Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Olympia Diner: 4.2/5

Bacon Burger
Platter: $10.95
Score: 3.9

Mushroom Burger
Platter: $10.25
Score: 4.3

Fat Boy Burger
Platter: $9.25
Score: 4.3

Olympia does it right! Great service and food - just like you’d expect from a Greek restaurant – and nobody left hungry.

The interior of the restaurant was very pleasant and they had one long, roomy table set up for our group. Our waitress was super - all smiles and on the ball. I think there was only one mistake – Dani was missing the mustard and relish from her burger but the waitress brought them out in ramekins right away. She also brought refills without being asked. There was a bit of a wait before the burgers came out, but then they all came out pretty much at once. They were big patties so would've taken a while to cook.

There was more burger than bun – the patty was a good 5-6” wide and still reasonably thick. It had a nice texture and was firm and juicy. There was a nice beefy flavor and chopped onion in the patty. It was filling! The burger was assembled with a hot side and cold side - chili, bacon and cheese on the bottom, lettuce and tomato on top. Even the top bun was cold. Karen said the best way to eat the burger was to flip it as you picked it up so the hot is on top and the cold is on the bottom – because it just tastes better that way! It was hard to get a look at the bacon because it was enveloped in chili and cheese, but going by the chewy texture, it was leaning towards soft. I enjoyed the chili - there was lots of it and it was more sweet than spicy. There was lots of tomato on my burger - carefully placed in a layer to cover the top. The one out of place thing on the burger was the big dollop of bright green relish in an otherwise great line up of fresh ingredients. Just say no to green! The sesame seed bun was very nice, and fairly dense but still soft.  It definitely did the job and held together to the end. Mike liked the size and roundness of the bun and noted it “fit perfectly in my palm.”

The Greek salad was absolutely delicious and the Romaine was top notch. There was also plenty of delicious Feta and chunks of tomato. Olives have good survival instincts - I don't like them and 4 took refuge on my Greek salad. The fries were also excellent. The platter was huge - they couldn't have loaded any more salad beside my already large burger. One characteristic of Olympia Diner that everyone really liked was you didn’t have to choose between salad or fries for your side – you could get “half and half”. Each half was a large portion so bring your appetite!

My ice tea had a slice of lemon that was almost too big to fit in the glass!

Like the Park Tower up the street, much of the clientele were enjoying their retirement years at their favourite Greek restaurant and may well enjoy less spicy food. Olympia gives their diners what they want!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sandi's (The Pemby) (closed): 3.9/5

Bacon Burger
Score: 3.8

Mushroom Burger
Score: 4.3

Cheese Burger
Score: 3.8

Who doesn’t enjoy a Build-A-Burger?!? There’s just something satisfying about being able to specify your own perfect burger. Choosing a long list of toppings doesn’t make it a huge burger though - at least not at Sandi’s. She balances flavour against quantity and delivers a perfectly packaged little burger that the bun envelops adoringly and doesn’t all end up in your lap.
The cozy little restaurant attached to The Pembina Hotel is Sandi’s by day and House of Pizza by night. House of Pizza is also excellent (and cheap) so that’s a win-win situation! I didn't let her know our group of 14 were coming, but her waitress and Sandi set us up quickly in the VLT lounge. We would've filled the restaurant proper and patrons already in the lounge offered to move around so we could push some tables together. Sandi threatened to put one of us to work in the kitchen helping prep if we ever showed up without warning again. The waitress looked a little alarmed at the inrush of diners but pulled it together quickly and set us up with cutlery and napkins, got us started on our Build-A-Burger checklists then started bringing out drinks.

Burgers came out fast, but one at a time. The first burger only took 10 minutes after the last form was submitted. Okay, it was my form. I was having a difficult time with the pressure of making good topping choices and didn’t realize how long I was taking until the waitress “ahemed” and I looked up to everyone staring at me. The only service complaint was that the first people to hand in their checklist ended up being the last to receive their burgers. I think the papers got shuffled as they were gathered and more people joined the mêlée. The presentation was an assembled burger on a small white ceramic plate with a frilly cocktail stick holding it together.

It’s my favourite tasting patty so far. It just tasted really beefy and was nice and juicy. Several others thought the patty fairly plain though, so I was outvoted. Tastes vary and that's why we team-rate! Stan commented “Meat patty was handmade and had a nice texture. It was not overly salted or spiced which was good. Knowing that, I'd probably add the Jalapeno's next time.”
It wasn't a big burger - the hand formed patty was thick enough to keep it from drying out, but it was a fairly small diameter. Sandi adjusted the toppings so it didn't result in a humongous burger. I had two cheeses which meant a sprinkle of two different kinds of shredded cheese. I had three sauces - they were all there, and the flavour balance was good, but it wasn’t messy.  Stan observed “Burger was nice & neat. No sloppiness. I liked that.” All of my toppings were from good quality, fresh ingredients. I think if you're expecting a gigantic burger with all the additional toppings you might be disappointed though.  Cary wanted a fried egg on his burger that wasn’t there so he was a little sad. Dani observed “Maybe the cook realized that eggs on burgers are really gross and saved Cary's taste buds.” April tried to beat the system by asking for her Salt & Vinegar chips on the side, but all she got was the tablespoon of chip-bits that would’ve gone on her burger but didn’t. The toasted sesame seed bun was tall and fluffy and perfectly sized to the patty. Omega Russ commented “Bun to burger ratio was spot on with little spillage (one mushroom escaped).”

I really enjoyed Liz and Esther's fries too. As always though, some people liked the fries, and some didn’t. They were soft and dark and potato-y. I didn’t hear any complaints about the gravy so I guess it was good. The poutiners were happy. “O' rings were standard fare.” according to Stan.
We sat in the VLT lounge so I didn’t have time to appreciate the chalkboard menus and illustrations in the restaurant until we were leaving. The “flashing” hotdog was the best. The Build-A-Burger was fun, but they also have regular menu burgers for cheap. A Fat boy is just $4.25.
A couple of the Burger-gurls wrote on their review slips that “Russ needs to put out more”. Better take your vitamins Russ! The quote of the day came from Liz: “Small buns make a pickle look bigger.”

The Pemby Draft House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jolly Friar Cafe (Norwood Hotel): 2.8/5

Bacon Burger
Score: 3.2

Fat Boy
Score: 3.0

Cheese Burger
Score: 2.2

When you go for a burger at The Norwood, have the ribs!

Several of us had dined in the bar before and the pizza was good and the ribs were great. Why not try a burger? I made the mistake of making a reservation - that put us in the little Jolly Friar Cafe instead of just walking into The Wood Tavern - oops. They set up tables for us on pretty short notice (albeit in an awkward boomerang shape) so I figured we'd better just stick with the restaurant rather than moving to the bar.

The restaurant was pleasantly decorated and the tables and chairs were comfortable. Our meals came on nice big plates with real cutlery. There's one kitchen and one buffet, but the bar’s $9 "Super Deluxe Wood" costs $11.75 around the corner in the cafe. I think people were more disappointed at not being able to say they wanted “Super Deluxe Wood” than the larger price. The second mistake I made was not listening to the alarm bell that went off when, after making the reservation, I told the person on the other end we were all having burgers and she said "Why don't you have the buffet?"

They were not prepared for a group of our size. The kitchen was running out of ingredients and our waitress was challenged to keep up. She did her best to make things right though, and fixed all the mistakes with patience and a smile. She also discounted all of our bills and we ended up paying less than we would have in the bar. She didn’t have to do that, so that was quite generous.

The kitchen used both their flame broilers to prepare all our burgers at once. The patties looked huge on the grill and took a while to cook thoroughly. Our meals were pretty much ready all at once, but no one helped our waitress bring out the food so it took her five trips. She was already returning plates for correction before she'd even finished bringing out the first wave of meals. Most of the mistakes were in the toppings and by the time April got her lettuce and tomato served to her on a side plate, they’d obviously come from someone else’s burger – mayonnaise and all! It’s a good thing we’re all friends here or that might be disconcerting. Burger Clubbers write down on their review slips what they had and Tazz noted “Friar Burger with bacon: Missing onions, missing tomato, missing bacon. Missing the point of serving a good burger.”

The patty itself was large, thick and hand formed. It was a fine grind but had a tangy flavour which some really liked and some didn't. To me, it tasted like there might have been vinegar in the meat. There was some debate that the taste was the "tangy burger sauce." I pulled off a bit of meat and thought it had the same tanginess. The bacon was crispy and my two slices were standing at attention. I like crispy bacon and I enjoyed the flavour of mine, but others had bacon that was burned quite black. There were two kitchens and three cooks preparing our meals so that may explain some of the differences. My two slices of Roma tomato were ripe (others had green tomatoes), but miniscule compared to the patty - two bites and they were gone. Scott commented “I understand the need to save time by pre-slicing the vegetables; I just wish they hadn't sliced them during WW II.” There was the tiniest amount of sauce on the top and bottom bun of my burger. It definitely wasn't a messy burger. They put standard condiments in squeeze bottles on the table, but I guess because Kari specifically asked for mustard and relish on hers, she got little containers on the side. The whole wheat Kaiser was a nice size for the burger and held together well. The bun was good.

I tried the fries - they actually tasted like they'd been reheated in a microwave. I don't know if that's really what happened, but that’s how the texture and taste was. The brown stuff tasted like greasy flour. The yam fries however, were delicious. Esther’s poutine tasted great with lots of melted curds, but when April got her order a little while later, it had greasy melted mozzarella all over it. Hmm. Stan commented “Took a few reminders and coffee didn't arrive 'til I was half finished the burger. It was very good when it came.” Also, “Easily the worst coleslaw I've ever had.” Omega Russ noted “Onion rings were standard freezer fare” and his “Coke was nice.”

I think the moral of the story at The Norwood is to have the special or have the buffet. Tazz summarized with “The Wood Tavern put the words bu and grrr in burger!”

Jolly Friar Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Wood Tavern on Urbanspoon