Editor's Note: Blog faithful will remember ages ago we introduced Miles Bissky as an esteemed correspondent. It's been a while, but he has finally submitted a second review to us! Enjoy his take on one of the favourite burger spots of my childhood, and a place that I still make a point of stopping at when I'm in the area, Hungry Herbies Diner in Cache Creek...
I strolled up to Herbies under the bizarre glow of yellow florescent lights, cringing as I thought of the last time I visited, two years prior. I had only vague recollections of my last experience when I inadvertently flung my chocolate milkshake over several tables when trying to save a fry from falling off the tray I was carrying to my table. The embarrassment of my clumsiness had blurred any memory of their “famous” monster burger. I opened the door to the restaurant and enjoyed the nostalgia of a separated restaurant. I'm not talking about racial segregation here, I'm talking about a distinct smoking compartment. Herbies has two completely separate and disconnected dining rooms. It has a unique central kitchen and three ordering counters; one counter for outside orders, one for non smoking and one formerly for smoking. Despite the obvious health benefits of preventing people from smoking in restaurants, I do miss the small town charm a smoking section once provided. According to the wait staff the smoking section only closed in 2008; surely Herbies must have been the last vestige for smokers seeking an indoor burger and Marlboro.
The menu is boldly printed on the wall and I'm sure it hasn't changed much in the last 40 years. They have everything from poutine to fish and chips and hot dogs; they also do breakfast from 8-11am. Obviously though, I came here for their pièce de résistance – the Monster Burger – which is proudly advertised at several points along the caribou highway (the trans Canada heading north to Cache Creek and highway 97 headed south). I know several avid bikers who occasionally make a day trip from Hope to Cache Creek specifically for the Monster Burger at Herbies. The Monster burger is pictured on a massive billboard a few miles south of town – the burger depicted looks sloppy and condiment heavy. In fact my wife remarked that the burger looked like something from thisiswhyyourefat.com. The wait staff at the restaurant are very friendly and passionate about their distinctive Canadiana faux drive in. I ordered a Monster burger, side of fries and a quencher (the only bottomless drink on the menu – it consisted of sparkling water, some 7 up, a slice of lemon and a slice of orange). I watched the grillmeister tossing patties on the grill and I wasn't 100% certain but they appeared to be semi thawed frozen patties. I also noticed they had a container of recently cut potatoes slowly oxidizing while they waited for their par fry.
I also enquired about their buns, and the woman behind the counter explained smilingly that they were made freshly in house. Once order #51 was called I walked up to the counter and excitedly examined the golden fries and carried my tray back to my table with an extra level of precision to avoid any tray mishaps this time. I unwrapped my burger and noticed it had some unusual features – the lettuce was on the bottom and the large tomato slices were on the top of the burger stack. Personally I think it makes sense for the lettuce to stay on top as it reduces the contact with warm juices thereby maintaining the crispness of the shredded iceberg for a few minutes longer. Visually I was happy with the condiment selection for the monster burger, lettuce, tomato, mayo, cheese, protruding crispy bacon and sauteed mushrooms. Unbeknownst to my eyes however, was the presence of margarine on the bun, I personally find margarine to have a similar flavour to the oil on dog fur. The flavour balance of the burger was still pleasant overall, although, it must be eaten in the context of an small town BC diner.
The flavours in BC diners tend to be geared towards palates that can not tolerate spice – even the intense spice of an American mustard or a paprika spiked special sauce. I fortunately had a childhood where I had countless exposures to plain grilled patties at small town fall fairs. The patties on this burger too reminded me of patties I had eaten at the Legion's burger stand at Brigade Days in Hope BC, although Herbies patties were larger – perhaps 1/3 pound patties and reasonably moist. The taste of a binding agent was apparent as well the subtle liver flavour that is common in patties made by machine. The bun had a nice texture and appealed to me visually as well, although it should have been toasted slightly longer and could have been a touch thicker to stand up to the juices coming out of the burger.
I consider myself an expert burger eater and I was unable to keep the bun fully intact during the whole procedure. I finished the meal off with a soft serve sundae with raspberry sauce, the soft serve at Herbies is incredible, probably the best I have ever eaten – it has almost a marshmallow consistency. One of my fellow diners told me it was “the real McCoy ice cream, not the iced milk from DQ.” I enjoyed my experience at Herbies, and if you set your frame of reference to a lost in time diner the food is pretty good overall.