Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lovey's BBQ: 4.4/5

Cheesy Burger
Score: 4.1

Bovine Bacon Burger
Score: 3.3

The Terminator
Score: 4.6

Roger LeBleu, owner and Pit Master at Lovey’s, loves his meat. You could hear the reverence in his voice when he described slow smoking the brisket and thick slicing the bacon. "No see-through bacon here!" He cooks the burger patty by frying it in its own juices on the grill, then moves it to the flame broiler to give it that magical char flavour. There's a veggie burger on the menu and Scott asked Roger if it was really made from vegetables. It is, and Roger offered up the quote of the day: "Some people don't eat meat - how sad is that!"

Lovey’s is counter service, which is certainly an economy of serving staff (there was just the one). She was taking orders as well as bringing out the food - and she did great. Roger invited me and my camera into the kitchen, which I appreciate. I enjoy watching the ballet of chefs sweeping around each other, and seeing my meal cooked and assembled before my eyes. It's another level of enjoyment in my dining experience.

The patty was large and juicy - the fatty kind of juice, not the watery kind. It was fairly soft - I expected it to fall apart, but it didn't. I cut mine in half (as I usually do) to improve the handling, but with this big, soft heavenly mess, that made it less manageable. I got by with a minimum of fallout though. It had some nice char flavour, but didn't actually have a grill-seared crust. It was fairly lightly spiced. Roger talked about the seasoning when he sat down to ask our opinions afterwards. He said some people think it’s under seasoned, and others feel it's too spicy. He tries to find the middle ground.

I opted for the Terminator 2: Brisket Day, that came with brisket on top instead of the usual pulled pork accompaniment. It was delicious. It was a very balanced burger and I enjoyed each and every flavour - one bite at a time. The brisket was sliced thin and had been fried up on the grill just before assembly. It was crispy along the edges, tender in the middle. The bacon was very flavourful, even a little sweet, thick sliced, and somehow leathery and crispy all at once. Not like thin crispy bacon that shatters when you bite it.

I quite enjoyed the chili sauce - both for its flavour and the additional sloppiness it contributed to the burger. I was aware of the real cheese slice, but it wasn't as strong a player as some of the other burger team members. We suggested to Roger that it would be nice to have additional cheese choices. The iceberg lettuce and tomato had a little bit of January-in-Winnipeg sadness. They could've used some ripening in a hot climate somewhere.

I asked for fried onions and no pickle which is just what I got. I don't like a hot tasting onion, but the fried onions pretty much disappeared on the burger. That was my rookie mistake. There was also a big onion ring on the burger, which was fun for the eyes and contributed to the flavour and texture. If there was coleslaw on the burger, I didn't notice it.

The Terminator 1 came with a good slather of BBQ sauce over the pulled pork topping. Karen had the T-1 and wrote “I ordered the Terminator, it was very wet and sloppy. I enjoyed all of the ingredients. The pulled pork and bacon were very tasty.” Stephanie liked hers too “The bacon was delish! The BBQ sauce had a good spice. Overall, a very good burger. I'll be in a meat coma for the rest of the afternoon.” Geoff commented “Been here a few times and I've never left hungry. There's a lot going on with this burger, lots of heft. The last bite was as good as the first.”

The bun was okay, and held together, but was the weak link in the burger chain. I can't say specifically why, it just didn’t add anything special. It's definitely tricky to match a good bun to a burger, as we've seen at so many restaurants, and we told Roger that too when he asked. The patty is larger than a standard 4” and messy, so not just any bun would be up to the task.

The fries were good and plentiful, and I liked the creamy coleslaw. April commented “Fries are soooo yummy and the burger was a good value.”

Cary appreciated the bulk napkins on the table “Rolls of paper towel are good so you can make a BIB!” One disconcerting thing about our long, private dining room - was the mirror along the wall where you could watch yourself  - and everyone else - eat. One wall was covered in photos of party room alumni grinning in their pig ear hats.

Lovey's has a cooler full of Boylan to choose from, and as a bonus, is also licensed. The chalkboard proclaims Lovey’s to have the best selection of Bourbon in Manitoba.

Lovey's BBQ & Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fox & Fiddle (closed): 3.6/5

Perogie Burger
Platter: $15, Score: 3.8
Beef Burger
Platter: $11, Score: 3.0

Cheese Burger
Platter: $12, Score: 3.9
Bacon Cheese Burger
Platter: $13.50, Score: 3.6

The Fox and Fiddle is a beautiful restaurant in the old Toronto-Dominion Bank at 456 Main St. The interior is high ceilinged and finished with stone and wood. There are solid wooden tables, comfortable leather chairs and a long marble bar. Just about all of the Burger Clubbers today commented on how nice the décor was. There's a small patio among the stone pillars out front that is no doubt packed in the summer. The stairs to the basement wrap around a modernized old cage elevator. You pass by a bank vault on the way to the washrooms. It's a locally owned franchise that began in Toronto and opened in Winnipeg in the fall of 2012.

We arrived early and were promptly greeted by a happy hostess. At first I (and she) thought they hadn't set us up. As it turns out, they were ready for us; they just don't set the tables at the Fox & Fiddle. The only things put out were the drink menus and the ever-present little cardboard contest tents. Our cutlery was delivered to the table wrapped in a sturdy paper napkin and neatly stacked in the middle for us to distribute among ourselves. You receive a linen napkin during supper hours.

Our smiling and efficient waitress, Katie, took our drink orders right away and brought out glasses of water for those who requested them. She made sure to get our names for the bill preparation later - rather than the usual diner #1, diner #2, etc. They already had our names with our pre-orders so this just made more sense - and was friendlier! The fun drinks were served by the sparkly bartender; a couple of people ordered the special - cherry blasters.

There were beautiful girls serving in the front and a guy's kitchen party in the back. I asked if I could visit the kitchen, and when I was shown to the hub of activity, one of the chefs asked me where the best burger was. Another chef called out "Fox .. and .. Fiddle!" The third wisely quipped "the one that's in front of you." All three chefs were bustling and seemed to be enjoying preparing our food.

The burger changed since I was last here in October. I didn't realize until I'd made the reservation that our visit coincided with a new menu including revamped burgers. I'm beginning to realize that full menu restaurants like to change up their recipes once in a while to keep things interesting for their regular patrons. It could also be chain strategy to try and stay fresh and trendy. A straight-up burger joint has their secret recipe and they never change it. The Fox and Fiddle replaced their “Banquet”, “Crushed Peppercorn” and “Mediterranean” burger packages with more of a build-a-burger offering. You choose either a beef, chicken or veggie patty then specify a la carte toppings. However, they also added a Perogie Burger to the menu and that’s the one that caught my eye.

I wish I could record tastes and smells as well as thoughts and images, but I seem to remember my burger back in October being juicy and flavourful. Today's burger had no additional seasoning that I could discern - just good quality beef. They were flame broiled, and perhaps it was a lean cut, but they didn't pick up the charbroiled flavour and were quite firm and dry. Our food came out a little later than we'd requested. I'm not sure if there was a miscommunication, or they were waiting for our entire party to arrive before bringing it out. It's possible some burgers were kept warm for a while. I've no doubt a group our size – fourteen this week, all with custom orders - challenges the kitchen to prepare meals and serve them all hot and at the same time. However, when our food came out, Fox & Fiddle got it all right the first time – no mistakes!

The Perogie Burger was a work of art. Russ said the “the burger presented as very impressive.” It was a big burger, but not so massive that I couldn't get my mouth around it. It had a nice potato and cheese perogie - that at first glance looked like a fried egg - on top of the burger. The perogie was big and round - sized to the bun - and flat. There was also split farmer’s sausage and delicious fried onion. Sauerkraut and cheddar cheese rounded out the toppings. Condiments on the burger included sour cream for the perogie and spicy mustard with the sauerkraut.

The assembly was very well engineered with neighboring stratum carefully chosen for compatibility. The bun was described as brioche on the menu. It was a doughy soft white bun whose surface seemed to crumble away as you handled it. It did have a nice glaze and appeared toasted, but mine was cold. The whole package was sprinkled with crispy fried onion bits that cascaded off the crown onto the surrounding plate. They went well with my salad. I had the mixed greens with a pleasant balsamic dressing served on the side. The salad ingredients were fresh and I quite enjoyed mine. This was echoed by other Burger Clubbers that had the mixed greens.

Somehow, even with all those layers of potential flavour on the perogie burger, it didn't throw my taste buds a party. Cary wrote “Flavour was lacking - not bad, just not wow.” Bess opted for a plain burger and had this to say: “Surprisingly average. I'm doing a Paleo diet, so I didn't eat the bun (no wheat) and that allowed me to focus on the dry, flavourless patty.” Some had the complete opposite opinion. A couple of diners described the patty as moist and flavourful. Notably, one late arrival who’s Perogie Burger was made fresh. That may say something about the pre-ordered burgers congregating in the kitchen until it was time to come out and meet Burger Club.

The burger patties are hand formed in the kitchen from good quality, fresh ground beef – with “no filler” as the menu proclaims – and well done on the flame broiler. Russ described them as a “homemade style burger”. I’m sure some diners would enjoy the straight-up beef taste and texture of the unseasoned, firm patties, but I've grown to like a patty with a little juiciness and some seasoning to it.

As to the build-a-burger diners, based on their reviews and comments, you should load up on the a-la-carte toppings. You're already committed to a plain beef patty for $11, so you may as well spring the extra dollars for some cheese, bacon and moist, flavourful toppings like fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, or jalapeños - and really enjoy your burger. April built up her burger, but commented “While the burger was good, I didn't feel it was a $14.50 burger.” She also upgraded to poutine, so her platter was $17.50. I thought about this perception of value. The build-a-burger can end up the same price as a bundle - $15 for the Perogie Burger - but somehow it’s not as fun when every one of your topping choices comes with a price attached. Also, pre-bundled burgers simplify it for the diner by presenting options, the assumption being the chef has created tasty signature combinations.

I think everyone agreed that the lettuce and tomato toppings were nice and fresh. Karen had a bacon-cheeseburger and wrote on her little rating slip “Nice burger, but the patty was a bit hard and chewy and not very flavourful. Toppings of lettuce and tomato ingredients were fresh. Bacon was a bit underdone. Fries and onions were a good addition along with the melted smoked gruyere cheese.” Stephanie had a jalapeno-cheeseburger and wrote “Bland burger. Toppings did not add to the burger experience.” In juxtaposition to these comments, Nelson quite enjoyed his: “Really enjoyed this burger. The bun was very nice and the burger was flavourful and juicy.”

The consensus was that the fries were good. Josilda noted “Fries delicious!” Karen though they were “very nice and crispy.”

On a closing note, the Fox & Fiddle did not apply the dreaded auto gratuity that diners dislike so much. We were permitted to choose our own tips and that was appreciated.

Food pr0n for any veggie-lovers that have found their way here. Fox & Fiddle makes their own veggie patties in-house. Check out the whole peas, corn niblets and black beans!
Fox & Fiddle on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 3, 2014

Danny’s BBQ (closed): 4.6/5

Buck's BBQ Burger
Platter: $14
Score: 4.5

Danny's Whole Hog Burger
Platter: $16
Score: 4.9

The Big Daddy Tazz Burger
Platter: $16
Score: 4.9
There’s been a shake up in the burger-verse! Danny’s BBQ did everything right to become Winnipeg’s new #1. Our Top 5 burgers have remained unchanged for so long, I was starting to think we’d already found Winnipeg’s best, but we hadn't been to Danny’s BBQ & Smokehouse yet.

Danny’s BBQ opened in the summer of 2012 in the former Hu's Asian Bistro and Grapes location at 1747 Ellice. Many Manitobans will be familiar with Danny’s Whole Hog catering whole hog roasts for many years. Danny Kleinsasser and Buck Pierce opened the new restaurant together so you can come for Danny’s BBQ & Smokehouse and stay for Buck's Sport Lounge. The large venue is also home to the Big Daddy Tazz's Social Emporium 140 seat theatre. This week we were lucky enough to have Big Daddy Tazz and mini-Tazz burgering with us and captivating us with ghost stories.

There was a blizzard going on outside, but that didn't keep anyone from showing up for Burger Club! I booked ahead - I knew we were going to be a large group for our holiday burger - and without being asked, Danny's created a "Winnipeg Burger Club" menu just for us. How fun is that! The choices included the Buck’s BBQ Burger off the regular menu, as well as a new Danny’s Whole Hog Burger with pulled pork on top, and The Big Daddy Tazz Burger that was a double with a lot of extra’s including Guacamole sauce. We preordered to save time, and pretty much every one of us made modifications to our burger. The platters came out shortly after we arrived, and with one exception, everyone got exactly what they ordered. The erroneous burger assembly was returned to the kitchen and quickly corrected.

I can't say enough about the service. Each of us were greeted at the entrance and shown to our dining room. We were setup in the 35 seat VIP room and that worked great for our group of 17 - we were in a U-shape so could all see and converse with each other. The VIP space is quite inviting and noise baffled from the main dining room (we’re the noisy ones!) We had a great waitress - Terry - and she was assisted by Maddy when delivering the plates. Terry was friendly with a big smile, but she was no-nonsense efficiency when it came to serving our group. The kitchen manager, Ty, and chef, Dom, both came out to make sure they'd got it all right and everyone was happy. We were.

The Burgers

Most weeks some of our group love their burger, and some not as much. This week everybody seemed to really enjoy their burger and the consensus was the charbroiled flavour made the patty. Yes, Danny’s flame broils their burgers. I remember having a discussion once with another diner that a flat top grill is better because you’re not losing the juices, but for me, you can’t beat the flavour of an open flame. The beef was quite delicious all on its own. It was moist but not juicy, firm but not hard, a nice thick patty, cooked to perfection and deliciously seasoned.

I don’t know how they did it, but the onion rings on the Buck’s BBQ burger were still crispy and I really enjoyed the texture.  The bacon was thick and cooked to leathery goodness. As Andrea put it, the “combination of the patty and the bacon gave the burger a nice smokey flavour.” The cheese was plentiful and the taste came through. I opted for the Monterey Jack on mine; Sandy had the cheddar and said “I loved the cheese/onion ring combo.

Every burger had two thick slices of juicy, ripe tomato - loved it! I don’t know where Danny’s found all the ripe tomato this time of year, but I’m glad they did. The romaine was fresh and bright green and served to grip rather than making a burger torpedo like Iceberg lettuce does. Andrea verged on poetic when she wrote “Freshness of the lettuce and tomato was a clean, crisp contrast to the texture of the meat.“ The flavour balance was great - it made my whole mouth happy.

If there was any room for improvement, it would be in the bun. The sesame seed - egg bun had the right density and girth to support the big burger, but was a little dry and crumbly. This was the prevailing opinion, so the bun was probably the only thing between the burger and perfection. Brett wrote “Bun was fine but not quite up to the duty.” It was a very well designed burger and stayed together for me, but I always cut mine in half. Some mock me for this, but I think I’m the clever one.

April summarized nicely “My burger was just the right size, tasted great, had all my requested exceptions and was set in front of me as I arrived.” Karen was even more concise “OMG! What a stellar burger!

Most of our group had the Buck’s BBQ Burger and it was a winner. Brett had The Big Daddy Tazz Burger and wrote “The patties had a charbroiled flavour with a nice crispy outside, well seasoned, moist, and not too dense. Nice bite from the hot sauce and could taste the guacamole. Not too many onions.” Jeff had the Danny’s Whole Hog Burger and wrote “This made my 4-mile run this morning totally worth it!! The burger was excellent, and the pulled pork on it was sheer brilliance!” I also had the pulled pork on my burger, it was succulent but the smokey flavor comes from the selection of delicious sauces. A couple of burgerers bought bottles of Danny’s BBQ sauce to take home. The only one you couldn't seem to buy any more was the "Danny and Buck's Jerk Sauce" - apparently they took that one off the menu. 

All the Danny’s burgers come as platters and you choose two sides from a wide selection. Today, the clear winner was the garlic mashed potatoes and gravy. Sandy wrote “As great as the burger was, the garlic mashed potatoes were divine! I think we need a mashed potato club next!!” Dani noted “The gravy had a nice savory kick to it.” The fries were also a favourite as Karen wrote “Liked the fries and gravy was super tasty.” Also getting good reviews were the coleslaw which was a creamy mix, and the baked beans with pulled pork mixed in. The beans were mildly flavoured so don’t expect a strong BBQ smoke experience. Mike commented that the “Jambalaya had nice flavour”. Russ said “Great fries and chili.”

Danny’s BBQ & Smokehouse also got a high “Restaurant Rating.” That’s where we rate the Service, Price and Comfort. Danny’s was second only to Sonya’s and that’s because you can have four Sonya’s burgers for the price of one Danny’s. I guess that’s the difference between running a small mom and pop shop like Sonya’s and operating a large, well provisioned restaurant like Danny’s.

Danny's BBQ & Smokehouse on Urbanspoon