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

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sherwood Forest Chipstand - Gull Lake, MB

Friar Tuck Burger

Platter - $7.95

It’s March, the cold has snapped, and visions of summer burgers are dancing in my head!

If you're heading to the Northstar Trail, Victoria Beach, or Powerview this summer, travel the less beaten path and let highway 12 lead you straight to the Sherwood Forest Chipstand. The home of the Friar Tuck burger is nestled in the trees at the corner of #12 and Stead Road near Gull Lake (50.400075, -96.491142). You can buy gas there - a good thing as gas stations are sparse in the area - and visit a wonderful little store offering all the essentials including treasures you'll only find in the country and fresh smoked sausage waiting on the counter. It’s a popular gas station with plenty of pickups, gravel trucks and ATVs coming and going.

The Sherwood Forest Chipstand has its own little park complete with picnic tables, shaded by some big Cedar and Birch trees. If it’s raining, there's a screen room with plenty of spacious tables and benches. The Sherwood has a welcoming, country “at-home” feeling. Families go there for supper, teens go there to flirt with their dates, and the grownups have a party picnic table on the path between the Chipstand and the store. The only word of caution - the guest facilities are an outhouse, so if you’re not that much of a naturalist, plan ahead.

They do a good business of take-away and catering, so depending how busy they are, you might get your burger quickly, or you might have some time to enjoy the scenery. When Karen and I visited it was full, people were ordering ice-cream sundaes, and they were cooking up mountains of food for a function that evening. It's window service - as burger stands are – and I was greeted by a smiling lady working the kitchen by herself. She took our orders and was quite happy to fry up some onions to go on my burger.

Still, it didn't take long for my gigantic sandwich to be prepared – and I really enjoyed it. The burger was juicy, tasty and filling. There were two big hot-off-the-grill, finely ground and fairly firm patties on my Friar Tuck. The fried onions, combined with the cheese and plentiful bacon, created a third layer of happiness. Condiments added just the right amount of messiness. The tall stack presented a challenge to keep my burger assembly from sliding apart, but I like a challenge.

It’s quite inexpensive - the Friar Tuck with fries or onion rings is $7.95. If for some inexplicable reason you don’t feel like a burger, they also make pizza, perogies, corn dogs, Jalapeno mozza sticks and deep fried breaded pickles! What more could you ask for?