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Secret no more: An insider’s guide to hidden menus in metro Atlanta

The secret menu item is irresistible to diners, restaurateurs and journalists alike. It takes a variety of forms, such as the off-menu Meat Stick at One Eared Stag, an open secret for years now. Sometimes it’s offered in limited quantities, like the original burger at Holeman & Finch, where tightly controlled supply drove demand to unusually frenzied heights. In other restaurants, it’s an unlisted mashup of items already found on the menu. This system was made famous by In-N-Out Burger but can be found locally at the Vortex.

Such dishes stoke the egos of diners who can demonstrate their knowledge of a particular restaurant. Pre-internet, these menu items spread only through word-of-mouth from restaurant insiders and regulars who gained access to privileged information. Today, the secret is easily spilled to the general public, but the feeling of exclusivity remains.

Around metro Atlanta, restaurants new and old offer hidden menu items that not only taste delicious, but will raise your status in the eyes of your dining companions.

Whole Roasted Pig’s Head for Four at the White Bull

Buzzy new Decatur Square restaurant the White Bull has a doozy of an off-menu special: a whole roasted pig’s head that serves four. For hardcore carnivores, a roasted pig’s head is a unique delicacy. When properly cooked, the meat on a pig’s head is meltingly tender, while the skin is thin and crisp. However, this specialty dinner must be reserved with at least 48 hours’ notice.

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123 E. Court Square, Decatur. 404-600-5649, whitebullatl.com.

Bartaco’s current secret taco is vegetarian, made with both maitake and spring mushrooms. CONTRIBUTED BY JONATHAN ROHLAND / BARTACO (For the AJC)

Secret Taco at Bartaco

In true modern-day form, Bartaco’s secret menu item has a hashtag: #bartacosecret. However, the Bartaco folks have managed to keep things confidential by using a tried-and-true technique: They change the secret menu item on a regular basis. The current secret taco is a vegetarian option made with maitake mushrooms and sweet corn, topped with a charred asparagus and corn relish. The taco won’t be listed on the menu and it will change without warning, but servers are typically in-the-know and will fill you in if you ask.

Multiple locations, bartaco.com.

Creamy Curly Mac & Smoked Gouda with Lobster at Chops Lobster Bar is generous with the lobster. CONTRIBUTED BY BUCKHEAD LIFE RESTAURANT GROUP (For the AJC)

Creamy Curly Mac & Smoked Gouda with Lobster at Chops Lobster Bar

Similar to the Vortex’s model, Chops Lobster Bar combines two dishes into a mashup that’s often seen elsewhere but rarely as well-executed. While lobster mac and cheese has proliferated on menus for years, few restaurants do lobster as well as Chops, where huge chunks of succulent lobster are heaped onto the restaurant’s already decadent mac and cheese. On pure merit, the lobster mac and cheese may not match the well-crafted Buttery Maine Lobster Potato Mash listed on the menu, but the allure of the secret item adds fun to the experience.

70 W. Paces Ferry Road NW, Atlanta. 404-262-2675, buckheadrestaurants.com/chops-lobster-bar.

The Frankenstein at Butcher & Brew

If there is such a thing as a “standard” off-menu item, it’s an outrageous burger. Butcher & Brew’s off-menu burger has impressive specifications: three patties, smoked pork, a fried egg, bacon, two kinds of cheese, grilled onions and house-made pickles. The Alpharetta restaurant’s burger should appeal to hungry meat lovers and another, less popular crowd: those pedantic people who will relish in asking, “Shouldn’t it be called the Frankenstein’s Monster Burger?”

3 S. Main St., Alpharetta. 678-585-3344, butcherandbrewshop.com.

Don’t let the item’s name stop you from getting the Sushi Corn Dog at Poke Burri. CONTRIBUTED BY POKE BURRI (For the AJC)

Sushi Corn Dog at Poke Burri

It’s a little shocking the first time you see the words “sushi corn dog” strung together. Perhaps that’s why Poke Burri doesn’t list this item on the menu. But before you label the dish a culinary abomination, visit the eatery in East Atlanta Village and try it. The sushi corn dog is essentially a deep-fried sushi roll, which is common at many sushi joints these days. At Poke Burri, the dish begins as a simple roll built around crab salad. After being shaped into a roll, it is breaded and dropped in a fryer. Take a bite, and the sushi corn dog doesn’t seem strange after all.

479 Flat Shoals Ave. SE, Atlanta. 470-265-0778, pokeburri.com

Shrimp Mofongo at El Super Pan

Chef Hector Santiago calls his shrimp mofongo an “underground menu item,” but it’s been a specialty available at El Super Pan for years. Mofongo is a traditional Puerto Rican dish centered on a foundation of fried, mashed plantains. Santiago employs authentic technique, using a wooden mortar and pestle called a pilón to mash the starchy fruit. He then adds adobo-seasoned shrimp cooked in tomato and coconut stock. The shrimp and plantains each have savory and subtly sweet characteristics that work in near-perfect harmony.

675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-600-2465, elsuperpan.com.

Marianna’s Homemade Dessert at the Peach and the Porkchop

It’s listed on the menu so it’s not technically a secret, but Marianna’s Homemade Dessert at the Peach & the Porkchop is guarded with uncommon ferocity. The dessert, almost always a cake, is made by Marianna Brown, mother of restaurant co-owner Alyssa Staley. Brown makes two or three cakes each week — on her own schedule, no one else’s. Coconut and strawberry cakes are the most common and typically draw the highest demand, though Brown has made a variety of cakes, including carrot and hummingbird. “People call and ask us to set aside slices,” said general manager Jack Williams. “That’s not how we do things. It’s first come, first serve.”

12040 Etris Road, Roswell. 770-696-5409, peachandtheporkchop.com.

If you’re craving dessert at Taqueria del Sol, ask for natilla (shown in a photo from “Turnip Greens & Tortillas” by Eddie Hernandez and Susan Puckett). CONTRIBUTED BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT / RUX MARTIN BOOKS (For the AJC)

Natilla at Taqueria del Sol

At Taqueria del Sol’s many locations, no dessert is listed on the menu. Ask for dessert anyway and you’ll get a bowl of natilla, an eggless vanilla custard topped with a squiggle of chocolate sauce and a dash of powdered cinnamon. It’s a simple pleasure that serves a practical and welcome purpose: cooling off your mouth after wolfing down a bowlful of fiery pork green chili.

Multiple locations, taqueriadelsol.com.

The Carnivorgasm is part of the Vortex’s secret menu, but it can be ordered only from 2-5 p.m. weekdays. CONTRIBUTED BY THE VORTEX (For the AJC)

Secret Menu at the Vortex

Home to Atlanta’s wordiest menu, the Vortex has even more reading material hidden on a “secret” page of its website. Of course, there are no secrets on the internet: Type “Vortex secret menu” into your favorite search engine to find it. The not-so-secret menu is a landing place for old Vortex menu items and some of the restaurant’s “menu hacks,” dishes that combine different components from across the regular selection. Examples include Onion Ring Toppers, which is adding three onion rings to any burger, or Dublin’s Hawaiian Quesadilla, a cheese quesadilla with a veggie burger and pineapple salsa. Some of the Vortex’s most famous creations live in the Big Stupid Stuff section of the secret menu, including the trademarked Carnivorgasm and the Double Elvis Burger. These items can only be ordered from 2-5 p.m. weekdays because, “If (the Vortex) offered these things during our peak business periods, our cooks would either die or quit.”

438 Moreland Ave. NE and 878 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-688-1828, thevortexatl.com.

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