NFA Burger makes a spectacular sandwich inside a Dunwoody gas station

A Billy’s Classic, with bacon and grilled onions, is one of the standout creations at NFA Burger in Dunwoody. CONTRIBUTED BY @DINEINAFLASH
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A Billy’s Classic, with bacon and grilled onions, is one of the standout creations at NFA Burger in Dunwoody. CONTRIBUTED BY @DINEINAFLASH

Is a hamburger worth risking your life?

This is what I think to myself as I wait in line at NFA Burger, a 4-month-old walk-up counter inside a Chevron station in Dunwoody. NFA is the first restaurant by Billy Kramer, 47, who lost his job in ad sales two years ago and decided to put his heart and soul into creating the best hamburger around.

Inside, a line of about 10 customers snakes its way around the snack aisles. All of them are maintaining appropriate social distance; a couple wear masks. A giant TV screen is tuned to a COVID-19 update. The report is grim, but not dire enough to make me walk out on Billy’s Classic: two beef patties smashed between a Martin’s potato roll with nothing but American cheese, four kosher dill slices, a swipe of French’s mustard and a schmear of the signature pink sauce.

NFA Burger owner and mastermind Billy Kramer at his Dunwoody burger bar. CONTRIBUTED BY NFA BURGER
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NFA Burger owner and mastermind Billy Kramer at his Dunwoody burger bar. CONTRIBUTED BY NFA BURGER

Kramer, I learn later, has been tweaking his recipe since 2016. Born in Memphis, and raised in South Jersey, he graduated from Rutgers, and followed his father into the shoe business. He knew footwear wasn’t a good fit, and, after about a year, he moved to Atlanta. He went on to work at radio stations 96 Rock and 680 the Fan, and started a high-school sports magazine called Georgia Sports Monthly, which was popular, but not remunerative enough to feed his family.

In the name of research, our writer ordered two NFA burgers, a Jersey Dog and tots. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
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In the name of research, our writer ordered two NFA burgers, a Jersey Dog and tots. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Inside the Chevron, Kramer’s wife, Julie, a schoolteacher, is minding the line. Part greeter, part bouncer, she’s enforcing the one-person-per-party rule (unless you’re a parent with a child). Kramer’s son, Aidan, 14, takes orders at a table a good distance from the burger counter, then runs them out to customers in the parking lot. Aidan wears plastic gloves. There’s a bottle of hand sanitizer at his station, and another next to the credit-card reader on an adjacent table. This is life inside a pandemic mom-and-pop.

I feel much better when I realize I don’t have to do anything but insert my card in the slot, tell Aidan how much I want to tip, and let him sign the screen for me. Back outside, I pull a blanket out of my trunk and decide to have an impromptu picnic behind the station. Fellow burger-questers are perched in folding lawn chairs; one family huddles in the cargo bed of a pickup.

The weather is perfect; so is my burger.

The BB Classic from NFA Burgers
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The BB Classic from NFA Burgers

Kramer’s genius touch is to smash the patties as they fry on the griddle, so the edges crisp. The innards of the sandwich are likewise flattened into the squishy bun, so that you get a taste of every ingredient with every bite: melty cheese, tart pickle, luscious Sassy Sauce, masterfully seasoned beef. I gobble the Classic down like an appetizer, then move on to a second burger, which I ordered with bacon, onion and lettuce, all of which have been chopped into mouth-friendly pieces. No protruding, slip-sliding lettuce, no stringy allium, no unwieldy strip of bacon slows my attack on this heavenly hamburger.

Kramer started a burger blog and Instagram account in 2014. (Today, he has 34,000 followers.) Soon after, he decided that, if he was going to be an expert, he should put his mustard where his mouth was. Never mind he'd never been into cooking, and didn't know the difference between sweet paprika and smoked. He developed his seasoning blends, did a series of pop-ups, and now flips burgers 15 hours a week with a two-man crew in the gas station.

These are strange, troublesome times. The thing that makes it worthwhile for Kramer is watching customers take their first bite, then turn on a smile.

Because of COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has suspended restaurant reviews; otherwise, this would be a four-star hamburger. NFA means “not fooling around.” Reader, I’m not.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Do you have feedback about the new column? We want to hear from you. Send your comments to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

NFA BURGER

Menu: super minimal: double or single burger, Jersey Dog, grilled cheese, Sassy Tots, frozen ice cream.

Alcohol: No

What I ordered: two Billy's Classics (one with add-ons), a Jersey Dog, tots and a cup of orange creamsicle ice cream. The grilled hot dog on a hoagie roll was solid, but the burgers were mind-boggling. Beef tallow-fried tots are the ideal balance of crispy-crunchy on the outside, squishy soft to the bite.

Service options: no delivery, no online or call-in orders. Order inside; go outside and wait for food.

Safety protocols: Kitchen crew follows all recommended precautions; proper distancing inside; cashless transactions.

Address, phone: 5465 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody. 404-666-2874

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.

Websitenfaburger.com.

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