By Dallas Duncan, Georgia Cattlemen's Association director of communications
This year for Beef Month, Georgia Beef Board is turning back the clock — to the 1950s, to be exact.
"I'm a Food Network chef and I am best known for my Next Food Network Star appearance. I take the retro and make it rad with all kinds of retro redos," said Emily Ellyn, finalist on the show. "There's nothing more retro rad than a classic American burger."
That was reason No. 1 Ellyn — who spent the day dressed in an "I Love Lucy"-esque navy blue polka-dot halter dress and a handmade hamburger fascinator — agreed to partner with Georgia Beef Board and Georgia Cattleman magazine to promote Beef Month on a Retro Rad Georgia Tour de Beef this week. Along with sampling and photographing burgers to feature in the June issue of Georgia Cattleman magazine, Ellyn signed a limited amount of custom recipe cards at each tour stop and took pictures with excited fans.
Ellyn made a quick pit stop Monday night to Nu-Way Weiners in Macon to brainstorm with Georgia Beef Board staff on what burgers to order at each of the restaurants.
"At first it was like, holy moley. It was like a book," Ellyn said, referring to the stack of menus she was presented to look through. "I was a bit overwhelmed at first, thinking, 'Oh my gosh, where am I going to start?'"
The tour visited Macon and Savannah on Tuesday and will tackle Augusta and Athens today. All four restaurants were selected "best of" burger winners in their respective cities by local publications.
The first stop on the tour was Rookery, a restaurant in downtown Macon, Ga., that patrons claim was a key player in revitalizing the city scene back in the 1970s. Recently Rookery staff chose to include a locally-sourced beef product on their menu, ground beef from Rocking Chair Ranch in Forsyth, Ga. Owner Joe Ezzard is a member of Georgia Cattlemen's Association and his beef is well-known in Macon as being the beef served by Rookery and several other area restaurants.
Georgia Beef Board staff and Ellyn tried two offerings on the Rookery menu, the Allman Burger and the Walden Greenback Burger.
The Allman Burger is topped with Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms, a homage to the Allman Brothers Band logo being a mushroom, said Roger Riddle, marketing director for Moonhanger Group.
"We're proud that we're able to say this is a burger that is definitely a Macon burger," Riddle said.
The Walden Greenback Burger has Macon roots, too. It's named after the Walden family, which included managers for Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers Band.
"It's got a fried green tomato on it, which is such a Southern thing," Riddle said. "This is another burger that screams 'home' when you say, 'Macon.'"
He advises consumers to watch carefully when cooking grass-finished beef, such as that used on Rookery burgers.
"These burgers are leaner. Be sure not to overcook them," Riddle said. "Once you get past medium, the grass-[finished] burger that's really lean starts to get a little dry. You don't want it on there too long to make sure you're getting the juiciest burger you can get."
Ellyn raved about both of Rookery's burger dishes, but proclaimed the Walden Greenback to be her favorite of the two.
"Do you get more Georgia than that? I loved it. It was absolutely divine," she said.
The two burgers she sampled at the next tour stop in Savannah received equally rave reviews. The Retro Rad tour took Green Truck Pub by storm Tuesday evening as Georgia Beef Board staff handed out recipes and freebies during the meat-and-greet. The beef distributors for the restaurant, Del and Debra Ferguson of Hunter Cattle Company, were able to come and promote beef
during the evening as well.
Ellyn dined on The Whole Farm Burger and Blue Ribbon Burger in Savannah. The first, owner Josh Yates said, is aptly named as it contains beef, pork bacon, an egg and cheese, plus vegetables, representing both livestock and crops on a farm.
"That's definitely one of the centerpieces on the menu," he said. "The Blue Ribbon is inspired by sort of a cordon bleu. We have the ham, a nice melty Swiss and a dijon. It's just a great flavor combination."
The secret ingredient to making a true Blue Ribbon burger? Berkshire ham. The Berkshire variety of pig is known for its marbling, similar to a high-choice or even prime grade of beef.
At Green Truck Pub, Ellyn couldn't pick a favorite — she devoured them both, including a veggie patty she added to the plate to make sure she got her vegetable side dish, she said — and even asked if it was possible to get another beef burger for dessert.
"I have to say, Green Truck Pub takes the burger championship when it comes to adorning their burgers in like, creative combos that are so delicious," Ellyn said. "I am full to the brim. It was totally satisfying."
Follow the Retro Rad Georgia Tour de Beef online. Visit the Georgia Beef Board Facebook page and Emily Ellyn's Facebook page for more information.