Unless you have been hidden in a cave in recent months, you are likely aware of the ever increasing options for great hamburgers in Macon. Downtown there are two wonderful options right next to each other on Second Street in the form of Bearfoot Tavern, which we reviewed recently and Ocmulgee Brewpub, which is owned and operated by the same people who brought us Middle Georgia’s Just Tap’d.
The first thing you notice when you walk into Ocmulgee are the giant tanks in the front where the beer is brewed. Second, you notice the casual bench seating that reminds one of a Bavarian bierhaus, only with a little less polka and lederhosen. The tables seem optimized for about six people each with three to a side, but can accommodate anyone from a solo diner to more by using multiple tables. Be sure you sit with a bench-mate that likes the same spacing between seat and table.
You order from the back of the restaurant from one of the very eager and pleasant attendants. It is clear the management drills good customer service frequently because everyone is focused on a good experience for the patron. The menu is simple and not cluttered as they focus on a select number of items they do well instead of a shotgun approach of mediocre fair. Not only does this clarify the offerings but also makes ordering quick and painless, cutting down on time spent in line.
The highlight of the menu is the burger section, not only the highlight but really THE light. Ocmulgee has 8 themed burgers most from around $9-10 which should satisfy anyone’s craving. Choices include traditional burgers such as the Ocmulgee Burger which is your all-American cheeseburger that comes with a beef patty, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. Seafood lovers might go for the River Creature, which features a lobster patty instead of beef and is topped with grilled onions, gouda, lettuce and their signature sauce. As you would expect, this seafood option is a little more pricey considering that it is made from lobster.
Another one of the reasonably edgy choices from the pre-selected burgers is the Tatanka. This burger is made from bison, Swiss, pepper coleslaw, pickles and barbeque sauce. If you have never had bison, it is normally leaner than beef and has a more refined slightly sweet flavor that sets it apart from run-of-the-mill beef. However, in my experience it can be a little dry for a burger and if served medium well I was afraid it might be too dry for me and chose another option. I am still curious and will be saving it to savor it on a future visit. As with lobster, bison is considered a gourmet meat and the higher price reflects that.
Other themed burgers include: the spicy Blaze of Glory, which includes egg, pico de gallo, jalapenos and pepperjack cheese, the cobbler, a turkey burger with avocado and beer mustard, and the Veggie Trail which is a gluten-free vegetarian patty with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and a chipotle mayo. The other two burgers are discussed in more detail below.
Also on the menu is a create-your-own burger which allows you to select your protein (beef, bison, lobster, turkey or veggie) as well a number of free and upcharge sides. All burgers include a side of fries, which can be substituted with hot and sizzling made-to-order fried pork skins for a zero carb option or with an additional charge for truffle fries.
For our meals, we selected the Brewmaster Burger with pork skins and the Smokey Appleation. The Brewmaster comes with a beef patty, blue cheese crumbles, a pork skin, onions and peppercorn gravy and my companion chose the fried pork skins for a side. It was a unique burger with a familiar gourmet element of blue cheese blended with the pleasant crunch of the pork skin. We highly recommend it to anyone who loves blue cheese on their burgers. If the pork skin is too much, you can easily remove it. The fried pork skins were a meal to themselves. The portions were huge and the vigorous crackling of the freshly fried skins was a nice touch. Served in this fashion, they are a completely different experience to the buying a bag setting on a shelf in a gas station. You will be pleasantly surprised and happy with the choice.
My choice was the Smokey Appleation. As someone who likes puns, it is an interesting name. The Smokey mountains are part of the Appalachians and the smoky bacon and apples definitely remind one of country cooking. Of course it also touches on the fact it is served topped with grilled apples (yes, I’m serious), but also the word “appellation” means a name or a title, which is what it serves as the name of the burger. In any event, it is a something you have to try.
Although the burgers seem to be served medium-well by default, the patty was still cooked within my tolerance for doneness but at the high extreme. I generally go for a medium for burgers, but it was still not over-cooked. The smoky bacon combined with the sweetness of the apples really married together into a solid relationship. As a lover of mustards, the touch of course ground beer mustard gave the sandwich an added tartness that I really liked and will definitely order again. As a side, I chose the truffle fries, which are fries tossed in parmesan and truffle oil and seem to be hip right now. These are served with a white truffle aioli. Aioli is a condiment which is similar to mayonnaise but has a slightly different preparation and hails from the Provence region of France. The portion size is beyond huge and will fill up just about anyone except maybe Takeru Kobayashi.
As it was a lunch during a workday, I didn’t try a beer, but I have in the past and they really good. Instead, I tried the fountain cane sugar root beer by Maine Root. Maine Root sells drinks made from cane sugar extract instead of high-fructose corn syrup. It is also fair trade certified if you care about that. I have tried just about every brand of root beer around and this is one of my favorites. Cane sugar does give it a better taste and it is a few steps above mass produced options like Mug or Bar’s. They also have varies of other mainstream drinks like a cola, a Dr. Pepper clone as so forth or just sweet and unsweet tea.
There are other items on the menu as well, such as salads and a kid’s sized burger and grilled cheese. However, I would save this place for when you want a high quality burger. Be sure to save room for a root beer float as well.
In short, Ocmulgee is a very welcomed addition to the culinary options in Middle Georgia. With so many delicious hamburger restaurants, from sloppy fast to well crafted gourmet, it has become a quite a chore to pick among them. The struggle is real.
Ocmulgee Brewpub is located 484 Second St downtown. The restaurant is open from 11 AM – 9 PM most days, but closes an hour later on Friday and Saturday. Parking is easiest on Popular, but the Suntrust parking deck is close at hand as well.
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