Across the street from Doc Chey’s Noodle House and a few steps from Rise-N-Dine in Emory Village, Wonderful World revolves around slider-size burgers in addition to daily specials.
“I just want this place to be a very simple neighborhood restaurant where people can enjoy inexpensive food,” Chan said.
The restaurant emulates the Varsity in that you order at the counter and wait for your number to be called. On the other hand, the food here is much more serious.
Chan’s signature Wonderful Burger, the patty never frozen and the bread homemade, is a testament to simplistic excellence. A well-seared hand-patted quarter-pounder, a BBQ pickle just sour enough before being offensive, a grilled buttery bun and a house sauce with just enough punch without masking the meat, gave this burger everything an excellent traditional burger needs without becoming avant-garde.
Wonderful World is no one-dish-wonder either. Chan’s fries, made from Yukon potatoes and finished with sprinkles of dill and cracked salt, took me completely by surprise. The fries themselves were not salty, so the alternating moods between salty and non-salty bites thanks to the cracked salt worked well. The two garnishes of dill and salt gave the fries an almost French-onion dip appeal, making the addition of ketchup completely unnecessary.
Not to be outdone by the fries are the tempura-battered onion rings, which were sweet, peppery, crisp and not nearly as greasy as most are. On the downside, saltiness in general is dangerously close to being Wonderful World’s Achilles’ heel. Chan’s hotdog drizzled with teriyaki sauce and mayonnaise and topped with seaweed best exemplifies the salty flaw. Visually suspicious to say the least, the teri-mayo hotdog was as salty as it was surprisingly tasty, making it difficult to say which trait was more dominant.
Chan’s goal to create a comfortable neighborhood restaurant is clear in the daily specials. Comforting, warm and downright tasty, Thursday’s Chinese braised pork shoulder with a soy-honey sauce reflected well-executed Asian flair despite being a tinge salty. Friday’s curry-battered fried chicken wings with Thai sticky rice and salsa were overall tender and juicy. Beyond my wrestling with a batch of improperly cooked sticky rice, the salsa-rice combination proved fairly uninteresting.
For those looking for healthier alternatives, the verdict is mixed. The chop-chop salad, the only salad on the menu, was a sad story. The ginger-sesame dressing, equally uninspiring and stereotypical as found in many Japanese restaurants, made what could have been a refreshing salad of crisp romaine, boring. But the veggie burger was a remarkable creation and would have pleased even the most carnivorous of appetites. The light avocado spread on the bottom bun pulled spicy punches, while the burger made of mushrooms, carrots, taro roots, green beans, onions and sesame seeds came together so seamlessly it was impossible to identify its makeup, much less be offended.
The décor and atmosphere of the restaurant paid further homage to Wonderful World’s simplicity. Three long, wooden tables accessorized with tall wooden bar stools gave the restaurant comforting communal vibes. Further wood-paneling on the walls, from which no posters or signs hang, grounded the décor in both classy and country roots.
Finally, plain light bulbs dangled from the ceiling to complete a style which could be called country minimalism.
As for service, food was literally hot off the grill and always arrived in a timely manner.
Eight dishes and $24 later, I found myself somehow falling for this burger joint, which has taken everyday items and made them noteworthy. Chan has not reinvented American classics, but has glorified them in their traditional form. And at a restaurant where entrees are $3.75 and below, Wonderful World has great potential to be not
Originally Posted on October 5, 2009