“I ain’t gonna answer that question. Don’t waste my time with that s–t. You should have dealt with that when you ordered.”
Those who break the rules at Ann’s Snack Bar in Kirkwood risk being cursed at or thrown out. The matriarch and chef of the famous ghetto burger Miss Ann has earned herself a national reputation for being the burger Nazi of our time. On a breezy Saturday evening, she has the day off, but there is no lack of sass or decorum. Another employee has stepped in to fill the void.
That customer who wanted to add onions to her burger five minutes after ordering? She isn’t talking anymore. Another customer has her crying baby sitting on one end of the countertop. Miss Ann’s second-in-command, her hand perched on her hip, fires a look across the room, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. The customer lifts her baby off the countertop. The crying stops.
To eat with Ann is to follow her rules. There are eight posted on the wall: do not lean or lay on the counter, consume alcohol or smoke, sit or stand babies on the counter, illegally park in the lot, allow children to run around, stand at the counter, curse or lack shoes or shirts.
The restaurant’s name is not meant to be quirky. It’s meant to be literal. An eight-person countertop splits the submarine space in half, putting customers on one end and Ann and her grill on the other. Duck tape masks walls and surfaces. A low ceiling keeps things cozy. An old television in the corner plays re-runs of “Batman” with Adam West. In total, the shack is about the size of a Waffle House restroom.
I have always felt comfortable in restaurants, but when my friend and I first walked through the front door, we felt and looked lost. Afraid to move but also afraid to break rules we had not yet learned, we stood in no man’s land, between the door and the countertop. A lady behind the counter motioned for us to step forward and order. In that endeavor, I tripped through the English language.
“Two ghetto burgers,” I said. “One combo.”
“You want only one combo?” the lady asked.
“Umm, one with fries and then one regular.”
“What’s a regular!?”
“You mean one combo and then one with just the burger,” she said.
“Yes,” I stuttered.
After ordering, the lady instructed us to wait outside on the “patio” until seats inside opened up. It’s a crude patio with mismatched furniture, and with every breeze came a waft of dog poop from the gated lot next door. East Atlanta is truly far from Downtown Decatur.
Once seats opened up, we were back inside, where we watched a man cook our burgers for half an hour. The technique, much like the patio, is also crude: he wipes down the flattop with an old rag before reaching into a deep stock pot and pulling out gobs of ground beef. The mounds of cow are crammed onto a single surface. It is a lot of beef for a little griddle. He smashes and squishes, and at times I wonder whether he’s making a meatloaf or a hamburger.
When the burgers finally come, they are a hot mess. Two half-pound patties sitting under, on top of and in between bacon, onion, chili, mustard, ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese – ghetto burgers are burly and wild, urban sprawl’s culinary equivalent. There simply is no clean way to eat one.
While The Wall Street Journal crowned the Ghetto Burger the best in the United States in 2007, the recognition is silly: the meat is dry and the toppings are all over the place. It’s a decent burger for $10, but nothing more.
Miss Ann has been dishing out these burgers with a side of sass since 1972, but as of late, she has tried to sell her restaurant on numerous occasions. Her asking price was once a laughable $1.5 million, mostly to learn her secret burger seasoning, she says. With that kind of money, one could start a handful of restaurants, none of which would require duck tape on the interior. For anyone who is interested, Ann lowered the price to $450,000 at the end of 2010.
But most certainly the true value of Ann’s Snack Bar is not in the burger. The value is in Ann, a caustic but God-fearing woman who doesn’t give two heirloom tomatoes about accommodating overly-entitled customers. The customer is rarely right in her world, and it is this spirit that makes the shack special.
Miss Ann is no coddler. She gives you a burger because she chooses to, not because you deserve one. And should you receive that burger and should you follow her rules, your good fortune alone will be reason for celebration.
– By Evan Mah