Thursday, March 26, 2015

Loona Rossa (closed): 3.9/5

Score: 3.5, $5.25

Mushroom Burger
Score: 4.3, $5.45

Bacon Hamburger
Score: 4.1, $5.45

Bacon Mushroom Double Cheeseburger
Score: 3.8, $7.70

Loona Rossa is nestled on the banks of the Red looking just like a romantic prelude to Frank Sinatra's Blushing Moon - a loose translation of Loona Rossa. There’s no flashy façade and it’s easy to miss the little restaurant nestled up against Guay Park behind all the shrubs and trees. The interior mirrors the exterior – cozy with memorabilia and brimming with a jungle of plants.

The restaurant at 460 St.Mary's Road has been in the family for 30 years. The day we visited for lunch dad Dimitrios was cooking and daughters Nia and Tina were serving. The small restaurant filled up quickly with regulars that included retired people and police officers – both indicators of good and reasonably priced food.

Loona Rossa is best known for their gigantic pizza and liver and onions – but we were there for the burgers. The menu offers eleven different permutations and combinations ranging from a $4.75 Hamburger to the massive $7.70 Bacon Mushroom Double Cheeseburger. At lunch you can have the burgers by themselves; for supper they're served as a platter.

Two tables of four were pushed together, and with an adjacent booth, the twelve of us could sit as a group. Waters, cutlery and menus were waiting for us and Nia was quick to take our orders. We only had a few minutes to visually explore the kitschy adornments before our meals started coming out of the kitchen. Russ squeezed into the corner booth and exclaimed “People must have been tiny when this place was built … tiny people with HUGE mouths!” Les observed “The flower in the window is très belle! The tree in mid-restaurant is impressive.”

I was in awe when Nia set down my Bacon Mushroom Double Cheeseburger . Much like the cliffs of Greece, the stack face seemed to have eroded back showing me all the layers of fresh fried mushrooms, grilled onions, curly bacon and two very well crusted beef patties. The American cheese was still skinning over and the assembly was topped with a sesame seed egg bun speared with a frilly cocktail stick. Thick slabs of red tomato, plenty of shredded iceberg lettuce and standard toppings of Thousand Island, mayo, mustard and relish peeked out from between the strata. It was messy!

Other burgers delivered on large plates were equally impressive. One of the first things you noticed was the little break wall of sweet pickles arranged in front of the sandwich. A number of our group were so moved they took a “pickle shot”. The Greek salad side was equally massive and dwarfed the already large burger. Golden fries filled the plate. Stan wrote “Loved the burger; very nice patty and bun. The fried onions were perfect. The side of coleslaw was also excellent and generous.”

Much as we've come to expect from Greek restaurants like Olympia Diner and Tuxedo Village, the burger was very mildly seasoned without much distinctive flavouring or spice. It’s comfort food and won't offend any palates. Loona Rossa prepared a diner style patty that was well cooked, seared and crusted on a hot grill versus a thicker home-style baked patty.

If there was any criticism about the sandwich, it was that the bun was a little large. I had the double and the burger:bun ratio was right, but single patty variations were a bit bun heavy. Karen noted “Loona's burger seemed to be all about the toppings which were plentiful and very tasty. The burger patty was a bit small for the bun but it had a nice crust on it. Plenty of bacon cooked to perfection. I tasted pepper as a seasoning which was nice.

Stephanie dug into the fries and wrote “Homemade fries were superb!” Karen scribbled “the Greek salad as a side was generous with tons of feta and green olives.” She ate half of it, took the rest home and we shared it for supper. Russ echoed “awesome Greek salad.” Russ also took salad home.

Nia and I had a moment to talk burger restaurants and she commented that every place has its own aura. Certainly for the many locally owned restaurants we've visited that’s true - I think the most chains can hope to imbue is a unique “décor.” Loona Rossa definitely had a distinct quality – I liked it!

Loona Rossa on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

King’s Head - March Special Burgers: 4.4/5

Raspberry Jalapeño BBQ
Score: 4.8, Platter: $9.95

Stuffed Bleu Cheese Bacon
Score: 4.4, Platter: $10.95

Island Burger
Score: 4.3, Platter: $10.95

Poutine Burger
Score: 4.2, Platter: $11.95

Burger Club are big fans of the King’s Head Pub at 120 King St, and when I heard about their March Special Burgers, I dropped what I was doing and booked us in. This was our fourth ‘official’ visit and it landed on the fourth anniversary of Burger Club. 25 people made it out and staff had us set up at one long table on the bar side – they know how we like it!

The King’s Head does service well and true to form, Kim did a fantastic job taking care of food and drink orders for our large group. Dave and Reg helped out and Chef Steve made a couple of burger deliveries himself to make sure we were all enjoying his and Jay’s creations. I don’t know how they do it, but the platters were coming out 5-10 minutes after people ordered.

Run, don’t walk to the King’s Head this March

The new pretzel bagel bun was the hot topic and Jay Khanuja told us how they tested three different buns. They’re big, messy burgers and he knew the traditional Kaiser wasn't going to be up to the job. The first pretzel bagel they tried was too dense, but the pretzel bun they settled on was a soft bite and elastic enough to hold the whole assembly together to the last mouthful.

King's Head hand forms the 7oz. beef patties using 15% fat chuck steak. The burgers are thick, firm and filling. The meat is tasty on its own and the mild seasoning leaves room for the flavourful toppings to make their own statement. No one left hungry and the platters are good value ranging from $10-$12. They put our burger handling to the test though, and even the training video didn't help unless you had gigantic hands and could do a pinky squeeze.
Russ wrote “Oh happy day! I highly recommend Winnipeg peeps head down to the King's Head before the end of the month. The 'Raspberry Jalapeño BBQ  Burger' has perfect sweet heat and pairs great with a Guinness. It makes your mouth warm before warming your belly.” Jacques said “I love the pretzel bun, they should keep it on the menu. I was impressed with the spicing; the patty was well formed and meaty.” Interestingly enough, this was supposed to be the ‘Chipotle and Jack Daniels BBQ Burger’ but the Chipotle peppers were off their prime so the kitchen made a quick change to use Jalapeños with raspberry sauce which ended up being the favourite.

Blue cheese burgers are tricky to flavour balance because if there’s too much or too little, or the nose doesn't work, diners can be sad. The King’s Head nailed it perfectly to make the ‘Stuffed Blue Cheese Bacon Burger’ the #2 March Special favourite. Scott wrote “I've been away too long, but it was like coming home. Good friends, good food.” Back in December 2012, Jay made us a blue cheese stuffed Khanuja with Cajun sauce and onion rings on top. It was a special creation and had we ranked it, it would be in our Top 5.

The ‘Island Burger’ was the popular choice at Burger Club. Chris wrote “The creaminess of the avocado was nicely paired with the slight spiciness of the mango sauce. The pretzel bun was the best I’ve ever tasted.” Liz commented “Sauce was a bit too spicy and overshadowed the flavours of mango and avocado.” Nicole echoed “It was close to being too spicy for me. It obscured some of the rest of the flavours – avocado was too subtle to stand up to the chili.” Karen bubbled “I enjoyed what I could manage to eat as the patty was huge! All the flavours were stellar – spicy, sweet and messy. The patty was simply seasoned, fine ground and the sauces worked to compliment.”

The fourth special beef burger was the ‘Poutine’ – also a popular selection and visually impressive. Geoff always gives me good words and had this to say “Since I've never seen anything like it before, I had to try the Poutine Burger. There was quite the heft to the creation, especially with the new pretzel bun. It was pretty tasty; the poutine meshed well with the beef. By the end, once it cooled the potato/cheese creation emulated another patty in consistency. Thankfully they don’t tell you how many calories it has!” Nat wrote “A slippery, tasty mess. Did not hold together, but boy was it tasty!” Stephanie scribbled on her gravy stained review slip “I died and went to poutine burger heaven. Fun combination.” I should mention the gravy was another favourite – dark with plenty of garlic and roasted onion. I saw a couple of people drinking out of the gravy boat.

If you don’t make it down before the end of March, don't worry because the regular menu ‘Big Khanuja’ is as tasty today as it was four years ago and is a favourite at the King’s Head. Isabel had it and exclaimed “They don’t call it Big Khanuja for nothing! Spicy! My ideal combo for a burger – bacon, jalapeños, mushrooms, onions and cheese – but OMG … so big! I feel like I need to have a nap.”

Jessica tried the ‘Lamb Vindaloo Burger’ but wasn't wowed: “Difficult to taste the lamb that was overpowered by the sauce. Not too spicy.” April wrote “The Bison Burger was good but a little middle heavy.” Brian critiqued “The burger was served open face showing the melted cheese and bacon on one side and the tomato and lettuce on the other side. The  patty was thick and dense and maybe a little dry (expected with bison).

A couple of diners had the regular menu burger and Esther shouted “AWESOME BURGER! THE OVEREATER IN ME WANTS TO EAT A 2ND ONE. THE BUN WAS THE BEST I HAVE EVER HAD!

Tonight we were trying everything on the menu and newbie Lisa had the Veggie Burger. “Delighted to be invited to the Burger Club in spite of breaking the ‘First Rule of Burger Club’. I enjoyed the Veggie Burger, though not the best I've ever had. Pretzel bun was great, but filling and salty. Fries and malt vinegar always a treat at the King’s Head.”

King's Head Pub & Eatery on Urbanspoon