Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bar Italia: 3.7/5

Bar I Double and Deluxe Fries with Bacon & Cheddar Topping

Bar I Burger
Score: 3.7, $5.58

Bar I with Bacon
Score: 3.7

Bacon Mushroom Burger
Score: 3.6, $6.47

This week our mission of burgering in the sun led us to Bar Italia at 737 Corydon Ave. It’s a vibrant location with two patios. The larger faces the side street; its wide and treed and where the action is. The alternate patio faces Corydon and has the option of large roll out awnings.

I was expecting a dozen diners for supper today, so Karen and I got there early to try and grab some tables on the Cockburn side (see this video for pronunciation tip). It was hot and action packed and we had great drink service from Stephanie, but it was quickly evident we weren’t going to get enough seats together. Luckily more forward scouts arrived on bicycles and let us know the front patio was all but empty and in shade. The only downside, it was self-service.

We moved around front and sitting together in the shade made our experience very enjoyable. Dining on the Corydon side provided its own entertainment – the chaotic dance of non-stop almost accidents, meter maids handing out tickets and tow trucks hauling away major offenders.

One by one we headed inside to the bar to place our beer and burger orders. Saskatoon's Great Western Original 16 was on tap - it was cold and hit the spot. Our group grew and we kept adding tables, inching across the patio like a glacier. A lone diner was a good sport and gifted his table to our long line – thanks dude! There were 20 of us; we used up the entire liquor occupancy permit and still spilled over to the Cockburn side.

Our burgers didn't take too long to come out – less than 10 minutes for many people - and a variety of staff helped deliver. It was mayhem and for the most part, people got what they ordered, but there were a couple of mishaps. A server said “Here’s your mushroom burger” to Cathy, but a few minutes later she realized it wasn’t.  She didn't share his sense of humour when he responded “Well, all the orders are out so someone at your table is enjoying your burger." Karen noted “Fairly good service - forgot my boorgur though!” Good thing she had a pound-o-Calamari to distract her or things could've gotten nasty. When a sharp young server noticed the absence of burger, he got her one quickly and comped it, so all was well.

Bar Italia makes up a fresh batch of burgers in-house every three days. It was a very lean, dense patty, I’d say a minimum (if any) of panade or seasonings went into it. They were all cooked pretty much the same – a nice black grill crust with a pink middle. I think the pink was a good idea – if they’d been well done, they would've been pretty hard. At one point the restaurant filled up with smoke and a patron was overheard asking "Why is it smoky in here?" to which a server responded "We're cooking a shit-tonne of burgers for some reason."

The general consensus was the big bun was delicious – Isabel said “it was good for catching mayo-tomato drips”, but the patty under-performed in flavour. The toppings, with the exception of fairly hard tomatoes, were top notch. The stack had real cheddar, crispy bacon, fresh sautéed mushrooms, fried red onions and plentiful aioli sauce. It was definitely a good value burger.

My bacon-mushroom burger was messy – just the way I like it! The big slabs of tomato slid around and there was lots of sauce. Les noted “Good bun holds it all together!” Sandy wrote “I've recently realized that the best food is "in balance" without overwhelming flavours. This burger, even with bacon and mushrooms, had this "balance" - but was underwhelming just the same. My tomato was a little under ripe & was distracting.”

Urbanspoon: WeHungry
I shared Karen’s Calamari and it was fantastic! Big tender rings with a nice light coating you could sink your teeth into. The potato sides also got rave reviews. Sandy scribbled “Loved the fries & old school mozza-poutine.”

Bar I Deluxe Fries with Garlic & Herb Topping
Although we served ourselves, staff visited several times to make sure everyone was happy. Just as we were wrapping up and starting to clear our tabs, the patio waitress started her shift :p

Bar Italia on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sandy's Snack Shack (Geppetto's) - Richer, MB

Hamburger - $5.50

Cheeseburger - $6.00

Adirondack Burger - $9.75
If you travel from Winnipeg to cottage country in The Whiteshell and Kenora, you probably know all about the kitschy wooden signs and fun lawn art creations at Geppetto’s along the Trans-Canada highway. What you may not know is that Geppetto’s wife Sandy also cooks up great food at the Snack Shack. Keep an eye out for the flags about 5 miles east of Richer (N49 39.748 W96 21.236). You can even phone in your order at (204) 422-8809.

The menu includes, perogies, chicken fingers, pulled pork, fries, hot dogs, and of course, my favourite - burgers! The star in the burger lineup is the Adirondack which sells for $249 but includes a chair. The chairs are John’s real talent and the Geppetto’s shop is where he builds his red cedar patio furniture. You can try out one of his lawn swings and enjoy your burger in comfortable shade.

If you don’t have room for any more Adirondack’s on your porch, you can have just the burger for $9.75. It’s a double burger with cheese, grilled onions, bacon, chili and all the usual groceries. Sandy hand forms the patties and cooks them up hot on the grill while you wait. It’s a firm, moist patty and tastes of beefy goodness.
She uses Bothwell cheese and the buns are fresh from Harvest Bakery. It’s a soft, light bun that held together nicely. There were three, thick, curled up slices of bacon and a liberal amount of chili that was more sweet than spicy.
Enough to make it messy, but not so much you needed a change of clothes afterwards. I also quite enjoyed the mess of fried onions. It’s a delicious, filling, burger.

The Adirondack was served wrapped in foil-paper with an exaggerated cocktail stick to hold the assembly together.

Karen opted for the smaller cheeseburger with chili and really enjoyed it. The standard condiments, mustard, relish and ketchup are on a side table for you to apply as required.

Another reason to stop at Geppetto’s is the fun 18 hole miniature golf course John had professionally designed and built. It’s challenging, with plenty of water features (and hazards) and some tricky breaks. It also shows that they’re big Bombers and Jets fans.

Geppetto’s celebrated their 20th anniversary on Labour Day in 2013 and John and Sandy put on free fish fry for anyone that came by. John fried up Red Snapper he’d caught in the Florida Keys and served it with beans.

They snowbird for the winter, and this spring returned with a crazy looking fry-guy, his girlfriend and a burger buddy.

If this all sounds like heaven to you, you may want to consider being married at Geppetto’s because John also performs marriages.

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%.

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 (closed): 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