Three Burger Experiences…

Since I’ve been living here I’ve noticed that shops specializing in particular type of food seem to emerge at the same time.  A couple years ago I remember there were about half a dozen burrito shops that all opened up within months of each other.  This year appears to be the year of the burger.  Each month I find myself reading a new review on a new gourmet burger shop and then reading subsequent forums with people saying that the reviewer has no idea what they are talking about.  Perhaps people’s expectations are too high or perhaps the relative rating scales are just really different.  When I’m eating a burger I typically put it into one of three categories: the cheap greasy spoon burger, the mid-range pub-like burger and the high end burger (or what I sometimes refer to as the “I can’t believe anyone would pay that much for a burger” burger).  There is also the fast food burger but I find those experiences are less about eating for pleasure and more about eating for utility (although I have heard that the angus burger from McDonald’s is actually pretty good but I have yet to validate this). I sub categorize burgers since I feel like you can’t really compare a $5 to a $12 burger to a $40 burger.  It’s like comparing a $10 bottle of wine to a $100 bottle of wine.  It’s just my opinion and rating system so take it for what it’s worth.

I had a good greasy spoon burger from a place called the Burger Shack on Eglington a couple months ago.  As I drove up to the place, I was hit with instant excitement when I saw the smoke coming out of the top of the building.  “I’m in for a smoky greasy treat” are the words that ran through my head.

As soon as you walk in you can smell the greasy grill and the smoke in the walls.  I was encouraged by the patrons sitting at the tables enjoying their burgers.  There were some teenage boys who looked like they just had hockey practice, a family with three young kids, an old retired couple and another couple in their twenties.  Perhaps this is the burger for everyone.  I ordered the homeburger which is made in house (hence the name).  The girl behind the counter asked how I wanted it cooked and I replied medium and then I began to admire the old gentleman in the back who was running the grill.  Once the burger was ready, they top it in a style that is similar to Harvey’s where they slide the burger along an assembly line and you can point at what you want.

I think I might have put too many veggies on since the thing came apart near the end of the meal.  Good meat to bun ratio and very tasty and fresh veggies.  The bacon was thick, and cooked nicely.  It wasn’t crisp but right at the point where if it is left on the grill for a few more seconds it would be crisp.  The beef was good.  Cooked perfectly with a little pink in the middle.  It wasn’t as greasy as I thought it was going to be but there were still some spurts of grease shooting out the back as you bit into it.  The meat had some seasoning in it but was overpowered by the beef taste.  For a $5 burger I thought this was great.

Let’s move to the other end of the spectrum.  My parents and I went to Nota Bene and my father ordered the Wagyu beef burger, medium rare for $39 dollars.  In all honesty burgers like this seem like a waste of a steak to me but I should have reserved judgement until I tasted it.

The burger was topped with beef brisket that was tender and delicious.  Around the table we all felt it wasn’t needed since the burger alone was amazing!  It came with house made ketchup, mayo and mustard.  When seeing the price tag for this burger I thought to myself that this better be the best burger I have ever tasted.  Well, it was.  The meat was juicy, balanced complimenting spices with the beef taste, and was cooked perfectly (mostly pink in the middle with a bit of red).  I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my day but I have to say, this is hands down the best and most expensive one I’ve had.  Would I go back again for it given the price tag?  Maybe.  I think in most cases I would tell them not to ground the beef and just bring out the steak for that price but I think there would be that rare occasion where I would tell them to burger me up.

There is a new burger joint, W burger bar, that opened up about ten minutes from where I live so I thought I would give it a try.  I have a few friends who work in the area and tried it before they opened (and they ate from free since I think they were pilot testing the food….so jealous).  The general consensus was fairly negative so I had put off going until now since someone told me recently that they had spent the past six weeks working out the kinks and now serve a pretty good burger.  The space is very chic and festive.  They have large TVs on the wall that were playing the football games and one showing infomercials.  The place was pretty busy but began clearing out shortly after I was seated since I showed up around 2:00pm (guess I just missed the late lunch rush).  I ordered a strawberry milkshake with a big smile on my face.  I felt like a kid in a candy store.  The couple next to me noticed my excitement and began to laugh at/with me when it was served.

As I waited I nibbled on a plate of celery sticks and carrot sticks served with ranch dipping sauce.  They must make everything fresh to order since it takes about 10-15 minutes to get the burger out.  I ordered a regular beef burger (they also have bison, lamb, turkey, wagyu and a veggie burger among other delicious sounding options like poutine, chili and chicken fingers).  They give you the option of white or whole wheat buns and a lot of toppings.  I mean A LOT of toppings from your basic tomatoes and pickles to your more exotic alfalfa sprouts, cranberry, mint jelly or salsa.  I had mixed greens, tomatoes, sauteed onions and alfalfa sprouts (thought I had to try at least one of the interesting toppings).  They have about seven types of cheese to choose from but I went with the aged cheddar (I figure keep it relatively basic for the trial run).  I also added bacon.  They have a number of condiments you can put on it as well.  I went with the dijon mustard, house made chipotle ketchup and bbq sauce.  She then asked if I wanted any sides but then agreed with me when I said this already sounded like a lot of food.  When the burger was served the couple on the other side of me began laughing after they heard me yelp in response to the size.

The greens, tomatoes and alfalfa sprouts were fresh and tasty.  The sauteed onions eventually ended up all over the place and the waitress was nice enough to bring me extra napkins as she saw me begin putting the behemoth in my mouth.  The cheese was warm, gooey but had a very subtle flavor.  The bacon was great.  It was like greasy diner bacon you get with breakfast.  Thick, a little flimsy and REALLY fatty.  The sauces had a great taste but there was a little too much.  This may have been my fault.  Maybe you are only supposed to order one instead of three.  Now the beef.  I had ordered a medium burger and thought it was a little over cooked.  It was very juicy however and had very subtle spicing.  The weakest part of the burger was the bun.  It was light and fluffy but completely came apart by the end (I think this was the first burger in a long time where I finished the last third with a knife and fork).  I’m not sure how you can get around this with a juicy beef patty and the plentiful condiments (toast the bun or use a thicker bun maybe? I don’t know).  The burger as a whole (once you let a significant amount of the condiments fall out) is very well balanced and tasty.  Their homemade ingredients are very unique and work well with the beef.  The basic burger is about $6 but once you add cheese and bacon it’s more like a $10 burger which given the size and quality of ingredients I thought was pretty good. Maybe my perception is a little skewed since the experience was fun.  The other patrons were friendly and seemed to get an experience watching my reactions.  The service was great and the staff was very friendly.  They were a little slow at the get go and the waitress apologized but I didn’t care since I wasn’t in a rush.  The waitress was pretty good looking too which is probably another reason I didn’t mind.

After paying the tab she also brought over a piece of the brownie dessert on the house.  I think she likes me… or maybe she just felt sorry for me since I was the only person in the place eating alone.  None the less, free dessert is just awesome.

The dessert was a little flaky and wasn’t too rich.  It was sweet but balanced nicely with the almond pieces inside.  I haven’t eaten alone in a while but have to say this was one of the better eating experiences I’ve had in a while.  The variety on the menu has sparked my curiosity and I’ll probably be back to try a few of the other items like the onion rings which looked really good.  Oh, and I asked the waitress on my way out what the “W” stood for.  Apparently the two owners’ last names start with W.  Not very exciting.  They should make up a better back story like the first cow they met was named Willard or something.

There are three burger spots on the west side that I’ve actually made attempts to try but they were either closed or they ran out of food (that one sounds very promising).  I’ve also heard two new ones opened in the same area last week. I’m happy all these new burger shops are opening.  The competition will drive the quality of the product up and the prices down (thank you ECON101).  When the dust settles, I’ll be waiting to see who is still standing and be sure to make my way there.

~ by jlowjlow on December 20, 2009.

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