Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fox & Hounds Tavern (closed): 3.9/5

Wolf Hound
Score: 4.1
Platter: $11.20 (tax inc.)

Grey Hound
Score: 4.2
Platter: $8.95 (tax inc.)

Basset Hound
Score: 3.7
Platter: $7.85 (tax inc.)

In a recent Free Press article Lee Poworoznik declared that he’s a "burger guy … and decided six months ago to create a dish that would put the Fox & Hounds on the burger map for years to come.” Of course Burger Club had to head right over to try their new creation and the Fox & Hound's general manager wasn't gasconading – the Wolf Hound is an awe inspiring burger!

The Fox and Hounds Tavern is the grand old beverage room of the St. James Hotel constructed in 1928 at 1719 Portage Ave. There’s plenty of parking around the back; we used the rear entrance and were immediately greeted by our cheery server, Malory. “Les and Stan are already sitting.” We're already on a first name basis - fantastic!
Malory took our food and beer orders as we arrived – and we just kept arriving. I thought we were going to be a smaller group today but  we had to extend our already long banquet table. She was attentive – and patient – with a quirky sense of humour that kept the banter lively. Russ was impressed that Malory “Rattled off the on-tap list with the greatest of ease.”

The large, high ceilinged beverage room encompasses an impressive central bar. The bar “wench” pointed out the carefully chosen relics scattered around the space and had a story to go with each of them. Like the broken hockey stick framing the specials board that a patron staggered into one night and snapped in half. The overseeing Snooty Fox was the star of the bar though. When I phoned to make the reservation Robin answered and said: “I’ll put you in the bar at table 7. Oh wait – better make that table 13. Table 7 is where the regulars sit.” Everyone in our group enjoyed the décor and charm of this “Cheers” style pub.

I wanted a picture of the bar and there were three guys sitting at it so I asked if they’d mind being in the photograph. One jumped up and dashed for cover saying “No way! I don’t want my wife to know I’m here!

There’re three themed beef burgers to choose from – the flagship Wolf Hound, Grey Hound and Basset Hound. They all come as platters with fries, but you can ask for no fries and they’ll take $0.95 off. The fries are really good though, so make sure your neighbor orders some so you can eat theirs. Lee told me they plan on expanding the burger menu with a Reuben Burger and a Pulled Pork Stuffed Burger. I’ll be back for those!

I wanted the Wolf Hound burger because - who wouldn’t! It’s sandwiched between two, well, sandwiches. The top grilled cheese is cheddar and bacon and the bottom is Monterey Jack. The burger’s topped with caramelized onions and a thick layer of deep fried pickles. I’m not a fan of dill pickles and I didn’t think it would be fair to judge the epic creation with the pickles removed so I opted for double Basset Hound. Nelson called it “the least intimidating burger on the menu - it's hard to fear a Basset.”

It was huge - a single burger would have filled me up, but I really enjoyed the taste of the two thick patties. They were nicely spiced, firm not dense, moist not juicy, with a nice dark grill crust. The bacon was cooked to leathery perfection and tasted great.  There were two slices of delicious red, ripe tomato that added juiciness of the sandwich, and shredded iceberg lettuce – which made eating the burger without torpedoing it a bit of a challenge. I’ve practiced my technique many times and managed to keep my grip. There was a cocktail stick holding the stack together but it wasn't scaled for my double Basset Hound Burger and disappeared into the top bun - frill and all.

A few people had the Grey Hound Burger that came with banana peppers, caramelized onions, zesty mustard and Monterey Jack cheese. Les commented “The peppers added a nice zesty taste to a nicely flavoured burger.”

For those that had the Basset or Grey Hound Burger, the common lament was the bun – The Kaiser fell apart. I saw three people eating their burger with a knife and fork.  Les, a retired bus driver quipped “I ordered the Greyhound for obvious reasons and the bun broke down early in the journey but I guess that's par for the course.”

The Wolf Hound was the star of lunch hour. The top and bottom grilled cheeses offered plenty of flavour on their own – and didn’t fall apart like their bunned brethren. Geoff wrote “There is definitely some heft to the package; each grilled cheese is a full sandwich. The deep fried pickles were nice and juicy. The "Jimmy" is a place I've quaffed many pints at over the years.”

Settling up was also a treat – the big burger platters were inexpensive to begin with, but when you realized the price included tax, they tasted even better!

Fox & Hounds Tavern on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Barley Brothers (closed): 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.

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.