Friday, April 26, 2013

Retro Rad Recap: Augusta and Athens

By Dallas Duncan, Georgia Cattlemen's Association director of communications

Four burgers down, four to go.

Wednesday, the second day of Georgia Beef Board's Retro Rad Georgia Tour de Beef included stops at Sports Center in Augusta and Stuffed Burger in Athens, two restaurants that were declared "best burger" by their respecitve local publications. After an evening spent at Savannah's Thunderbird Inn, where Next Food Network Star finalist Emily Ellyn enjoyed a retro rad RC Cola and Moonpies, Ellyn and Georgia Beef Board staff were on the road to the Garden City.

"I have to say the Sports Center has been by far one of the best dining experiences I've ever had," Ellyn said. "The people are so amazing, so genuine, I can't say enough about it!"

And the burgers she tried were pretty tasty, too. Ellyn sampled Sports Center's classic cheeseburger and the "jacked up version" that included veggies and grilled onions. Both have been downtown Augusta staples for more than 30 years, owner Sandi Watkins said.

"They're made with lots of love. They're never frozen, always fresh. We make them every morning," Watkins said.

In addition to the homemade burgers, fries and onion rings, staff at Sports Center make a special sauce that gives their burgers a little kick -- Jim Hensley's Shotgun Spicy Mustard.

"It's really good. We make it and you have to wait three days to eat it so it will meld," Watkins said.

Ellyn called the burgers some of "the best cheeseburgers I've ever had," citing the classic flavor combinations and the kick of the Shotgun Spicy Mustard as her main reasons.

"You go in there and it's like a big ol' breath of fresh air, a warm hug," Ellyn said. "I am very blessed to have been a part of the burger tour now. We've had one of the best burgers. We've had the most creative, juicy, delicious burgers and we have had one of the most genuinely delicious dining experiences. I cannot wait to see where the fourth place takes us."

Georgia Beef Board staff made a quick pit stop on the way to the Athens restaurant at Double Bridges Farm, a state-of-the-art livestock facility owned by the University of Georgia Animal Science Department. Ellyn, who grew up on a Christmas tree and Texas Longhorn farm in Ohio, enjoyed getting back to her roots and seeing the university's teaching facility.

"I never thought I would see a Food Network chef on the farm," said Tyler Murray, facilities supervisor for Double Bridges and Georgia Cattlemen's Association member. "She was hilarious and I had a great time."

More Georgia Cattlemen's Association members and supporters joined Ellyn at Stuffed Burger for the final tour stop Wednesday evening. Stuffed Burger's concept is based on the Juicy Lucy restaurant featured on a Food Network episode of "Man vs. Food." In just two years of being open, the restaurant became so popular it's already had to move to a bigger location.

"We do all of our burgers stuffed. It keeps the burger very moist and juicy and gives a 'wow' factor," owner Hank Cheatham said. "You bite in and the cheese oozes out. It makes you want to take a picture of it."

Though the menu choices included a tater-tot-stuffed burger and one with a full breakfast inside, Ellyn chose to try the classic bacon-cheese-stuffed burger and one filled with roasted red peppers and pepper jack cheese. She gave them both thumbs-up and enjoyed the tater tots and ooey gooey milkshake as well.

"I loved them," she said of the Stuffed Burgers. "It's like, mindlessly simple. Why don't more people stuff a burger? The way that they do it, by putting a patty down and putting another patty on top of it causes it to not be a meatball. It's perfect."

The two-day tour was a different approach to the usual food events Ellyn attends, but she said she had a blast driving through Georgia and seeing all four of these burger joints.

"I was amazed at the amount of toppings everyone came up with. I really enjoyed seeing it wasn't just like, typical toppings, if you will," she said. "It was more like really tasty, creative, high-quality attention to detail. They were putting caramelized onions and goat cheese and eggs and really specialty farm bacon and pork. It wasn't just a burger. These people took pride in what they were serving and thought it out right to the bun."

See the rest of the tour photos on the Georgia Beef Board Facebook page.

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