Atlantans love a good burger, and there’s been great debate over the years as to which restaurants serve the best. But for many Atlanta burger enthusiasts, the win undoubtedly goes to the General Muir and its iconic double-smash cheeseburger created by chef Todd Ginsberg. Here’s why.
Ginsberg went to the best culinary school in the country and understands cheeseburgers. His cheeseburger obsession, he says, really began after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and working for chef Alain Ducasse in New York City.
“We would go to the Spotted Pig in 2004, long before the scandals. I thought they were doing outstanding food. They had this crazy good burger, and this just laidback concept,” Ginsberg says. “They were putting the same care and love into the food we were putting in for a $400 prix-fixe meal.”
For Ginsberg, those meals at the Spotted Pig during the restaurant’s early days in New York lit a spark in him to move into serving more casual fare with that same care and attention to detail. He wanted to become part of a food community.
Ginsberg eventually moved to Atlanta and found himself working at Tap across from Colony Square in Midtown, following a stint at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton. It was at Tap that Ginsberg first started to work on his burger, serving it on an English muffin. The burger received great acclaim there. But it was his next gig at Bocado on Howell Mill Road where Ginsberg’s burger stack achieved cult status.
Enter the Bocado burger.
“When opening Bocado, I wanted to come up with the best burger I could. It was modeled off of the smashburger that Shake Shack did well,” says Ginsberg. “I wanted to create the best burger blend, a unique one I knew people weren’t doing at the time.”
The meat blend featured chuck, short rib, and brisket ground together daily before each service. It was an instant hit. He and his team even built a station around the burger to sell as many as possible each day. At night, it was one person’s job to just make burgers for the restaurant. The Bocado burger became so popular, that Ginsberg also offered it as “the Wimpy” — a nod to the Popeye character — selling it as a trio of burgers with no fries. Spurred on by the now famous burger, owner Brian Lewis opened a standalone spot in Alpharetta called Bocado Burger in 2015, dedicated to the restaurant’s renowned meat sandwich.
Ginsberg parted ways with Bocado in 2012 to open the General Muir a year later at Emory Point with Jennifer and Ben Johnson and Shelley Sweet of West Egg Cafe. And the chef put a burger on the menu at the New York-style Jewish deli.
At the General Muir, the burger comprised two smashed patties, American cheese, crispy pastrami instead of bacon, grilled onions, and Russian dressing. Ginsberg evolved it further into what it is today: two smashed patties, American cheese, grilled onions, and mayonnaise. A perfect burger served with equally perfect fries.
“I think ground meat needs onions, whether making a kebab where you grind the onions, or a ground beef sandwich,” he says. “I just love the addition of onions. Onions and ground beef are just a classic thing.”
Ginsberg, Sweet, and the Johnsons went on to grow the business more, making their own buns and double-baked rye bread for the General Muir. The bread-baking arm of the restaurant grew into bakery TGM Bread next door. The bakery’s breads are also sold at Atlanta farmers markets like the Peachtree Road Farmers Market and Grant Park Farmers Market.
A decade later, Ginsberg, Sweet, and the Johnsons now own multiple restaurants around Atlanta under the Rye Restaurants group, including a second location of the General Muir in Sandy Springs, Wood’s Chapel BBQ in Summerhill, Dirty Rascal in Buckhead, and Fred’s Meat and Bread and Yalla at Krog Street Market.
Ginsberg’s first breakout burger lived on at Bocado for a few more years after his departure, before the restaurant closed for good on Howell Mill Road in 2021. The space is currently home to Italian restaurant Bastone. Bocado Burger (now simply Bocado) remains open at Avalon in Alpharetta.
It’s hard to deny Ginsberg’s magical powers when it comes to making burgers, ones that are absolutely worth seeking out. It all started with that English muffin burger at Tap. He struck gold again with the Bocado burger. Then again at the General Muir and Fred’s.
Talk about an iconic Atlanta burger.
“Atlanta loves our burgers, and I’m incredibly grateful for their support,” Ginsberg says. “For a sort of low-brow dish to have such great respect, it shows how wonderful the diversity of Atlanta is.”
Jennifer Zyman is an Atlanta restaurant critic and the senior commerce writer for Food & Wine magazine. She was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and raised in Atlanta, where she continues to live with her family. She is a graduate of Emory University and California Culinary Academy. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Atlanta magazine, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Creative Loafing, Eater Atlanta, The Kitchn, National Geographic, Serious Eats, Southern Living, and Thrillist.