Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Barley Brothers: 4.2/5

Benson Brother’s, Score: 4.2
Platter: $12

Kiewel Brewing Co., Score: 4.0
Platter: $14

Riedle Brewery Ltd., Score: 4.1
Platter: $15

Shea’s Brewing Co., Score: 4.1
Platter: $14

We came for the burgers and stayed for the beer!

Barley Brothers has been the talk of the town ever since it uttered those three little words “Craft Beer Pub” in the fall of 2013. What does craft beer mean? It means good beer. Partner Noel Bernier, who also owns Hermanos, Corrientes, Carnival and Prairie 360, was quoted as saying “You will not be able to order a Budweiser or a Coor’s Light in this place." I like him already.

The décor at 655 Empress St. is just what you’d expect in a pub. Comfortable chairs, brick and dark woods, wrapped around a central large bar with over 50 glorious beers on tap. The walls are covered in memorabilia and large archival photos of Winnipeg’s Shea’s Brewing Company as well as farm scenes depicting the origins of the fare about to be consumed.

Our waitress, Laura, was spot on and took drink and food orders as we arrived. There were only a couple of minor lags as we didn't have an exclusive relationship with Laura - she had other tables that needed care and feeding as well. She recommended the Howe Sound Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout and it made me very happy. Creamy and dark - it was the perfect temperature served in a snifter. Faced with the daunting beer menu, several people opted for a flight of four 4.75 oz beers. You can choose from pre configured flight selections or build your own.

The notion of bringing everyone’s meals out at once is nice, but can result in a long wait and cold food for a large group. At Barley Brothers, the time passed quickly while enjoying our beers and conversation. The burgers arrived as they were prepared; all of us got exactly what we ordered and the meals were served hot. In fact, bacon on several of the burgers was still sizzling.

I opted for the Riedle Brewery Ltd. burger with a side of braised red cabbage (I had fries for lunch). It was served with the top down and capped with a dollop of nosey blue cheese. The drizzle of balsamic reduction added to the burger’s good looks, but wasn't an identifiable flavour in the stack when I bit into it. The sautéed mushrooms and onions provided some nice texture and the occasional savor, but mostly the fragrant cheese prevailed. On the cold side of the bun were several slices of very ripe Roma tomato and fresh leaf lettuce. The flavourful Senf – German mustard - was well paired with the patty; it wasn't overly vinegary. Geoff wrote “The mustard was fun, the seeds were tiny little flavour balls.”

The ground-in-house patty was dense, not hard, held together, and was moist but not juicy. It was thick, had a crispy grill crust and nobody complained of a dry burger. Scott and Brian wondered if there was a sweet ingredient that helped caramelize the crust. The patty was lightly seasoned - not salty - (the salt came from the fries) and I think would appeal to a majority of burger aficionados. The menu described it as a sirloin patty, but I wouldn’t call it a steak burger. It wasn't an overly large patty - it could've been bigger considering the $15 price tag for my Riedle. Most of the group opted for the Benson Brother’s Brewery bacon-cheese burger which was the best deal on the menu at $12.

The Benson Burger came with sweet pickles and they stole the spotlight. If you like sweet pickles, that’s a good thing. If you don’t, you might want to leave them off.  Jacques commented “Great burger! The flavours combined well for a fusion of goodness. Glad I asked for no sweet pickles as they would have ruined everything!” The ever eloquent Scott wrote “This was a good burger, not a great burger. High points included a very durable bun - fresh, and light. For overall flavour, the burger had a sweetness to it. Pickles seemed to be the main contributor to that, but the onion ring also had something to say. And it said "I'm tasty!" It was a dense patty with a nice crust. Which is also how I describe my high school sweetheart.” There was plenty of texture and Isabel wrote “Crispy bacon - salty and tasty. I liked the crispy patty bits too.”

Karen had the Kiewel Brewing Co. burger with roasted red pepper, feta and a black olive tapenade. She commented “Nice meaty burger. It was not very juicy though. The creamy feta and red peppers made up for it. Olives gave it a nice earthy flavour. It was balanced and I tasted all the toppings.”

Liz opted for the Shea’s Brewing Co. burger and wrote “My burger had smoked cheese which really was the predominant flavour - kind of overpowered the patty which had a fairly mild taste.” Jeff liked his: “Great burger! The bun did a very nice job of holding the whole package together, right to the bitter (because I didn't want it to end) end. I really liked the smoked cheese on it, and it had just the right amount of BBQ sauce. The red onion was excellent - it's often overlooked as a burger garnish.”

The unexpected star of today’s burger was the bun – most everyone talked about how good it was. It was a light multi-grain, moist and soft.  It had an elastic crust that took a firm bite to get through. The bun to burger ratio was a little high – not because the bun was too big, but the patty a bit too small. Too much bun wasn't a bad thing for Sandy though: “The bun held up well, but I ended up with a quarter left over. That's ok - it had the Senf mustard and red onions left and it was delicious!” Cary wrote “Hallelujah! FINALLY a bun that holds up to the burger.”

The fries were skinny, golden, salty, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. They were good. Geoff said what we all were thinking “The fries were almost like McDonalds fries, but were nice and crispy and a good side.” I quite enjoyed the flavor of my purple cabbage side - it reminded me of Jennifer's Restaurant (R.I.P.) in Seven Sisters - but mine had a lot of light oil on it that detracted a bit. Liz also had the cabbage and thought it was good.

Barley Brothers on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Walker’s – La Coulée, MB

Walker Burger - $6.00

Fatboy - $5.50

Chili Cheese Burger - $5.00

The spring melt has begun and soon burger stands will be opening like crocuses across the countryside.

As Winnipeg travelers head east on #1 to Whiteshell and Kenora cottage country, the first burger stand along the highway is Walker’s. It’s at Road 40, one mile east of Paradise Village (49.662774, -96.550352). There are shaded picnic tables, a little turtle pond, and an indoor taxidermy display to make the burger stop a fun family outing. Walker's is quite lively on summer weekends.

If you’re a Manitoba fisherperson, you can also get live minnows and leeches. In fact, there’s a 24-hour, self serve cooler for the early bird, where you drop payment in a pill bottle through a pipe in the wall.

I quite enjoy the burger at Walker’s. It’s a nice homemade patty - thick and juicy enough to be hearty although I usually make mine a double. The patties are cooked fresh in the burger shack and served on a nice, soft bun. You can also get piping hot fries and a selection of other items including farmer’s sausage, perogie dinner, smokies, poutine and chicken fingers for the kiddies.

Walker’s has my favourite chili sauce. It’s not too sweet, not too spicy, meaty, and creates it’s own layer in the burger assembly. I rode in on a quad for a burger one day, and as I was walking away with my foil wrapped chili burger, Craig Walker came running out shouting a warning “Don’t try and ride with that – it’s messy!” It is, and I’m not that good that I could ride one-handed while eating a burger. I sat in the sun and enjoyed it.

Craig Walker is another reason for going to Walkers. He’s a character. One time my wife and I were heading over to pay for our pork sandwiches and Craig was already at the counter filling a baggie with leeches for a customer. As his eyes met Karen’s, he pretended to swallow a leech. At least I think he pretended ….

Did I forget to mention the pulled pork? Every Friday in the busy summer season, Craig roasts up a pig and you can stop in for a fresh pork-on-a-bun sandwich for $4.99. It’s delicious. Sometimes there are a couple of young ladies at the pulled-pork stand deep frying up fresh sugar donuts you can have for dessert still hot. Just try and stop at one. You can also go inside the store and have an ice-cream cone for dessert. At the little deli there are perogies, bread and farmer's sausage for sale.

A few years ago Craig got some of Danny’s Whole Hog’s old BBQs and now he’ll sell you a fresh pig so you can host your own pig roast.  The first time I got a pig from Craig I didn’t realize they were fresh; I’m used to it being frozen from Danny’s. As I was handed the hundred pound floppy pig the night before our roast, I asked Craig what I was supposed to do with it. He said “Keep it cold!” Now I ask you, where would you put a 48” long fresh pig to keep it cold? We cleared out the beer-fridge and duct taped the door shut for the night.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bleachers (The Dome): 3.5/5

Hamburger3.5, $4.50

Cheese Burger3.5, $4.75

Team Burger3.1, $4.75

Bleachers Burger3.8, $5.25

Vegas Bull Burger3.6, $7.75

This week’s burger was at the historic Vendome Hotel. Constructed in 1897, the four story building at 308 Fort Street is one of Canada’s oldest. It’s also haunted by a ghost-cat. At the top of the limestone steps you’re faced with two doors; the right-hand one takes you into The Dome restaurant while the left-hand leads to Bleachers: “Winnipeg’s Oldest Sports Bar”.

I stumbled across The Dome when out for a walk in the summer. I looked up to see a curtained, picture window opening into a bright little restaurant packed with noon hour diners. I stepped over folks basking in the sun on the front steps and made my way inside to enjoy the first of many delicious "Steak and Bakes" and burgers at The Dome. The restaurant’s also popular for its inexpensive all-day breakfasts.

Happy Birthday Les!
When Burger Club arrived this week we slipped through the smokers and took the left door. It’s a long dark space; you pass a blue felted pool table, VLTs and a magnificent wooden bar on the way to the large tables at the back. The ceiling is painted with a green football field and the annex has a hockey rink above. Some of our group described the beverage room as dated, and to that I say “It is. See how you look after 117 years!” We almost lost a couple of diners that stuck their heads in the front door and were leery of making their way to the dark recesses in the back. Cary commented “Sat down in a chair partially held together by duct tape. This is my kind of place.”

I phoned the day before to make a reservation in the bar. It was Juno week and The Vendome is close enough to the MTS Centre that I was worried Randy Bachman and BTO might take our table. I told the pleasant lady on the phone we’d all be having burgers and she said she'd let Joe know. Sure enough, our tables were waiting and our smiling waitress, Daphne was right there to take our drink orders.

Daphne is great. She looks after the entire beverage room herself. The kitchen pass thru is near the front and she’s constantly running the length of the room with trays of food and dishes. Navigating the narrow channel past the bar and VLTs can be tricky and I've heard her call out “Make a hole!” There was a padlocked door next to our table. Every once in a while something would rattle it from the other side. That was a bit mysterious.

Bleachers has a burger for everybody with seven different creations on their menu. My favourite is the Vegas Bull Burger with double everything. I don’t have breakfast if I know I’m having one for lunch. If you order fries with it Daphne says “Are you sure?” The VBBs I've had in the past were big, sloppy messes and tasted great. Today's was very neatly assembled and I don't think quite as good. The patties were thick and juicy - soft but not crumbly. I quite enjoy the sweet chili sauce and maybe that’s what I usually taste, because today’s had less chili and the patties seemed relatively plain. Bess however, said her patty was flavourful. There was lots of bacon but most commented it was a little soggy. The cheddar cheese really came through. In fact, the whole assembly was nicely flavour balanced. The burgers come standard with fried onions and that makes me happy. The leaf lettuce and tomato were bright and fresh. Sadly though, the bun seemed to be recovering from a rough night out.

Mike commented “The server was right; we did not need to order fries. The Vegas Bull was more than enough. Two beef patties and two types of pork (bacon and ham) - it was meatalicious. The hint of chili on the bottom was excellent.”

As usual I was up and running around taking pictures. My bun top started to slide off in my absence, and Brett built a little retaining wall using my drink glass. Brett noted “Tim and I need clear rules regarding bun touching” – he wasn't comfortable handling my bun. Brett also raised the question of proper bacon measurements when he described his VBB having “Many rashers of bacon if a rasher means "big slice" or one rasher if rasher means "big pile.""

Joe with a Double Joe Burger
Photo: Derek Kristofor (Facebook)
April had the Bleachers Burger and wrote “The mozza mushroom burger was very good.  The bun was great and, while not the most flavourful burger I have eaten (note, I held the chili), it was a fantastic burger for the price.” Bleachers is inexpensive - even cheaper when you realize the menu prices include taxes.

The side orders of fries were plentiful, but “McCains”. For those lucky enough to have them cooked to browness, they weren't too bad. Those that got undercooked fries were sad. Heed the warning when the waitress asks “Are you sure?” to the fries.

Bleachers Sports Bar & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sawney Beans - Steinbach, MB

It’s worth the trip – to an English pub in Steinbach!

Gourmet BBQ Burger
Platter: $12.99

Bacon Cheeseburger
Platter: $12.99

London’s Burning Burger
Platter: $12.99

I like so many things about Sawney Beans. It’s a British pub in the middle of German - Mennonite country; it’s named after a mythical Scottish cannibal; it’s a tavern in a city that only recently repealed prohibition - and they make a great burger!

Stony Brook, a.k.a. Steinbach, the third largest city in Manitoba, voted to end liquor prohibition in 2003 (the rest of the province ended it in 1921). Only a dining room license was permitted though. In October 2011, at the request of Sawney Beans, voters agreed to allow cocktail lounge liquor licenses as well. As a consequence of Manitoba’s archaic liquor laws, Sawney Beans has a decorative fence blocking the lounge from the dining room licensed area. Hopefully the obstruction our server had to walk around to reach other customers comes down when liquor license reforms are effected April 1.

It’s a comfortable space with high back booths that are like little private rooms. There’s lots of black Naugahyde, dark wood and red walls covered in banners, golf clubs, dartboards, and of course, Guinness collectibles. It feels like a cozy pub.  The ambient music wasn't traditional – maybe it was the mid afternoon time we choose to visit – but Karen and I enjoyed it – mainly alternative and indie. Our waitress Andrea was great. She was quick, clever and smiling.

The menu proclaimed “Beer, Burger & Chips All Day - Every Day for $17.99” and that was just the ticket for Karen and me. The BBC special included a fancy burger as well as the Alexander Keith’s we ordered. Bonus points for not making us drink a Bud Light. Take note Winnipeg! Jackie Bakx started the restaurant 7 years ago, but recently sold the pub to brothers and Mark and James who prepared the delicious burgers for us today.

My Gourmet BBQ Burger came with *lots* of crispy onion bits. They completely smothered the open faced burger. I was very happy. I used both hands to fold the top bun over the pile, letting all the onions form a cascading layer over the patty, and gave it a good squish. Even so, the sweet, crunchy, onion layer was as thick as the hefty patty. When I took my first bite, the crunchy texture was matched by the firm, but not hard, patty. It had been cooked thoroughly on the grill and the fat melted out. The BBQ sauce had great zing, there was a lot, and I liked it. The burger was messy. Both Karen and I needed a change of clothes when we were done.

The Kaiser-like bun was an easy bite if perhaps a little overwhelmed by the magnificence of the burger creation. Much like how my AC/DC t-shirt from high school attempts to cover my belly now. The nice fresh leaf lettuce did a good job of adding some green without making it slippery; the tomato was plentiful and reasonably ripe for March (it wasn't quite orange).

Karen opted for the Bacon Cheeseburger which came with two big slices of crispy bacon and a nice slice of real cheddar. The burger had good flavour balance and she could taste all the layers. My mom and Karen thought the patty was straight up beef. Mom had a plain patty with mustard, so she got to taste the patty on its own.

We all loved the fries – large cut, crispy on the outside, piping hot and soft the inside. It was a reasonable sized serving and not too salty. I doused mine with malt vinegar, which I think is a requirement when in a British pub.

Even the bill was a treat; it came with Ovation chocolates! I’m looking forward to coming back on Guy Fawkes Night and having the London’s Burning Burger.

Sawney Beans on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Grove Pub and Restaurant: 4/5

Grove Burger, Score: 4.0
Platter: $11

Stafford Burger, Score: 4.0
Platter: $12

Harvard Burger, Score: 4.3
Platter: $12

Dorchester Burger, Score: 4.0
Platter: $12

Bright, roomy and lively – that’s The Grove. If you’re between 25 and 70 you may remember the location as Tubby’s\Charlie O’s at the corner of 164 Stafford and Grosvenor. When I arrived, I was greeted by a cheery hostess who took one look and said: “You’re with Burger Club? They've got a big table right over there!

A Burger Club regular, Les, has his own bar stool at The Grove and was able to secure our large group a reservation in the spacious dining room. In summer, you can also enjoy your meal on the shaded patio.

Tonight we broke from tradition and had our first Burger Club supper. The Grove has 16 different beers on tap and boasts a large selection of bottles. We came for the burger, but stayed for the beer. Our server had a bit of a time keeping up with our drink orders and as Les put it “Dan, our waiter, was good but need to bring more beer.

The menu lists four different beef burgers. The namesake Grove Burger is a fairly traditional cheeseburger while the other three are works of food-art. The Stafford comes with avocado, blue cheese, and bacon jam. The Harvard is topped with bacon, jalapeno relish, grilled pineapple and pepper jack cheese. The Dorchester has sautéed onion, bacon, Chimichurri sauce and a fried egg on top. It's a home-style patty - prepared with onion bits, mildly seasoned and fairly soft and crumbly. A Panko panade results in a moist, but not overly juicy patty. Karen described the patty as “crispy on the outside with a nice char flavour and a bit of salt.”

I had the Stafford and really enjoyed it. The blue cheese was the predominant flavour (of course), but it was more creamy than nosey. The bacon jam added a little sweetness and the avocado rounded out the flavour party nicely.  April commented the “Blue cheese burger was very flavourful. It paired well with the saltiness of the fries. I thought the ingredients were a little strange, but they melded together well.“ There was also a thick slice of fairly ripe tomato topped with a mess of shredded lettuce and mayo. Surprisingly, the buns are brought in from Montreal. They were quite good – a little like a Brioche, but more bready than cakey. They were toasted and warm. Barking Squirrel lagers made a good accompaniment to my Stafford.

A couple of Burger Club first timers, Isabel and Dave, had the Harvard Burger. Isabel likes it hot and critiqued “Would prefer jalapeños on the top of the burger. Wish the cheese was melted.” Dave added “Pineapple complimented the spicy jalapeño nicely. Burger was tasty.”

Most of Burger Club had The Dorchester – because - who can resist a dramatic fried egg staring back at you? Yes, eggs can be dramatic. It was served open faced on a Ciabatta bun. Chris came with an appetite saying “Very nice burger, flavourful and tasty. Although not really enough to fill me up.” Nat commented  “The texture of the patty was a clash of chunky and saucy” and Cary added “Could not really taste the Chimichurri.” Stephanie liked hers: “Really tasty patty. Everything was so good. Bacon was great!

Georgia was rendered speechless (a first) by her Grove Burger so she drew a picture.

Risk and Denial

Occasionally a Burger Clubber will risk leaving their comfort zone to order a burger they might not like, and then not like it. Karen tried The Stafford. “The burger would have rated higher but it had blue cheese - and I don't like blue cheese.” But, you ordered the blue cheese burger?!? Denial is when you’re disappointed a burger comes the way it was described on the menu. After ordering The Dorchester, Stephanie exclaimed “This isn't open faced burger club!” Jacques also seemed surprised that his open faced burger came open faced. “I like to eat my burger by holding with both hands. Not an easy thing to do with an open face burger.”

Cary found a picture of a burger on UrbanSpoon. He didn't look at the menu and showed the waiter a picture and demanded “I want that!” The waiter responded, “Er .. that’s an old picture, we don’t have that on the menu anymore and it’s a veggie burger.” I jibed “That would serve him right! Give him a veggie burger!” The Grove likes to change it up periodically and offers a new "Features" menu every weekend.

The Maple Whiskey Doughnuts – doughnut holes glazed with maple whiskey and topped with cinnamon cream cheese and bacon – were a hit. I was too full for desert, but not so full I couldn't eat everyone else's. Dani exclaimed "Tim ate donuts off of everyone's plates!” to which Cary offered satire “He was saving us from all those evil calories. Isn't he so thoughtful?” Cary was prepared to defend his donuts, and he had April, just arrived from roller derby practice, to help back him up.

The Grove Pub and Restaurant on Urbanspoon