Market continues to thrive and has helped some restaurants, like Bell Street Burritos, get their start.
The new Grindhouse — originally a rowdy roadside tavern — is an enormous space. Interior community tables, a full-service bar and patios congenial to dogs and shuffleboard aficionados provide seating for 200. I drove by the place every night of its opening week and couldn’t even find a parking space until Sunday, when the crowd was light.
Having eaten a ridiculously huge Korean lunch, I was inclined to order the infamous Impossible Burger, a much-lauded plant-based alternative to murderous beef. If you’re vegetarian or like to flirt with eating healthy, you should try one of these. Unlike a conventional meat substitute — like Grindhouse’s own black bean burger — the Impossible really does successfully impersonate meat. Nonetheless, I couldn’t resist my usual choice — the Apache with grilled onions, pepper jack cheese and New Mexico green chilies.
I gotta be honest. The burger, wrapped in paper, was such a mess that it could not be lifted. I went in search of utensils and couldn’t find any. As it happens, I ran into Brounstein and he fetched me a knife and fork. Even in its soggy form, the burger was delicious, but, well, the chilies tasted barely warm. My fries were fine (but I want some malt vinegar). Curious, I actually knocked on the car windows of two parties leaving the restaurant. One couple had ordered hot dogs and reported a similar mess. The other couple ordered burgers they said were “perfect.”
I’m not about to tell you to avoid the new Grindhouse. If you’ve been to any of the other locations, you know they make one of the best burgers in town. But I’d definitely wait a few weeks until the kitchen fine-tunes itself and by then, anyway, you’ll be able to take your dog and play shuffleboard in warmer weather.