Thursday, August 28, 2008

Burger Blog Does Seattle!

Ahhhh Seattle, they've lost the Supersonics, but they'll always be ballin' to me (sorry)! Seattle has always been one of my favourite vacation spots: great music, bars with pinball, and plenty of opportunities to feed my usual getaway diet of burgers and donuts. I decided to venture out of the downtown/capitol hill area on this trip, and discover a few different Seattle burger joints... here's how the trip went:

Zesto's Burger and Fish House
Bacon Burger
$5.75 (add 75cents for cheese)

A tiny blurb hidden away in The Stranger tipped me off to this great little burger house. Me and the Stranger are kindred spirits: not only do they have great taste in burgers, but last week they ran pieces on Seattle's favourite parking lots, and where to find the city's best Chicken-Fried Steak. But enough about The Stranger... what about Zesto's?

Zesto's makes a pretty darn good burger. Their bacon is crispy and excellent, the patty is homemade, and they aren't stingy with their sauce. I can't stand places that are stingy with the sauce. Zesto's has one hell of a special mayo, and they want you to know it. The only strange thing about this burger is something that really shouldn't be strange at all: it's adorned with burger pickles. I usually find myself with dill or bread and butter pickles. Burger pickles beat out bread and butter any day, and in this case they trump dill too.

Zesto's makes a great burger, and is certainly worth the trip to Ballard. The staff is casual and friendly (the waitress was sitting on the counter when I arrived) and they've got a Frogger machine. Nothing better than eating burgers and playing classic video games.

Dick's Drive-In
Deluxe Cheeseburger

I always stop at Dick's when I'm in Seattle. Dick's has plenty of locations in Seattle, but I always stop at their Capitol Hill joint (it's Sir Mix-A-Lot's favourite Dick's). I frequent Dick's mostly because of their incredible prices: there aren't many places where you can get a burger, fries, and a shake for five bucks. Price is a major factor in Dick's popularity (it's easily Seattle's most adored burger joint).

Atmosphere is also a big draw at Dick's. Four of their five locations (including the one in Capitol Hill) have no seating. If you walk up to the restaurant you can either eat at a small counter in front of the order windows, or you can head back into the parking lot and loiter like a dickens (no pun intended!).

The burger at Dick's isn't likely to blow you away. Standard white hamburger bun, lettuce, american cheese, and a couple smallish patties. I like Dick's, but I'm not sure I love it. Their milkshakes are great, and I love the aura of the place, but I've never found the burgers to be anything more than good. It's just disappointing that their burger never feels quite as unique as the place that serves it, and the surroundings in which you eat it. But when you're eating a double cheeseburger that's under 3 bucks, and it doesn't suck — there's really nothing to complain about.

Kidd Valley
Blue Cheese Bacon Burger

You have to be pretty ballsy to do business across the street from a Dick's Drive-In. Jack-In-The-Box tried, and now their Capitol Hill store has plywood for windows. Kidd Valley sits just up the street from Dick's Queen Anne location (the only location with seating) and after a quick glance at the wall, it would seem they've received almost as many plaudits as Dick's. However, once you take a closer look at the awards on the wall, you'll notice they stop at 1999. Almost a decade since an award, makes you wonder what the hell Kidd Valley has done for the PNW lately.

Judging from the burger I ate, they haven't been doing a whole heck of a lot. The edges of my bun were burnt, and the burger wasn't exactly incredible. They get points for using chunks of real blue cheese, but the patty was a little tired. The bacon was ok, but nothing special. Without the blue cheese to mask almost all other aspects of this burger, I probably would have been disappointed. This is an ok burger, but you'd be better off going across the street to Dick's.

Red Mill Burgers
Deluxe Double Cheese

Like a myriad of other great burger joints in America, Red Mill is a little anal about its condiments. One of the first things you see when you step inside Red Mill is a sign that says: Our Mill Sauce is a Mayonnaise Based Sauce IT IS NOT THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING. I can only imagine the hatred that seethes through Red Mill employees when some douche bag infers that they use the same "special sauce" that Dairy Queen and A&W use. Red Mill's Burgers may have a bit of an assembly line feel to them, but they're a hell of a lot better than your average fast food enterprise.

The toppings are fresh, and the american cheese is expertly melted in-between the two pre-formed (not pre-fab) patties. The burger is just a little greasy, and quite tasty. Although I enjoyed Red Mill, I have to say it wasn't everything I expected. Red Mill is often touted as the best burger in Seattle, but I found myself liking Zesto's more. There's a little more personal flair injected into the burgers at Zesto's. Red Mill is wonderful, but it's hard to forget it's part of a chain (albeit a small one) that probably pumps out thousands of burgers a day. There's a lot of hype surrounding Red Mill, and I'm not sure they completely live up to it.

Two Bells Tavern
Tavern Burger
$10 (add $1.25 for cheese)

Two Bells makes a good decision by serving vege toppings on the side. This beefy little unit comes dripping in molten grease and rides a sourdough raft that slides around like a dog on a frozen pond.

After flirting with the option of blue cheese, I decided instead to top my burger with Tilamook Cheddar (an Oregon cheese that is a favourite in the PNW). Tilamook is like Armstrong for the upscale: it's a supermarket cheddar that's noticeably more flavourful than your average shelf cheese.

In addition to the Tilamook, this burger is topped with crisp bacon and piles of fried onion. Due to the myriad of greasy toppings, only a whisper of mayonnaise is applied to the bun. Normally I would deride a cook that isn't generous with his/her mayo, but any more and the bun would have squirted away from me with enough velocity to fly across the room and give the bartender a concussion.

Although this burger is a bit of a cluster fuck, it generally works. One of the major advantages of eating in a bar is you don't end up with some half-retarded teenager working the grill. Instead you get a methodical, middle-aged burgermeister. The grill cook at Two Bells definitely knows what he's doing; the burgers he serves up are thick, juicy, and pretty darn tasty. I'm not sure about the garlic-bready bun, but otherwise this is a great burger.


VERDICT: Two Bells may boast the best burger since 1983, and Dick's may be championed by George Motz and Bill Gates, but Zesto's is my pick. Loads of special mayo, great bacon, and a tasty homemade patty will always win my heart.

PS. I'm too lazy to add addresses, phone numbers, and URL's for all these places, look them up yourself.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Movie Review: Hamburger America

Editor's Note: I've been on vacation the last week or so, and therefore the lack of a burger review this past week. Until I get home and do a rundown of burgers I ate on vacation; enjoy this movie review:

I realise this movie came out three years ago, but give me a break. The book that accompanies the DVD was only released this year, and it's been pretty much unavailable in Canadian stores. The lack of prominence on Canadian shelves is understandable, but it's unfortunate as well. Hamburger America is not just a great food documentary: it's a great documentary period. The only thing more fascinating than the burgers documented, are the personalities that make them. From the dude using 93 year old grease to deep fry his burgs, to the dude that calls people who like mayonaise "sissies", the burger barons in this film personify how multi-dimensional the burger world is. This is a must see for anyone interested in burgers, or americana in general. The movie is only 45minutes, but I could have watched hours of this stuff. This DVD comes free with the book of the same name. It's an outstanding documentation of burger culture: buy it immediately.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Swans Brewpub — 506 Pandora Avenue — 250-361-3310 —

Swans Burger
(add $1.50 each for Bacon and Cheese)

Swans is generally not a place you go to eat: it's a place to go and get shit-faced. Not a night goes by when the dance floor isn't filled with middle-aged men who look like zombie walk participants doing the twist. While the old folks pile in to hear whatever band-for-hire is playing, and have a few award winning brews, local hipsters crowd the corners and down cheap pitchers (12 bucks on Wednesdays!).

Swans has long been one of Canada's top brewpubs, but the kitchen has never received the same accolades. Even in local circles, it seems people are pretty indifferent to the pub fare at Swans. Locals will praise the Canoe Club, and slam Spinnaker's, but it's hard to find a strong opinion on the food at Swans.

So with no hearsay or hype to tamper with my taste buds, I ventured into Pandora Street's most popular pub...

The Swans Burger is not quite excellent, but it does have some excellent components. The lettuce and red onion are fresh, the bacon is crisp, and the patty is wonderful. Swan's could easily cop-out and offer up a pre-fab patty, but instead their kitchen has crafted a superb homemade number. The patty is approximately a quarter pound, well seasoned, and cooked just barely past medium-rare. This is easily one of the juicier, and tastier homemade patties I've had in Victoria.

There are only a couple of things that stop this tight little package from achieving true star status: Swans is pretty stingy with its chipotle mayo, and the bun is kind of cheap. Too much mayo would mask the star power of the patty, but I would have appreciated more than a dusting. As for the bun, it just doesn't quite stand up to the beauty of the beef. Imagine Mozart giving a concert at the Blanshard Courts; somehow it doesn't fit. In short — this bun is dating out of its league.

You need all your burger soldiers working together to achieve excellence, and Swans isn't quite there yet.

Excellent patty, but still a step away from being an excellent burger.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Moderne Burger — Vancouver, B.C. — 2507 West Broadway — (604) 739-0005 —

Moderne Steak Burger
$7.95 w/o Fries ($10.95 with)
Add $1.25 each for Cheese, Bacon, and Fried Onions

You know you've been closed a long time when your hiatus starts spawning conspiracy theories. Well maybe only one conspiracy theory: my aunt is convinced that Moderne is a drug front, cleverly masked as one of the city's most beloved burger bars. How she came to this conclusion, I have no idea — in reality Moderne Burger is a critically acclaimed mom and pop burger shoppe (that appears to have employed their daughter's entire homeroom class).

Whereas my aunt found Moderne Burger's recent fourteen month hiatus suspicious, most Vancouver burger lovers found it excrutiating. The extended closure marked the second time in three years that Moderne had been removed from the local burger landscape.

In 2005 Moderne shut its doors for four-and-half months after a fire next door spread to the popular diner. Customers showed up with welcome-back cards, and flowers after their beloved burger joint re-opened after the short hiatus. When it re-opened for a second time (on June 27th this year, after completing over a year's worth of renovations) the scene was pure pandemonium.

So what the hell is the big deal? A simple case of absence makes the heart grow fonder, or is Moderne a true burger mecca?

A month after re-opening, and Moderne Burger is still more popular than a pony in a petting zoo. I walked into the restaurant about ten minutes before close, and the place was nearly overflowing. The teenage waitress at the counter seemed incredibly out of place (until I heard her call the proprietor dad). She was the kind of girl you'd expect to see falling down drunk at Richard's on Richards, not serving burgers at a 50's style diner.

In addition to looking out of place, she was totally useless as a greeter. When I walked into the restaurant she was standing around at the counter smiling, but giving absolutely no verbal welcome to customers. Being a take charge kind of guy, I muscled my way to the counter and grabbed the attention of someone useful, who was able to take my order.

I think its safe to say that after being closed for more than a year, the majority of the Moderne Burger staff is new to the restaurant. After a month the young staff has had ample time to learn the Moderne system, but still seem to lack the pride that is associated with being an employee of Vancouver's most critically acclaimed burger joint.

A lack of pride is the only reason I can think of for the laissez-faire way in which key elements of the Moderne Steak Burger are assembled. The burger is by no means bad, in fact it is fairly good, but it's certainly not up to the standard I expected from a place with such fanatical followers.

Two cardinal sins are commited in the construction of the Steak Burger: its bun is not toasted, and the cheddar cheese is far from melted. The befuddling raw nature of the bun makes for an incredibly greasy affair. This is the type of burger that leaves the bottom bun struggling for survival as your patty flaps in the wind. I enjoy a greasy gobble as much as the next guy, but I expect my burgers to maintain a basic structural integrity (I also hate soggy lettuce).

The bun is the biggest problem here, but it's not the only underwhelming element of this burger: the bacon (although tasty) could certainly be crispier, and the patty is completely unseasoned. I'm not making that up; Moderne actually takes pride in the fact that its burgers are completely free of "seasoning of any kind." Moderne uses good quality, flame-grilled meat, but for fuck sakes season that shit. There is nothing evil about salt and pepper. Come on Moderne, you're supposed to be pros — pros don't serve uneasoned patties and then act all high and mighty about it.

Although they try very hard to sabotage their burgers, Moderne does make a decent product. The special sauce is good — and although the staff doesn't seem to know what to do with them, the other burger elements are top notch too. Still I have to admit, of the big three (Moderne, Vera's, and Splitz) Moderne is surprisingly the least deserving of its hype.



After hearing various rumours about the deliciousness of Moderne Burger and the possibility of ties to organized crime, I entered Moderne with what can only be described as naïve hope for the best burger ever. The sparse, yet effective, décor only helped to perpetuate this feeling of excitement. By the time I tried the Creamsicle milkshake I was positively shaking with anticipation.

My anticipation, however, was not very well rewarded. Perhaps I’m being too picky here, but I like my bacon crisp, my bun toasted (and not soggy), and my grease not dripping. I realize the dripping grease is most likely out of their hands, but the limp bacon and soggy, un-toasted bun could easily have been solved.

Despite everything, the milkshake was one of the best I’ve ever had.

Excellent fries and shakes, but the burger cooks here make too many rookie mistakes to live up to the hype. I'm also a little upset with the fact that the price of a burger and fries at Moderne is three bucks more than it was only six years ago.

HELEN'S VERDICT: Moderne Burger has serious potential to live up to its reputation. Perhaps during that one-year hiatus, they should have hired someone who knows how to cook bacon and use a toaster.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Porch's Take Out, 3025 Comox Road, Courtenay, B.C - - (250) 339-4383

Hamburger with cheese

Working for a radio station means putting long hours into various community events, such as this past weekend when I was stationed in Comox for "Nautical Days": a 3 day event, which required me to stand in the sun for 5-8 hours per day. A strenuous task which has its rewards, such as being able to dine at many of the food vendors who all vie for your business. Porch's is a regular vendor. I had the opportunity to feast on their food at many local events such as the Vancouver Island Music Fest and Canada Day in Campbell River. They seem to be the only vendor who really pride themselves on their burgers.

I have never tried a Porch's burger from their home base location in Courtenay, but have driven by it many times on the way to Comox. It's a shack looking place that sits on a gravel lot right beside the waterfront off the highway.

Their burger is simple with a great, chewy bun. The onions are cooked and add to the burgers savory demeanor. The cheese could have been melted a little better, but the patty was decent. It was definitly pre-made, tasting very similar to an M&M meat shop sirloin burger(I'm not accusing them of not making their own patties, just pointing out that it tastes similar to M&M's).

I would be upset if Porch's claim to be the "best burgers around" was actually true, but aside from over rating themselves, they still put out a good product. The price is very fair.

Verdict: Whenever I go to a local community event, Porch's is there, and usually wins my business. Not the best burger around, but not bad.