Thursday, July 17, 2014

Peasant Cookery: 4.1/5

Peasant Burger
Score: 4.1, $9.00

Peasant with Cheese
Score: 4.0, $10.50

Peasant with Bacon and Cheese
Score: 3.6, $12.00

Feature Burger
Score: 4.3, $10.50

A couple of Burger Club forward scouts first tasted the beef at Peasant Cookery during “Burger Week” in 2013. The challenger for Winnipeg’s Best Burger took the form of the Peasant Burger topped with fried green tomatoes, aged cheddar, and sauce gribiche. It was something special and I knew Burger Club would be returning en-masse.

In 2013 our server described the ground in house short rib, brisket and chuck as “lovingly cradled from the grinder and gently laid down before cutting into patties.” He even performed the hand motions. When Burger Club visited this week it was the same mouth watering Peasant Burger patty, but this time the feature burger was topped with spicy tomato jam and St-André cheese.

I hadn't heard of St-André cheese before and our waitress described it as “Gorgonzola and Brie have a lovechild.” That was a perfect description; it had the powdery white skin and soft buttery texture of Brie – practically a sauce on the hot burger – but packed the flavour punch of Gorgonzola. The fat content of St-André is about 75% so you can get a sense of how buttery it is.

Peasant Cookery has a great patio in a prime location – this week it was looking across at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival free stage in Old Market Square. The music was wonderful and the Fringe crowds were lively. When I phoned to make a reservation, Peasant Cookery was quite happy to seat us on the patio, and there were two tables of eight laid out for us. Our waitress “Adrienne - like in Rocky" was fun and efficient and handled our large, chaotic group like a pro. There wasn't room for the sidewalk umbrellas and it was a hot and sunny day. My table (I’ll call it Table #1) sucked shade from our neighbor’s umbrella, but Table #2 was lobstering in the full sun.

I ordered the special - of course I wanted to try the custom creation - and didn't wait too long for my burger to be delivered. The beef patty was tender and quite juicy. As you devoured it you could still see the tracks from the grinder. Karen “tried a piece of burger meat all by itself and it tasted like beef brisket, it was so tasty!” Brian wrote “The beef patty was the main attraction and it tasted great.”

The good sized dollop of spicy tomato jam complimented the patty, brioche bun, and cheese perfectly. Peasant Cookery is known for their fresh, home grown ingredients, as evidenced by clear jars of vegetables displayed in windows and along counters. Cary had the special (there was some debate as to whether he stole Brian’s burger) and commented “That was the best burger patty EVER. And the topping was good too. It didn't need bacon (gasp!)” Sandy commented “All the flavours were very complimentary and very well thought out.”

The brioche bun did a great job of absorbing all the runoff, although one or two diners ended up with soggy bottoms. Geoff had the Peasant Burger and described the aged cheddar as “copious and melty - a couple chunks actually dripped off the side.” He also said the bacon was “done just the way I like - a bit leathery.”

I thought it a good sized and filling patty, but there were some diners in our group that thought it smallish. I didn't get a good look at their meat, so I can’t say for sure whether patty size or appetites varied. April thought her bacon-cheese Peasant Burger with Aioli sauce was small and wrote “Ironically a peasant would not be able to afford this burger. The patty and thick, juicy bacon were good quality, but I expected more for $12.”

Karen noted “They have the simplicity of peasant cooking down pat.” Simple didn't work for everyone though. Bill would have liked more sauces and thought it a plain burger. Geoff said the “Fries were okay - a bit nondescript. The spicy mayo dip was good.” Karen wrote “Salad was yum. Fresh crisp lettuce with a light dressing.”

Our waitress had help delivering food and was right there with her flip book to make sure people got what they ordered, but the system seemed to break down, or the kitchen got behind a bit for Table #2. A number of people waited for their food or had burger mix-ups. Chris wrote the “Only issue I had, it seemed they confused as to who ordered what. Others ordered well after me and they gave them their drinks and food first.” We were a large group on a very busy patio, all ordering slight variations of the same thing, so all in all, I think Peasant Cookery did very well.

When Burger Club rates their burgers, I ask people to think about the various attributes of the burger (quality, flavour, quantity, assembly and presentation) to help keep the review more objective and less subjective. We also rate the restaurant experience (service, price and comfort) separately so diners are less inclined to judge the burger by their service experience. I thought this worked fairly well, but our large group at Peasant Cookery turned out to be a bit of a psychology experiment. Table #1, who by and far got their burgers quickly and sat in the shade, gave the burger a 4.55, which would have put it in our top 5. A few people at Table #2 waited a while in the hot sun for their meal and  rated the burger at 3.63; 59th on Burger Club’s list. When the two tables are combined, Peasant Cookery landed in 25th place.

Peasant Cookery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grass Fed Grill: 3.4/5

Score: 3.0, $7 (tax inc.)

Spicy Crunch Burger
Score: 3.5, $8 (tax inc.)

Zeus Burger
Score: 3.8, $8 (tax inc.)

Big Buff Burger
Score: 3.3, $12 (tax inc.)

The Winnipeg Folk Festival greatly improved the food village kiosks and the booths are so big now you can back a truck in - and that’s what Grass Fed Grill did. When I realized there was going to be enough Burger Clubbers at FolkFest to make quorum, I Twitter-poked @grassfedgrill and they responded with a challenge.

Our plans were almost washed out by a huge storm front passing through, but it slammed us and was gone again by supper time. Happy to have survived the storm we were able to burger under the sun!

Our burger-folkie number was supposed to be a little higher, but trying to meet up at Folk Fest is like herding cats and we lost a couple of hippies. A couple more dissenters were overcome by the lure of other food vendors in the sumptuous lineup of choices. In the end, eight of us sampled the fare at Grass Fed Grill today.

Grass Fed Grill has a great lineup of burger offerings. The challenge at Folk Fest is not just to make tasty food, but to be able to serve it up quickly to hundreds of waiting diners - Grass Fed Grill was up for it. The ordering line moved quickly, and the wait for the burger wasn't long. All Folk Fest vendors serve food on reusable Melamine plates (for a $2 refundable deposit) and our burgers were presented open faced on the distinctive shiny, orange plates.

I opted for the Big Buff double burger with bacon and cheese and enjoyed it. The beef had delicious flavour – you knew you were eating pasture-raised beef. In fact, all the ingredients were top quality and fresh. Stan wrote “The beef had a noticeably different texture than the average beef burger. It seemed somewhat drier than usual. I suspect that the grass fed beef may have less fat. I enjoyed this patty very much.” Karen noted “There was a nice crust on the burger and it was moist, but very plain.

The patty was fairly thick, but quite small in diameter. I’d guess the bun was from City Bread – a favourite – but it dwarfed the patty. Stan commented “The patty was properly cooked which was something I wanted to be sure of because it was originating in a truck.” The bacon was also cooked to leathery perfection and had great flavour.

The small patty size was the common lament from all the hungry diners and the reason why the burger didn't get a higher rating. I’m not sure if the diminutive patty was a product of cost management in delivering a burger at an affordable price while paying more for organic, grass-fed beef, or, it could have been in the interest of serving hundreds of people quickly as a small patty cooks quicker on the grill.

I cut mine in half and was confused looking at the stack thinking I'd only received a single patty on my Big Buff until I realized they'd slid around and were lying beside each other.

A few of us misinterpreted the wonderful line “infused with cheese (like a jelly donut)” to mean a stuffed burger, but I guess the intent was to describe the cheese between the patties – a structurally sound placement. Preparing hundreds of Jucy-Lucy’s for the Folk Fest would have been a legendary feat! The real cheese looked good but the flavour wasn't discernible over the delectable beef.

Karen opted for the Spicy Crunch Burger and commented “I liked my toppings - crispy onions on the bottom. Burger, lettuce, tomato on top - all together not bad.”

Stan wrote “The Zeus Burger had tzatziki sauce and feta cheese which compensated for the patty’s (dry) texture. The bottom line is that I would happily have another one.” Nicole also Zeused: “Patty wasn't big enough for the bun. Tasty overall. Feta and Tzatziki was a good mix.

We carried our burgers over to the beer garden to enjoy them at a picnic table which Russ liked “Always good to enjoy a beer with my food.” The beer gardens were quite packed with people recovering from the storm and a couple of diners landed in the grassy-annex on the other side of the fence.

Karen opted for the yam fries and said they were tasty. I stole a few of hers and they were yammy perfection!

Grass-Fed Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Muddy Waters: 3.8/5

The Holey
Score: 3.7, Platter: $10.99

The Muddy
Score: 3.5, Platter: $17.99

The Dylan
Score: 4.0, Platter: $11.99

The Chili
Score: 4.3, Platter: $12.99

Muddy Waters has a patio at The Forks which is basically a license to print money in summer months. We finally got some hot weather and when I made our reservation a week ago, I said we’d like to move outside if it was nice. When I confirmed our reservation on burger day, they reaffirmed on the phone we could move outside if there was room. We got there a little early to find lots of room on the patio but the manager said we could not sit there. Apparently they like to keep a few tables free on the patio to attract walk-ups. They already had our indoor reservation so they didn't need to let our group take up valuable outdoor space and it was evident they just said whatever they needed to say on the phone to get our reservation.

It was bright and roomy inside and they setup tables so we could all sit together. One side of our group was walled by a stack of beer, kegs framed the other end of our table. We had a very pleasant waitress, so that was a treat. She was quick with the drinks, although one or two people had to remind her to bring theirs. The menu sported a pretty good burger selection which was part of the reason we thought we’d try Muddy Waters.

A diner goes to a restaurant for good food and ambience, but of course the restaurateur is in business to make money. I think the Muddy Waters operators are quite savvy. The burgers are designed to attract add-ons. None of the standard burgers come with cheese, so most of our group added a slice of plasticy processed cheese to their burger.

The burger was described as “charbroiled” and they really took that to heart. If I’m BBQing at home and I go for a beer and forget about the burgers engulfed in flames for a while, the result is exactly what Muddy Waters served us. The burgers were burnt. Of course, the char was the overwhelming flavour of the burger – other flavours did not stand out. Most diners, myself included, thought the char flavour was pretty tasty on the first bite, but that wore off quickly.

I went for the Muddy Burger – a double with bacon and cheese – and the cinder sat very heavily in my stomach after lunch. I can't imagine this is how they always cook their burgers, but maybe it is. A couple of diners described the burger as salty, one thought it extremely salty, so I’m not sure what happened there. One diner thought it was the sauce.

The Muddy Burger comes with chili, but mine didn’t. I can live without a forgotten tomato, or even a slice of cheese, but I really enjoy the chili. I pointed the absence of chili to our waitress, and she was quick to carry it back to the open kitchen so they could pour some chili over the open faced burger. Apparently I wasn't the only one who needed their burger corrected. The chili was quite good. It was “real” chili with kidney beans and a pleasant balance between spicy and sweet.

The lettuce and tomato were nice and fresh, but the lettuce was standard iceberg. The bun was pretty good, although quite cold. It held up for most people and was sized appropriately to the patty. Pretty much everybody that had the potato fries said they lacked flavour.

One diner had the Greek salad and said it was delicious.

As I was taking a couple of pictures around the empty restaurant, our waitress asked me if I knew about the “lower patio” that was along the river with reggae music – kind of a vacation vibe. I didn't and I’m sure that would've been a nice place to sit and enjoy a burger on a beautiful day.

Muddy Waters Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Little Bones Wings: 3.5/5

Bacon Double Cheese Burger
Score: 3.3
Platter: $13.00

Score: 3.6

Little Bones Wings, born as a Winnipeg food truck, opened a restaurant in the basement of the Royal George Hotel at 123 Regent Ave in February. In addition to their renowned wing selection, Little Bones has a DoubleBaconDoubleCheeseBurger and a build-a-burger on their menu.  The build-a-burger options are tantalizing!

We had originally planned to check out a nearby burger shack, but yet another monsoon rain changed our plans and we headed indoors to Little Bones. They recommend that you pre-order, but our last minute decision didn’t allow time for that and we showed up en-masse. We were lucky to find them open, as the previous weekend’s three inches of rain had found its way into the basement and LBW needed to mop up. Our waitress rearranged most of the furniture so that we could sit at one long table and that was appreciated.

Chef Alex needed time to prepare more of his secret burger blend from scratch, and our waitress had to make an emergency bun-run. Unfortunately she didn’t come back with the Brioche buns the menu described. Cutlery was delivered in a bucket for us to distribute. Some drinks were handed out, and some were placed on a nearby table for us to self-serve.

When the burgers finally came, they were piping hot and nicely presented in check paper lined metal baskets with an outrigger to dangle the coleslaw. The burger layers were architectural and made an impressive stack. The handmade patties were huge, variable in size and had a nice grill crust. They were quite dry. Interesting seasonings and flavors in the patty intrigued the pallet; sesame seeds added to the visual texture.

Toppings were pretty much limited by your imagination. Choices include an egg, taco beef, chicken pieces, shrimp, calamari, deep fried jalapeños and a selection of cheeses (among many other selections). Today the deep-fried pickles were just .. pickles. I can only imagine all the effort in the kitchen preparing the plethora of customized burger toppings, not to mention their regular fare of wings, wings and more wings.

I opted for calamari rings, deep-fried & crispy onions and provolone. I enjoyed my choices – there was lots of texture and flavour. What the assembly could have used more of was sauces to lubricate the big sandwich.

The burger comes with fries and slaaaww, and an upgrade option to checkered fries. Get the upgrade – the checkered fries were crispy, flavourful and fun – and served  hot. Esther had the checkered nacho fries and said they were awesome. I would describe the slaaaww as shoe-string cut cucumbers in a creamy sauce. Cool and delicious. One person had it on their burger and said it was messy – but they never said the burger was dry so maybe that’s where the moisture comes from.

Little Bones Wings on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tavern United: 4.1/5

Score: 4.0
Platter: $11.99

Ultimate with Chili
Score: 4.2
Platter: $13.99

Ultimate with Mushrooms
Score: 4.0
Platter: $13.99

We’re eating burgers on patios every chance we get, and this week Tavern United at 345 Graham Ave wined and dined Burger Club.

The roof top patio is fantastic. It's big and roomy with plenty of oversized tables and chairs. On a hot day it’s packed with people and we would have had a hard time getting a table together for 12 of us. As it turned out, the patio was quiet with the threat of rain, so there were seats and servers to spare. In the end, there was just a tiny little sprinkle, not enough to make anyone run for cover, and the temperature under the overcast sky was quite comfortable. The small army of propane heaters wasn’t required. It was a little windy though, so the umbrellas were put away lest they carry off our group like a flock of Mary Poppins.

We lucked out with a great sever - the smiling and attentive Brittany.  She wrestled the heavy tables so we could all sit together and took our drink orders right away. There’s a roof top bar so the tasty beverages didn’t have to travel far.

Tavern United just switched to their summer menu, replacing six burger options with two "double smashed" beef burgers. The Ultimate comes with bacon and your choice of mushrooms or chili, the Signature doesn’t. Sandy wrote “At first the double intimidated me, but each patty was thin and flavorful.” It was a big burger, not a huge burger. A couple in our group decided to share, and that worked out just right for them.

The stack was essentially a big diner style burger with processed cheese, but the brioche bun, leathery bacon and delicious, fresh toppings set it well above standard diner fare. That, and the roof top patio, great service and beverages! Sandy wrote “Didn't mind the fake cheese” so I guess it was appropriate for the burger.

The patties were smashed on the grill - crazy shapes sprawling over the bun - thin, soft and juicy. The flavour is in the grill seared crust and a double patty has four sides! April commented “My burger had flavour and it was in the patty instead of relying on the chili.” Karen critiqued “Burger was lightly seasoned, maybe a bit of salt, but it was a thin and fatty burger making it savory. Toppings of bacon (cooked perfectly) lettuce, tomato and condiments made a nice juicy compliment, but not too messy.”

I loved the chili – it was more sweet than spicy, meaty, and there was lots of it. The fresh sautéed mushrooms were also delicious, but given the choice, I enjoyed the chili even more. Nelson wrote “Nice to have grilled onions and mushrooms on the burger. The whole thing melted in your mouth.”

There was some debate as to whether the brioche bun was suited to the double burger. It presented a good burger-to-bun ratio, and was tasty, but perhaps not quite up to the task of containing the double with chili. Cary wrote “REALLY MESSY!” Karen did better with her double with mushrooms: “Bun was nice and soft, but just barely held up for the burger action.” Sandy commented “The bun was nice but my bottom fell apart.“ I caught Chris eating his burger with a knife & fork. Apparently he had a soggy bottom too.

The white potato fries were thick cut, soft inside and plentiful, but the sweet potato fries were the real hit. The only complaint - not enough of them!

Some – but not all - of the food arrived pretty cold. I’m not sure what happened, but they were busy inside and maybe there wasn't enough of us on the roof to have a good elevator turnaround time to the kitchen.

The phrase of the day was: "You can smell mine!" The napkins smelled like fresh laundry. Several diners were sniffing their napkins with faraway looks in their eyes.

One of the perils of outdoor dining is a little fruit fly may find its way into the vinegar shaker. One did, and Sandy wrote a lament:

Dear Fly. Pickled Fly.
In your vinegary crypt.
Lost. Alone.
Until you meet your fry for life.
Or after-life.
Delish fly.

At 8:00 pm the DJ spins up, and security offered to “grandfather” us in with a wristband, but none of us took him up on it. As we left, large security staff were queuing up around the bar ready to maintain law and order during the evening’s festivities.

Tavern United on Urbanspoon