I credit Julia Child for my first trip to the Municipal Market of Atlanta on Edgewood Avenue one bright morning in 1975. Eager to dazzle my new husband with my culinary prowess and introduce him to the food I grew up with, I had decided to make Child’s lapin à la moutarde, only to find that, back then, only poor people and country folks in Georgia ate rabbit. No regular grocery stores carried it. But the market did, so I dove into a world where my senses were assaulted by whole pigs, obscene-looking viscera, fatback encrusted with salt, baggies of edible kaolin, little bunches of yellow roots, enormous bouquets of collards, and, yes, fresh rabbit sold at the fish counter. I was hooked.
The Sweet Auburn Curb Market, as it is now known, was built on land laid waste by the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917. The building was completed in 1924 thanks to the Atlanta Women’s Club and renovated in anticipation of the Olympics in the early 1990s. Despite running on an extremely tight budget and suffering the destructive force of the tornado that ripped through the neighborhood in 2008, the market remains a vibrant and hopeful place.
Alex Brounstein, owner of the market’s new Grindhouse Killer Burgers, fell in love with the same things I see: the messiness, the joy, the potential. A smart thirty-one-year-old from New Jersey with an MBA and a law degree from Emory, he dabbled in real estate, the music business, and the dot-com industry before deciding to work pro bono for roughly two years writing grants and proposals for Sweet Auburn. Frustrated with the market’s board and the slow trickle of funding, Brounstein decided to abandon his somewhat grandiose plans for cutting overall energy consumption and attracting a more diverse tenant base. Instead, he opened a burger stand, which draws an atypically affluent clientele to the building.
Brounstein obsessively researched the details for his burgers. The meat, freshly ground by a small North Carolina producer and delivered every day, consists of a secret blend of chuck and brisket. The bun (“very important”) is a soft potato roll made by a Pennsylvania Dutch bakery named Martin’s. The sauces are homemade. A fancy nickel-plated grill, shiny as a mirror, ensures that the patties cook evenly without sticking.
I have become a regular customer at Grindhouse Killer Burgers, where I have worked my way through the various styles (my favorite is the Apache, with roasted New Mexican green chiles) and condiments such as blue cheese spread and grilled onions. I am mesmerized by the cult movies (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!) projected on the ceramic brick behind the counter. The insanely thick milkshakes are possibly the best I have ever sucked through a straw. The fact that I can keep an eye on the market bustle enhances the pleasure I take in my food.
Brounstein may be the wunderkind of the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, but others are on the same path. Cafe Campesino, which opened a few months after Grindhouse, now wakes the market with the strong aroma of espresso drinks made from organic, fair-trade beans roasted in Americus, Georgia. Pamela Joiner, the feisty, blond New Orleans native who manages Sweet Auburn and understands its complexity, promised me that “one will always be able to buy a whole pig at the market.” Even if you don’t need a pig, a burger, or a latte, you ought to at least support the market’s special events and chef demos to help the pace of progress.
Sweet Auburn Curb Market, 209 Edgewood Avenue, 404-659-1665, sweetauburncurbmarket.com; Grindhouse Killer Burgers, 404-522-3444, grindhouseburgers.com; Cafe Campesino, 404-254-2029, cafecampesino.com
Photograph by Audra Melton