Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Burger Time! - Part 2 - Where to go

I'm back, talkin' about burgers.

Now, making burgers at home is easy enough (as hopefully demonstrated in Part 1), but who amongst us is likely to cook a burger when the marketplace abounds, fairly teems, with burger purveyors of all levels of taste and quality?

But where to go? Well, there's always "Rotten Ronnie's", but as someone who once worked there (albeit when I was 15), I can safely say that if I never eat another McBurger again, that's just peachy by me! And that's not even considering that the McDonald's model has led to massive animal feedlots that foster e. coli tainted beef and rampant globalization of a product that is pretty much crap. Is it any surprise I'm not a fan?

Yet oddly enough, I don't disparage all large fast food burger chains. I happen to have a craving for Wendy's burgers once in a while. Maybe it's because I could find these regulations: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Where_does_wendy's_beef_come_from (not that this is free-range beef or anything, but at least they display some standards - I saw nothing for McD's). Either way, I just find Wendy's better made and better tasting. Might be because they use tomato, lettuce and mayo on their value menu Junior Burger... So, I stand firmly in the Wendy's camp of the "Big 3" burger chains. Being a Canadian, I have the added option of Harvey's and A&W. But to be honest, I find Harvey's burgers a bit oversalted and kinda rubbery, while A&W is something of a lesser version of Wendy's. So, I'm a Wendy's guy. But even then, I eat at fast food burger chains maybe twice a year.

Let's be honest here: Would you rather eat at some giant conglomerate where the person cooking the burger couldn't give a flying fig about their product, or would you prefer to go where burgers are more of an art form and you can taste the love (or at least the like)?

Ottawa, like any decent city, has its share of kickass burger joints. Today I'll be covering the three top rated, based on a contest in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. According to a poll of Citizen readers, the Top 3 were Chez Lucien at no. 3, The Works at no. 2 and Hintonburger coming in First Place. Luckily, I've eaten at all three of them, so I can give you feedback on whether or not the voters got it right...

Well, to start off, if it was me, I'd switch #3 and #2 around. I've eaten at Chez Lucien in the Byward Market more than a few times, while I've only been to the Works three or four times. They each have a VERY different take on restauranteuring - Chez Lucien is clearly meant to be a "local" pub with a really good, yet specific, menu and food - and a slightly "insider" vibe, while The Works is there to cater to the Everyman (and the tourist) and provide any burger possibility you can imagine (somewhere in the neighbourhood of 75 different burgers).

The Works is almost a bit overwhelming with its multiple burger choices, and in the end, while they're really freaking good, I found there was a twinge of dryness to the meat, and the restaurant's atmosphere has always made me feel a bit... unwelcome? Maybe I've just always gotten lousy servers... Also, Works is growing to become a chain with over a dozen or so locations in Ontario and other provinces. And you know what happens when you become a chain? Quality is the first victim. Maybe I'm too late and the Works' glory days are behind them... But they're worth checking out if only to have the experience of picking from all those different kinds of burgers.

Chez Lucien provides a choice (amongst their beef burgers) of the Frieda and Diego Burger (jalapeno peppers, fried onions and Monterey Jack cheese), the Chez Lucien burger (cream cheese, bacon and mushrooms) and the Bourgeois burger (Brie cheese and pear slices). I haven't picked a favourite, they're all delicious. Another bonus is that the standard presentation comes with a fries/salad combo, and the fries come with mayo instead of ketchup. The whole thing has a nice upscale but unpretentious vibe to it. It's also great value for the plate, each one coming out at 11-12 dollars. They also provide a salmon burger and tofu burger, but who wants that?!?!?

Next, we get to the champ: Hintonburger. Hintonburger is a bit of a case of striking while the iron is hot. Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood is knee-deep in gentrification-y goodness, which means a lot of new restaurants have opened up, as well as a couple of "food shacks" (for lack of a better term). One of the leaders of this charge is Hintonburger, who originally opened up in a tiny little shack of a spot in 2010, before making enough dough to take over a former KFC location up the street. The little shack has since been taken over by SuzyQ Doughnuts, whom we'll discuss in a future post (a hint though: Maple Bacon Doughnuts). But the nostalgic aesthetic and service set-up of the original location must have had the hipsterrati popping coolness boners on their classic 3-speed bikes... Lord knows it created a lot of buzz and crowds.

Me? I just like a good 'burg! It also helped that one of my friends works there and would occasionally put a bit of extra bacon on my burger... SHHHH!!!

The sign says it all

As for Hintonburger, they're still bustling with activity and probably making a good chunk of money to boot. And why not? Their burgers are KICKASS! Named after streets in the area, you can get the 4 oz. Armstrong burger or the 6 oz. Wellington burger, both of which come with the standard toppings one would expect. But really, the way to go is the Hintonburger, a 6oz. patty with bacon, cheese and BBQ sauce (and it's really good BBQ sauce!). At 8 bucks (prices have gone up despite what the Web site says), it might seem a bit steep for a place that's trying to evoke a stationary chip wagon, but it's 100% worth it, especially with a mess of Onion Rings on the side...

The only real downside with the way Hintonburger present themselves, yet also part of their charm, is the wait. While you expect the service will be like a fast food joint or diner, it's a pretty lengthy process. On a busy evening, give yourself 20 minutes between ordering and actually having the grease-stained paper bag in hand. But it's totally worth it and you get to chat with your neighbours. Unless they've trucked in from outside the neighbourhood... which most probably have.

And now, we wait... At least the company's pretty cool!

Now, what I find sets the Hintonburger burger apart from most isn't the toppings, because they're pretty basic, and it isn't the bun which tends to disintegrate long before you're done eating. What really makes the difference is the MEAT! Hintonburger prides itself on using locally farmed beef, meaning it's a lot fresher than most and you can taste the difference. They also season and grill it perfectly: just salty enough, cooked through, no pink, but still juicy.

Now THAT's dinner!
They also serve hand-battered corn dogs, which is pretty frakking cool...

All in all, I believe Hintonburger has earned their title of Ottawa's Best Burger. That being said, it'd be really cool if someone new steps up to the challenger's plate in the future...

So, there are just a few of MY favourite burger joints here in Ottawa. I'd hardly call myself an expert or a burger "aficionado". Luckily, there's at least one local blogger who is, because, apparently, Mike Likes Burgers...

So, that's it for this segment on burgers. Next time, we get to my favourite yet most frightening aspect of burgerdom: the crazy sh** people do to themselves via burger!

'Til then, happy snarfing!

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