So now, from May 5, 2004, I give you the Times Colonist Readers' Choice picks for best burger on the island:
1. J & L Drive-In, 4422 Gertrude St., Port Alberni
2. George's Food Bar, 540 Comox Rd., Courtenay
3. Shakie's Drive-In, West Coast Rd., Jordan River
4. White Spot (multiple Island location)
5. Dockside Cafe, 453 Head St., Victoria
Notables: Dutch Bakery, Victoria; Spitfire Grill, Sidney; Willow's Galley, Victoria; John's Place, Victoria; Ferris' Oyster Bar and Grill, Victoria; Monkey Tree Pub, Victoria; "The Stand" at the ferry terminal on Pender Island; Blue Fox Cafe, Victoria; Genoa Bay Cafe, Genoa Bay; Pluto's, Victoria.
I believe Shakie's and Dockside are both gone now. Genoa Bay Cafe exists, although in a different incarnation. I'm sad to say White Spot is the only place I've sampled in the top five. As for the notables; the Pender Island stand, and the Blue Fox are both good picks. It's hard to criticize this list much, because I wasn't familiar with many of the burgers back then. Also, most of my current favourites didn't exist in 2004.
It is, however, quite easy to blast the tasting panel results that accompanied this article. The burgers for that list seem to have been picked essentially at random. Eric Akis, the writer of the article, says he thought it would be interesting to allow the panel to compare, ". . . a chain restaurant; a diner where you would expect to get a good burger; and a fish and chip shop, where burgers are not the focus."
Here are the results:
1. Fairfield Fish and Chips, 1275 Fairfield Rd., Victoria
2. Milestone's, 812 Wharf St., Victoria
3. Pluto's, 1150 Cook St., Victoria
The article makes it clear that the tasting panel (consisting of Akis, Chef William Haysom, and Laura Agnew—a caterer, and the creator of "As you like it" brand sauces) only went to Milestones, Pluto's, and Fairfield Fish and Chips in their quest to find the best burger on the island. I get that the TC has a budget, and that means they aren't going to go to a dozen places to find a winner, but it would be nice to know that some thought went into narrowing the tasting panel field down to these three choices. Why Milestone's, which isn't a burger chain, and not Red Robin? Why Pluto's over any other diner? In fact Fairfield is the only place Akis gives a reason for picking, saying people have told him it's the burger be-all and end-all for years.
I realise it's kind of fucking lame to be critcising a list that's over half a decade old. I mean who cares right? I pretty much only succeed in looking like some sort of dickhead burger curmudgeon. This is a part of our city's burger history though, and I think it makes sense for this blog to comment on it now, seeing as we weren't around six years ago. Also I'm a dickhead burger curmudgeon.
And I mean seriously, how do you name Milestone's the number two burger in the city, after Haysom says the patty looks like it was mixed in a machine. This doesn't exactly lend integrity to your list.
This quote probably sums up the uselessness of the tasting panel list the best though, and is a telling comment on the nature of burger expectations in Victoria at the time, "Unlike the other burgers we tried, Fairfield Fish and Chips meat patties were also juicy and tender and would have been delicious all on their own." There you have it: a list of the best burgers in Victoria, and only one is juicy. Fucking unbelievable.