Hamburger helper 

Four delicious riffs on the all-American sandwich

It's consoling to know that, in a country where I feel increasingly estranged as the political climate slides ever more to the right, I can scarf down a hamburger and feel unambiguously patriotic. The origins of the bun-coddled, lettuce and tomato-garnished beef patty may be shrouded in the veils of history, but more than any other dish, a precisely constructed burger (in all its variations) speaks to the elemental American palate.

Sure, you can hit venerable burger joints like the Varsity or Vortex, but the following are four places I love to go when I'm craving the quintessential summer sandwich.

Ann's Snack Shop

If you dig hamburgers and you haven't paid a visit to Miss Ann's, it's time to make the pilgrimage. Hop up on one of the eight stools along the counter and mind your manners: A posted list of rules helps you behave. Miss Ann does all the cooking herself, and she gets to you when she gets to you. There's nothing fancy about these burgers -- the infamously enormous Ghetto Burger uses canned chili and American cheese -- but Ann's creations hold the flavor of picnics and growing up that you know in your bones. 1615 Memorial Drive, 404-687-9207.

Radial Cafe

Ever notice how hamburgers have a natural affinity to the Allium (onion) family of vegetables? To prove the point, hone in on the Leek Burger at this no-nonsense eatery off Memorial Drive. Leeks, garlic and an easygoing dose of jalapeños are mixed into the ground meat, which is fried up, topped with pepper jack cheese and served on an onion roll. A side of home-fried potatoes complements the burger's sweet piquancy. 1530 DeKalb Ave., 404-659-6594.

Ted's Montana Grill

Ted Turner has put his money where his Mouth of the South is and come up with a damn good upscale burger chain in the process. Toppings like guacamole, barbecue sauce, fried egg and grilled ham make this the place to get sloppy and creative. The signature bison burgers -- lean and mild -- are from Mr. Turner's own ranching efforts. It should also be noted that this restaurant makes a mean veggie burger. Intowners note: A new Ted's is planned to open around September where the now-defunct Fishbone resided in South Buckhead. 5165 Peachtree Parkway, Suite 205, Norcross, 678-405-0305, www.tedsmontanagrill.com.

Watershed

Executive chef Scott Peacock's take on the burger is classy and classic. A thick, simply seasoned patty is stacked with a pristine piece of lettuce and an honestly ripe tomato on the most ethereal bun in town (supplied, not surprisingly, by the excellent Bread Garden bakery). An optional layer of melted cheese and properly crisp bacon only make it that much more regal. Get a daunting pile of onion rings on the side but don't feel guilty -- no one ever finishes them. 486 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, 404-378-4900.

Bagel blunder

Two weeks ago, a mention of Bagel Break as one of the city's best independent bagel shops included some misleading information. Bagel Break is a kosher dairy shop under the supervision of the Atlanta Kashruth Commission and is closed on Saturdays in observance of the Sabbath.

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