Thursday, February 27, 2014

Big Rick's Hot Rod Diner: 3.9/5

The Big Single Burger
Score: 4.1

The Duece Burger
Score: 3.9

The Cadillac Burger
Score: 3.9

Big Rick’s Hot Rod Café isn't retro, it’s the real thing - a bona fide diner. When you step through the door you're enveloped in memorabilia. You could easily spend an hour studying the walls. Rick brought in some car stuff, then diners started adding  their own relics to the walls. When asked if he was working on a car now, Rick answered "No, it's too cold!"

The diner at 379 Henderson Hwy is easy to miss if you're not watching for it. You might mistake it for an auto parts store as you drive by, but around the side you'll find the unassuming entrance. The location started out as Dutch Maid Ice Cream back in 1962. Several of the original stools have lost their tops and are now just chrome posts. One's capped with a tractor seat. Rick's had the restaurant for 27 years, but ice cream wasn't a big seller in the winter, so he decided to start serving hot food. A friend sitting at the counter piped up "we put that grill in 18 years ago."

Rick's laid back – I think he just enjoys cooking at the grill – and he has a system. First the bacon is cooked under a press. With the grill properly bacon greased, Rick forms and places the patties, pressing them lightly. He sprinkles on a little seasoning. When the burgers are just about done, the bun bottoms go on and soak up a little flavour from the grill - mine was served hot and crispy. I was talking to Rick and he said “the burgers are made with beef  ... pause ... well, BEEF" looking at me with amusement, implying what else would a burger be made from?

Rick works from good quality fresh ground beef and handles it very lightly. It's a straight-up, old school diner burger and I'm sure purists will name it a favourite. I sure enjoyed mine. The lack of binders made it a fairly fall-aparty patty. It was thick and juicy though, and cooked thoroughly. I had the Cadillac double burger and each patty had its own accompanying bacon layer to snuggle with. The two layers of gooey cheese did a great job of welding the assembly together and there was a little frilly cocktail stick spearing the stack.

The Cadillac comes with lettuce and tomato; the Duece doesn’t. I enjoyed the tomato, but the lettuce made it a torpedo burger. I think I'll have the Duece when I go back. Geoff liked his “The Cadillac burger was a jaw unhinger indeed, the two homemade patties and extra bacon packed some heft. A bit crumbly, so was the bun, which struggled at the end to keep everything inside.”

As always, tastes vary, and many in today’s gathering of Burger Club thought the patty a little under seasoned, while some said it was nicely flavoured. Most of the bacon was cooked to leathery perfection, but one or two diners got theirs a little soft. I guess not all the bacon fit under the press. Stan gave his sandwich a nice review: “The Big Single was designed just the way I like a burger: mustard, relish and raw onion. No need to customize for me. Really nice looking hand formed patty that matched the bun.”

The burger may not have won Best of Show, but it clocked a respectable lap time and always makes it to the finish. It was tasty and very inexpensive, scoring a high value rating. Newbie Jessica was succinct when she wrote “So good, I had a second.” A single burger is $3.50 and it’s a big patty. Russ said “it was a perfect handful.” If you live in River East, you're lucky because you've got both Sonya's and Big Rick's Hot Rod Diner close by for an inexpensive, delicious homemade burger in a diner setting.

Roberta was a great waitress and appreciative hostess. Practically everyone complimented her by name on their review slips. Karen wrote “Our server Roberta was attentive, prompt, and took our orders as we came in the restaurant.” The diner scored well for service. When I called to make a reservation, Roberta said "Are you a joker?" I don't think they get a lot of reservations, so I guess I was calling with a warning. When we arrived to take over the mismatched collection of tables and chairs in the back, there were souvenir takeaway menus at all our seats.

The fries were good and you can get a half order, although Cary cautioned “Warning: Half order of fries is very small.” Geoff noted “Fries were a bit nondescript, but still tasty.”

We were joined by a few new burgerers this week including Burger Club’s youngest member, Fox – only 4 months old!

In addition to the ancient ice cream freezer, there are other clues to the Dutch Maid beginnings. The big glass bowl for the 14 scoop - free if you can eat it - Mortal Sundae of Doom (or something like that - hopefully a reader will correct me) was still on the counter, although it now holds the mail.

This is Esther. She really likes burgers. Esther introduced me to the Hot Rod Diner a few weeks back but couldn't make it to Burger Club this week.

Big Rick's Hot Rod Diner on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Le Garage Cafe: 4.3/5

The A Burger: Platter: $10.50

Cheese, Bacon or Mushrooms: add $1.00

Score: 4.3

Le Garage Café - the place to be in the French quarter full of patrons cheering on Canada to beat Norway 3:1 in Olympic men’s hockey. CBC television arrived to film the fans and caught Burger Club in the act. I only hope my boss didn't see the news as I’d slipped out of a meeting for this important lunch. The fun continues this week with Festival du Voyager starting Feb 14th. Le Garage Café is an evening entertainment venue as well as catering both the Franco Manitoban Centre and Fort Gibraltar.

In 2008 the tiny café at the front of 166 Provencher Blvd expanded into the old Eagle Bus Line service bays in the back of the building. It’s a wonderful intimate music venue and I remember well my visit after the stage was built to see the Good Lovelies perform.

Despite being quite busy, our waitress Kaylynn was spot-on greeting us and taking our drink orders. The table was already set with cutlery, glassware and menus so they were ready for us. I think she was surprised when we all ordered burgers. The plates all came out at once and each of us received our own unique combination of toppings and sides as specified. When it came time to settle up, Kaylynn made payment quick and easy by passing out individual bills then waiting for us by the till.

The burger patty was large and served open faced. The first thing you noticed was it had been nicely seared on the grill. A bite confirmed it – moist with a crispy crust – it was delicious. The patty was fairly dense but not hard. I’d describe it as home-style – savory vs. spicy with just the right amount of salt and pepper. “Really flavourful“ Stephanie commented. Les, our roving reporter, spoke to owner Ray Beaudry, and he told the story of how they had a competition to come up with the best burger. Chefs and staff entered, cooking up their specials in the kitchen. One of the serving ladies won with her mother’s secret recipe.

There was lots of wrinkly crispy bacon and real cheddar cheese on mine. I asked for fried onions and received a generous portion and a ring of fresh red onion as well. There was a nice thick slab of tomato and iceberg lettuce topping the burger. Condiments were simply mayonnaise. The bottom half of the toasted sesame bun seemed to be soaked in delicious grease. The burger wasn't dripping, so not sure if that’s because the bun soaked it up, or it was from being grilled, but it was tasty. Stan wrote “the patty and bun made a perfect match.”

Les summarized “One of the best burgers ever. Nicely done, crispy outside, tasty, zesty – and a very good bun too.” Les topped his burger with fresh, fried mushrooms. Mike’s patty came in a heart shape just in time for Valentine’s Day. “Bonus points!
Cary had the Poutine and enjoyed the real cheese curds. He was also taken with the pulled pork Mac & Cheese on the menu and plans to come back and try it. Nelson liked the skinny fries and noted there was only “One choice of burger on the menu, but it was a good choice.” I had the potato-cheddar-bacon soup and it was very hearty. Mildly seasoned and the fresh potato taste came though – I enjoyed it.

Photo: Constance Popp
After lunch some of us ran across the parking lot to Popp Chocolates next door. I was in a panic to make sure I had heart shaped chocolates for my sweetie for Valentine’s Day tomorrow. Just walking into the shop was dessert for the olfactory senses. My taste buds waited until the next day and I can say with feeling, Constance Popp is the le chocolatier extraordinaire!

Le Garage Café on Urbanspoon