Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Pint: 3.9/5

Great Canadian
Score: 4.0
Platter: $15

Mushroom Cheddar
Score: 4.0
Platter: $15

Score: 3.6
Platter: $15

Fiery Blue Cheese
Score: 3.1
Platter: $15

The Pint caught my attention with five tantalizing burgers and “Table Kegs” clinched the deal. As luck would have it, our Wednesday Burger Club supper coincided with The Pint’s $29 Table Keg special.

274 Garry Street was most recently occupied by Aqua Books and EAT! but you'd never recognize it now. The crab cakes are gone and replaced with Beefshires. Geoff wrote "Grand opening week at The Pint and first impressions are positive. Very different than the old Aqua Books - now a spacious sports bar! The music was straight off my iPod, the decor is all wood and dark motifs, could become quite popular." The completely renovated interior is beautifully finished with  full height windows and a tin ceiling. The walls are covered in framed prints interspersed with TVs. Tall wooden chairs and tables are black – which the serving staff all helped stain and finish just before the restaurant opened on Dec 23. Each of the two levels has a large central bar with 26 beers on tap. The DJ booth is on the main level and the upper has great spaces for groups including a private room. The Pint is a 100 m dash from the Winnipeg Police Cadets HQ and the downtown indoor skywalk in winter months.

I've been to The Pint three times and expect to be back many more. It was a few hours before they opened on my first visit when I bumped into the owner, Thomas, who made a point of coming over to shake my hand and say hello. This is his thirteenth restaurant opening. The second visit was at lunch and they were staffed up and ready. We were greeted and seated immediately and our waitress showed up a moment later to take drink orders and hand us menus. It was obvious staff were well trained. On the third visit a few of us arrived about an hour early for our 6:00 pm Burger Club reservation and caught them between shifts. We found our tables on the second floor overlooking Garry St and defended them from usurpers. The lone waitress working the upper floor was cheerful and quick, but it took her a bit of time to make the rounds. Our server Karly arrived before 6:00 to take over our table and she was all smiles, full of energy and fun. She can carry twice her weight in Table Kegs and the beer started to flow.

After Karly put in our food orders I asked if I could visit the kitchen. She checked with Chad, who was in Winnipeg to setup the new operation, and came back to get me as our burgers were being assembled. I’m not sure if it was my “outsider” presence or Chad overseeing, but the kitchen staff were very well behaved. Usually there’s considerably more shouting and swearing in the organized food prep chaos. There must have been a dozen people working the kitchen and they got all sixteen of our burgers assembled and lined up at once – no small feat!

The sixteen platters were delivered by Karly and some helpers resulting in momentary mayhem. Karly was very careful to track our custom burgers, and the kitchen was careful to keep the plates in order, but there was still a momentary panic with burgers in the air and hungry diners trying to politely, and sometimes unhelpfully, meet their meat. It was not unlike two groups of Canadians trying to enter and exit an elevator at the same time. Eventually the burgers were all set down in front to the appropriate stomachs.

The presentation was a rectangular plate with the assembled burger and side balancing each other. The dish was on a paper napkin (black of course) to keep from clattering and sliding around. The bun shiny and skewered with two pickle slices on top. Russ wrote “Impressive to look at.” Cutlery and basic condiments were placed in a common basket.

The 8 oz beef patty was thick and filled the bun to its edges. It was beefy tasting, very lightly seasoned, coarsely ground and lean. The Pint franchise does not form the patties in house “due to the volume the five locations sell”, but the patties are made to their secret recipe from 100% Sterling Silver Alberta beef without any filler or preservatives. With oil prices so low, Alberta can use a hand up from Manitoba so now we can support them through beef exports instead. Interestingly enough, the buns travel all the way from Vancouver to crown the assembly. According to Riley, who is returning to Winnipeg after managing the Calgary Pint, the “bacon is ultra fresh, of the best quality and double smoked. The cheese is fresh and the finest money can buy.” You can’t get any better than that! It was a good and very filling sandwich.

The Great Canadian bacon-cheese burger was the popular choice and Karen wrote “My burger was nice. Well constructed with lots of beef. Patty was fairly plain. Very nice bun with decent amount of bacon and cheese.” Dani added the “BBQ sauce on the burger is tasty, reminiscent of Bulls Eye original. Patty is big and moist.” Brian observed “The burger was well-constructed with bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes clearly visible.  The beef patty was large and seasoned well.  The bun was maybe a little small for the patty but fresh and held up well. The maple BBQ sauce made the burger.” Jeff critiqued “Good Burger:Bun ratio; held together perfectly right to the last bite. Loved the sauce, great combo of smoky and sweet.”

A few people chose the Mushroom Cheddar burger. Liz scribbled “Patty was formed perfectly. Bun was the right size and delicious. Mushroom sauce was very good and tons of mushrooms. Cheese was not overly obvious - could have been more. Best burger for me so far.” April noted “The burger was hot until the last bite and the meat was tasty. My burger came out with everyone else's even though I ordered after everyone.” Sandy swooned “I looooove a good mushroom burger - this one is one of the better ones I've had in the 'Peg. The bun held the whole mess together. Tasty cheddar sauce - more of it would have balanced the under seasoned beef.

Geoff went rogue: “I got the bison Great Canadian Burger. Same price for bison, beef and chicken - why not break the Golden Rule of Burger Club for once? They're both ruminants. Burger was pretty and tasty, a bit dry as may be expected with bison. Bacon wasn't bad but not top tier.”

As to the side dishes, the poutine was hugely popular. Jeff wrote “Awesome gravy - could drink shooters of the stuff a la Al Bundy.” I had the Mac ‘n Cheese and it was creamy with just enough jalapeño to make is interesting. I gobbled it up. Some of us started with the Beefshires (only $5 for eight pieces during happy hour) and they were divine. I may come back and eat nothing but Beefshires. Dani had the lemon  rice soup with chicken in meatball form. It was tasty. I had the potato bacon soup the first time and it was hearty. Stephanie sampled the wings and cautioned "their super hot wings (7 pepper) are hot. Burn your face hot. Get them to share because you’re only going to eat one."

The Pint is one of several Urban Sparq Hospitality concepts. Nurturing of the soul through burgers, beer and bodacious fun is not left to chance at Urban Sparq. The hospitality business depends on word of mouth so they use their social media company, Oilers Nation, to put out all the engaging Tweets. I ran into their marketing manager, Daniel, also in town for the opening, and asked him why Winnipeg and why Garry St. He said Winnipeg’s market still has untapped potential and if you present Winnipeggers with a better product, they’re willing to pay for it. The Norris building was affordable and located near the SHED in the thick of downtown condo development. “We're always within a block or two of the ice.” Daniel also talked about Urban Sparq’s concept of “mini-clusters” so another restaurant or bar is a possibility.

The Pint on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Confusion Corner Bar and Grill: 3.9/5

Beefy Burger
Score: 3.7
Platter: $14

Bacon Blue Burger
Score: 4.2
Platter: $16

500 Corydon Ave
It was the heart of Christmas lunch season when I called the Confusion Corner Bar and Grill they quickly and cheerfully booked us in. We arrived just ahead of the rush to a roomy parking lot, and through the doors, one long table for 12 setup and waiting for us. The space was warm and comfortable with a fire burning in the ingle in the centre of the restaurant and a plane of Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling evoking a colourful star field. The restaurant filled up quickly and latecomers found the parking lot full.

The menu only lists one beef burger - the “Bacon Blue Burger”, but on closer inspection there’s a second “Beefy Burger” as a footnote to his stacked brethren. Several burger clubbers without the constitution for blue cheese opted for Mr. Beefy with bacon and\or cheddar cheese added.

Our waitress, Kaitlyn, was quick to take drink and food orders and we waited a reasonable amount of time for our platters to emerge from the kitchen. The Bacon Blue made an impressive sight with the stack of onion rings and pickled jalapeno pepper skewered on top. The statuesque assembly was intimidating, but with a firm two-handed squish reduced to mouth sized proportions.

It was a large, filling patty but out of 12 reviews, 12 said the “burger was salty!” Perhaps that helps the beer sales. Coincidentally enough, the last restaurant Burger Club visited, Jekyll and Hyde's, also offered a “Bacon and Blue Burger” so those that opted for the blue found themselves comparing, and the consensus was the blue cheese sauce at Confusion Corner was very strong and dominated the other flavours.

The patty was fairly dense with the tomato and aioli sauce contributing to the moisture. Chris said the “maple wood smoked bacon was great.” Nelson added mushrooms to his and said “they were a good choice.”

The bun was soft and Kaiser-looking with sesame seeds that knew how to stay put instead of scattering when you handled the sandwich. The leaf lettuce, tomato and red onions were bright and fresh.

I had the Brisket Potato Soup - it was thick and creamy and a good sized bowl. Karen loved the French Onion soup: “What a terrific size with lots of cheese dribbling down the side. I couldn't resist stripping the melted cheese off the bowl.” Stan had the "apple salad" as a side: “It had craisins, walnuts, blue cheese and greens, but no apple.” When Stan pointed out the irony of no apple in an apple salad, our young server said “I know!” I guess the kitchen has a sense of humour. Dani had the yam fries and said they were “very tasty.”

Today Cary had a turkey balanced on his head - that he passed on to Esther. Cary never disappoints! If you’re on Facebook you can see the infamous turkey here.

Confusion Corner Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jekyll and Hyde's Freehouse: 4.4/5

Classic Jekyll Burger
Score: 4.4
Platter: $11.99

Bacon and Blue Burger
Score: 4.5
Platter: $14

Holy Jalapeno Popper
Score: 4.3
Platter: $14

Jekyll and Hyde's, the latest in the lineage of restaurants at the corner of 437 Stradbrook and Osborne, features a winning combination of food and fun. Brian Allison created Cheer to celebrate the return of the Jets, but found the hockey rink sized space a little unwieldy. In April 2014 Brian split the room in half with Jekyll presiding over the cuisine on one side, and Hyde carousing on the other. In the summer Jekyll & Hyde’s boasts a large patio at the corner of Stradbrook and Osborne. It’s possibly the only restaurant in Osborne Village that has parking.

Brian’s a character who signs his email “Life Coach” and business card “Man About Town”. He gave me a rapid fire tour intermingled with chatter about needing to go rescue his wife whose car needed a boost. It was Comedy night at Hyde’s and Brian was preparing for a full house. The event side has a good sized stage, booths along one wall and tall tables and chairs in the centre. The “green room” next to the stage had the curtain pulled back revealing comfy couches for lucky patrons. Hyde’s has its own beautiful bar and a few pool tables used by the Wednesday night league.

The restaurant is high ceilinged and roomy with comfortable pleated booths and low tables in earthy tones. The crowning bar has 29 draughts on tap – including 3 Half Pints varieties – and 1 cider. There was a large screen at one end playing the Jets game, which was great for hockey fans, and the volume wasn’t obtrusive for those enjoying food and conversation.

They were ready and had us set up conveniently close to the bar. Our server Kelly was attentive and personable – she managed our group of 15 handily and was quick to take drink orders from new arrivals with the resulting libations arriving fast. Flights of beer were delivered in “Meet the Family” boxes.

There are three beef burgers on the menu: The Classic Jekyll with chipotle mayo and Jekyll’s BBQ sauce, The Holy Jalapeno Popper that adds cream cheese and tempura jalapenos, and the Bacon and Blue that piles on maple bacon and blue cheese. The burgers all come with two sides, but on Jets game days, the special is a burger, one side and a beer.

The burger combos were presented on a wooden cutting board with the stack assembled and skewered with a frilly cocktail stick. The first thing you noticed was your reflection in the incredibly shiny bun. An egg washed Brioche by the look and feel of it that would challenge Original Joe's gleaming roll. Mine had bacon lolling out of it which made me happy just to look at it. Russ observed "This place wins best buns in Winnipeg.”

During a break from the mayhem in the kitchen, Chef Scott came to see how we were enjoying our burgers and told us how they hand build the 5.5 oz patties from Angus beef with 19% fat and no fillers. That was just the right amount of fat to make it moist, delicious and nicely crusted from the grill. It was a good sized patty with a slightly oversized bun and the BBQ sauce on the bottom added some zing and moisture.

I opted for the bacon and blue cheese and it was delicious. Jekyll and Hyde’s bakes the bacon with a maple syrup drizzle adding a little sweetness and texture. There was just the right amount of blue cheese on my assembly. Enough so I could savor it, but not so much that it tipped the flavour balance. There was plenty of shredded lettuce but the tomatoes were a little scarce. They’re hard to grow in a Winnipeg winter.

April wrote “This burger is to burgers as cheesecake is to cake. This is my favourite - I would have to find the Rob Ford burger to compare it to again. Also the beer & burger special rocks.”

Karen had the Holy Jalapeno Popper: “I really liked the flavour, texture and, oh, the bun! Especially the bun; soft and warm, it fit snugly holding all the toppings against the burger. The sauce on the burger was terrific - jalapeño spice not too spicy.“ Jessica modified hers and scribbled “Shiny bun, good burger, moist. Needed the cheese to cut the tang of the jalapeño. Ordered with no cheese.” Don’t mess with Chef’s design!

Nicole opted for the Classic Jekyll: “Flavour and toppings were awesome. Sauces were a little drippy but not too much so. Bacon, mayo & BBQ sauce were a great combo.”

I started with the Tomato Basil soup side and it was delectable. Thick and creamy with toasted baguette slices on top. I stole some of Karen’s sweet potato fries and they were soft inside, crispy outside and great with the garlic aioli. Mo had the slaw and noted “Apple coleslaw had nice crunch and freshness.”

We were pleasantly surprised when the bills came and April called Kelly over to make sure they were correct. As we’d arrived during happy hour (4-7) on a Jets night, the burgers with a side and draught were all $12.99. The additional beers were only $4.75 (tax inc.) Great deal!

It’s been said that Winnipeg has only 2 degrees of separation. I’d barely started introductions when Geoff, Jessica and Julian realized they’d had lunch together in Montreal 7 years ago.  “Oh hey Nicole!” exclaimed Jessica as she spotted her IQ’s co-worker from years ago arriving. Small world. Smaller Winnipeg.

Here’s a little contest to earn the respect and admiration of your peers: see if you can list all the incarnations at this location since the Beefeater.

Jekyll and Hyde's Freehouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mark's the Spot: 4.3/5

  Score: 4.0, $4.95
  Score: 4.1, $5.95
Deluxe Burger
  Score: 4.3, $6.95
Bacon Cheese Burger
  Score: 4.5, $7.95
Mark's Special Burger
  Score: 4.6, $7.95
Double Dare Burger
  Score: 4.1, $9.95

Mark's the Spot is a cheery old school diner where you can enjoy a delicious home style cheeseburger for under $6. A 5-Star burger according to Burger Club!

It’s a little off the beaten path at 405 Turenne St. in the St Boniface Industrial Park, but well worth seeking out for breakfast or lunch – and now Thursday supper as well. Judging by all the regulars, locals quickly embraced the friendly little diner Mark Gawthrop opened in May. It feels very welcoming as you pass through the door and are immersed in memorabilia. Mark's racing roots are evident from the photos, slot-car track and diamond plate trim. There’s a Rock 'em Sock 'em Robot on the table and the walls are covered with classic games and cartoons.

Mark, and our server Diane, both greeted Burger Club warmly. They greet everyone warmly and Mark is very appreciative of his clientele. I'd been to the restaurant when it was the Riviera and remembered how small it was, so I phoned Mark to see if he could accommodate 16 of us. "Sure, I can seat you all, but the fryer can only cook 4 servings at a time." No problem - Diane took our orders as we arrived and the burgers and fries were delivered in waves hot off the grill. There’s no heat lamp – when the food’s ready, it gets served. The large patties need a few minutes to cook, but that’s what it takes when eating fresh. Mark took a break from the kitchen to greet us and say a few words about how he locally sources the beef, potatoes and bacon.

The large straightforward patty is very lightly seasoned with a good beefy flavour and grill crust. The lean ground round was fairly dense, held together well and was very filling. Mark uses minimal salt, but there’s salt on the table if you'd like to add your own. I went for the Double Dare (how could I not?), but I'll have a single next time – I was stuffed! Mark has a challenge: “If you can eat 2 Double Dare burgers, 2 orders of fries and 2 coleslaws with 2 milkshakes in 30 minutes you get a free T shirt.”

I know right away when Burger Clubber’s had a good time by how much they wrote, and they wrote a lot about Mark’s. Quite a few people ended their review with the words “I'll be back!” High praise indeed.

Brian commented “The platter arrived at the table with beef, bacon and cheese aplenty.  It would be impossible to miss the generous pile of shoestring fries.  The bacon was fresh and the patties lightly seasoned. They put a crisp on the patties adding a nice flavor.  The bun was fresh, and considering the size of the burger, performed quite a feat keeping everything in place. It was simply delicious, but it defeated me; I couldn’t finish. If you order the Double Dare, come hungry.”

The bacon was the bounty on the burger. There was lots of it, thick and cooked to leathery perfection. If you go for the Mark’s Special you get side and back bacon. That’s the burger I'm getting next time!

Mark’s not shy with the groceries and Deluxe stacks were piled high with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and a big slice of dill pickle. Burgers come with fried or raw onions; I opted for fried and there was a succulent layer nesting the beef patty. I was happy.

The soft Kaiser bun did an admirable job of managing the two-hander. Pulling the frilly cocktail stick out of my double beef patty stack was like drawing Excalibur.

Karen wrote “The beef patty was stellar, and I tasted all the ingredients. Everything held together to the last bite.” Scott added “Burger was under-seasoned as promised. Although I would have liked more than plain meat taste. Tomato, lettuce and grilled onions made me appreciate the toothpick's efforts. Top marks for the bun.”

The fries were shoestring thin, but dark and soft. They were easy to stick a fork in and stuff in my mouth - and there were lots. Karen and I shared a big bowl of Borscht with a side serving of sour cream. It was good.

Cary brought hats for Burger Club pioneers April and Esther. April couldn’t make it this week, but modeled her Winnipeg Roller Derby Valkyries hat when she received it later in the afternoon. Esther was treated for breast cancer this year and coped with her hair loss by wearing a different Hat of the Day every day. She’s printed a wonderful calendar with over 80 photos and proceeds going to CancerCare Manitoba. They're $15 and you can contact Esther here if you'd like one.

Mark's The Spot on Urbanspoon