Sunday, April 29, 2012

LAFF Series #1: The Morsel Burger

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I am taking the opportunity to promote the upcoming Locavore Artisan Food Fair by crafting some burgers that showcase some of the delicious offerings of the LAFF vendors. I won't be able to get all of the vendors in before May 12, but I figured that the local love should continue afterward as well.
It arrived by stork.

The first burger up is the Morsel Burger, named after Morsel Specialty Dessert Catering. Morsel only recently burst onto Ottawa's dessert scene. Owner and baker Robin recently returned from years of travelling the world with her partner, gathering some incredible culinary intelligence along the way. That said, she is as proficient with her more down-home traditional recipes than the exotic ones. So when a freshly baked large zucchini loaf arrived at my door wrapped like a bouquet of flowers, I was overjoyed. Even before making the burger I sampled a "modestly" sized piece. Moderately sweet, moist and full of flavour it was baking excellence in every bite.

The burger was a chicken burger with zucchini pesto, tomato, and sauteed shiitake mushrooms on two slices of Morsel's zucchini bread.  It is a careful balance of sweet and savoury flavours.
It tastes as good as it looks.

Figuring a dessert into a savoury burger was somewhat of a challenge and I have to admit only partially successful. Every foodie fails to achieve their vision from time to time; and while I certainly can't say that the Morsel Burger was a failure - the results were delicious - I will offer some lessons learned in my instructions after the break.

Keep reading!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Taste for Burgers: Burgers on Main (Somerset)

A Taste for Life is an annual event where an ever-growing group of restaurants will donate 25% of each diner's food and alcohol bill to HIV/AIDS charities across Canada. For Ottawa's event, proceeds went to two incredible charities, Bruce House and the Snowy Owl Foundation. Both of these charities and their volunteers work tirelessly to help Ottawans living with HIV/AIDS and rely on events like a Taste for Life for support. You can tell that our community is supporting this worthy effort because restaurants this year were packed. If you missed it this year, definitely participate next year, and remember to book ahead because seats went quickly.

On this occasion, Amy and I took the opportunity to join in the fun and choose a spot I've been eyeing for months now: the downtown Ottawa location of Burgers on Main.

Located on 343 Somerset, just east of Bank Street, BOM is situated in a lovely heritage home that was the former location of the ill-fated second iteration of Friday's Roast Beef House. Considering that my meal at Friday's was the worst I have ever had in Ottawa since I grew teeth, even if these burgers were horribly charred slabs of wood they would be an improvement over what existed prior. Thankfully, not only was my burger good, it was very good.
The Main of the House

Opening a downtown location, especially one on a street that has been challenged by  restaurant turnover lately, must have been gutsy for the Manotick hotspot. The decor is a random assortment of 50's memorabilia, heritage home and steakhouse, but quite frankly I didn't care in the least. It's a burger joint after all.

BOM features a pretty simple burger selection; there are a few interesting choices but nothing terribly exotic. I could have opted for something with brie and red onion marmalade for instance but instead I went with the "Smoked House Burger" featuring housemade barbeque sauce, bacon and aged cheddar on a multiseed bun.

How did it fare? Check it out after the break.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Loving Local on May 12

The Ottawa Locavore Artisan Food Fair (LAFF) has its inaugural spring show on Saturday, May 12 from 10am to 4pm. Expect Ottawa foodies to flock in droves to Memorial Hall to sample the delicacies of over 20 local food vendors. Needless to say, I will be one of those foodies. You should join me; we can hang out and chat about burgers.

At the eager behest of my wife and some of said local artisans, I am going to design a few burgers called the "LAFF Series" that feature vendors you will be able to find on May 12. Hopefully I have you sufficiently salivating that you too will go to the LAFF, shop until your pantry is obese, and make similar creations. The LAFF Series will continue after the show of course, as the love for local foods doesn't simply end when the show is over!

I'll post any of your LAFF-inspired burgers on my blog, meaty, veggie or vegan. I'm an equal opportunity burger lover, see.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Afixed with a condiment called "Teen Sauce": A&W's Mama Burger


Professionalism is important when critiquing anything, and part of that professionalism is the desire to try any and all subjects of critique even if they are perceived by others to be substandard. Film critics must watch Steven Seagall movies. Book critics must read the odd airport procedural thriller. I must eat A&W's Mama Burger. We bear these burdens so that you understand the risks before trying yourself.

A&W is the first fast food restaurant that I'm visiting since donning my mantle as Ottawa's most analytical one-man judge and jury of burgers. Rather than starting at the top, I'm starting at the middle child of Canadian fast food burgers. A&W first opened its doors in 1921 in California, but entered Canada through Winnipeg in 1956 as a drive-up diner. It quickly expanded across Canada quickly so that by the 1970's, hundreds of thousands of Canadians were guzzling the (admittedly delicious) root beer and munching on onion rings. It might be strange for youngin's these days to think that there was a time when A&W was a more valuable brand name than McDonald's, but this was the case.

And then came the great fork of North American A&W history. Amidst a franchisee revolt and quality problems, consumer product behemoth Unilever bought the Canadian rights to A&W from the A&W parent company in 1972, essentially severing A&W Canada from the rest of the chain. In 1995 A&W management bought the company from Unilever and now it's a private, independently owned operation in no way affiliated with A&W global, owned by A Great American Brand corporation. The menu, suppliers and branding are different; the only thing that is the same is the root beer.

Amy and I decided to go on a lark as we passed by the 1830 Merivale Road location (near West Hunt Club) doing errands. I was completely unfamiliar with their menu and decided to order what everywhere else is just referred to as a "hamburger" - the Mama Burger with a side of onion rings and diet root beer. Amy had a Baby Burger with fries and a diet root beer.

Millions of these platters will be served every year.

I want to take a moment and reiterate that I do not review restaurants or chains, just specific burgers. My views on the Mama Burger should in no way reflect the rest of the menu, which I may get to in the coming years. I will try three burger offerings from each major fast food chain in Canada, although for health reasons I want to keep my consumption of fast food at a trickle.

Pics and pain after the break.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Serious chicken burgers

There is nothing sexy about the chicken burger. Too often, it appears in one of three forms, neither of which are very innovative or delicious. Let us review the current state of the chickeny burgerverse.

First, you have your fried white meat patty, a common fast food offering. Crispy and fatty, the fried chicken burger in these establishments is most often reformed and processed. And let's not forget this little fragment of evil. Sure, you can have a delicious, panko-encrusted or tempura chicken burger, it's just not that common. Also, given how heavy fried chicken can be, I personally question the need for a bun.

Second, you have the grilled patty made from ground chicken similar than what you can (sometimes) find at the grocery store. Most often this is a dry, mealy ground chicken paste without much chicken flavour that you'll slather BBQ sauce to take the boring away. This is because many places grind chicken similar to grinding beef, a worrisome trend given that their grains are noticeably different.

Finally, you have the breast-on-a-bun, the Mad About You of the culinary world. Situated in a static and unchanging pantheon among grilled chicken Caesar wraps and taco salads, the breast on a bun cooked properly is an unobjectionable but fundamentally unsatisfying experience. It's often a throw-away option when you're not in the mood for a beef burger and you absolutely want protein between two pieces of bread that in no way derives from the bean family.

One of the key achievements that I was aiming for when embarking on this burger journey was to design and cook a seriously delicious chicken burger. Well folks, I did it, and now you are going to as well. Here is my chicken burger with chimichurri, buffalo mozzarella and a slab of tomato.

This might be yours soon.

Instructions and pics after the break.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Glebe's big haunt: the Arrow and Loon Pub


The Arrow and Loon pub sits at the corner of Bank St. and Fifth Ave, in the heart of the Glebe. Since the mid-90's it has been one of the Glebe's chief watering holes for lunch, dinner, hockey games and pub trivia. The friendly service and one of Ottawa's best microbrew menus are reasons enough to go, but when I heard that they had an ambitious burger menu, the Loon moved to the top of the list.

Indeed, inspecting their website I was faced with what I call a Burgertrix (from burger and matrix, in case you're wondering). A Burgertrix offers the diner a selection of patties - in this case beef, bison, chicken or veggie - and a selection of toppings. To top it off, a "build your own burger" option was included. Wanting to test their construction skills however, I opted for menu offerings.
Silly kids, Burgertrix' are for adults.

The Burgertrix offers a challenge in that I have to taste a few different combinations to really get a sense of the chef's burger prowess. Luckily I was accompanied by my beautiful wife Amy and my dear friends Krista and Robin, organizers of the Urban Craft local craft fair. Together we selected four burger combinations, quartered them, and shared. This gave me the opportunity to get a good perspective on the menu overall. I will present one BurgerDAR representing an average score for all burgers, but will speak to each individually.

So what did we have?
  • "First Avenue" - Sautéed onions, BBQ sauce, cheese and bacon on chicken breast - Amy's pick
  • "Second Avenue" - Salsa, sour cream, hot peppers and sautéed onions on bison - Krista's pick
  • "Third Avenue" - Spinach, roasted red peppers, hummus and garlic mayo on chicken breast - Robin's pick
  • "Fifth Avenue" - Roasted red peppers, sautéed onions, goat cheese and peameal bacon on beef - My pick
Were they as good as they read? Reviews and pics after the break.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Served by the Lords of Lunch: the Arc Lounge burger


Arc the Hotel is a trendy boutique hotel in central Ottawa. Located on Slater Street between O'Connor and Metcalfe, the Arc was completely different from the competition when it first opened, heralding a contemporary design and a strong focus on food. My wife and I actually stayed there the night of our wedding; a distinct memory from those fast and wonderful days was waking up to a cheerful family and Arc's incredible breakfasts. So needless to say, I have fond feelings for the place.

There is a burger on the lunch menu that immediately looked inviting: an O'Brien's beef patty topped with "smokey-spicy" cream cheese, caramelized onions, pickles, red onion, lettuce and tomato on a strong white bun.

Normally my introductions are a bit longer, but instead I'll just give you this:

More after the break.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spicy salmon roll burgers

Ottawa's culinary evolution occurred fairly recently. I grew up here and have seen the city's tastes expand as different cultures colonize it. The population has grown and urbanized. Ottawans are demanding a more varied cuisine.

Sushi is a good example of a food introduced early in the foodie trend, and is so ubiquitous now that many people will probably find peculiar the idea of living without it. Few among my parents' circles had ever tried the raw fish-'n-rice delicacy, much less eat it on a weekly basis. I doubt that they thought in the 1970's that their children would be slinging back the stuff in malls or in their cubicles.

I have never been to Japan and I didn't have a Japanese friend until I moved to the UK for grad school. So it was quite late that I discovered that sushi preparation here differs from that in Japan. The chefs' training is very lengthy and difficult, regulations dictating the handling of food are stricter, and the Japanese palate and cultural norms emphasize different consumer tastes than ours. No big surprise. What is fascinating is how we have translated sushi culture to something that has become so familiar.

When I went to design a burger concept then, my mind drifted to sushi. Here is a quintessentially North American food paying homage to a North American spin on a foreign food. It's like authenticity's second cousin. Anyway, I selected one of my favourite maki and went to town.

I give you the spicy salmon roll burger. A wild sockeye burger with ginger, garlic and green onion; topped with toasted nori, avocado and Sriracha mayonnaise. I forgot cucumber in mine, but the burger needed it (see why below), so I'm going to add cucumber to the recipe. I served it - wait for it - on a roll.

Salmon burgers are healthier alternatives to beef burgers if you're feeling like you need a break from red meat. I've got instructions and other salmon-related trivia after the break.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Body Parts

The blog and Twitter account have been quiet for the last few days on account of Eastover celebrations and familial cheer. We're clearing our way through leftovers in the Mike L. Burger household and ready to return to burger mania in short order. For now, a piece on body parts.

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about beef - this is not as rare as you would think - and he told me a curious tale. He told me of a steakhouse in Toronto without a standard burger on its menu, but that would gladly take any cut you wish from their selection of aged steak and grind it up to your specifications for the Monica Belucci of burger fantasies. It sounds delightful at first, but on second sober thought I feel that this is a choice of gleeful excess over rational appreciation of a cow's body parts.

While I say time and time again that burgers can be made from essentially anything - meat or vegetable or even fruit - many people do envisage beef when they think of burgers. It is therefore important to have a conversation about the parts of a cow, and what I feel is or is not suitable to use for burger meat. As I embarked upon this blogging adventure, my education of the noble beef-side was high on my to-do list. I'm not getting into breeding here, just cuts; for breeding I'll take a trip out to a rancher for a good conversation about the best beef breeds.

I won't go into gory detail, but if any discussion about animal body parts makes you squeamish, you should probably reconsider eating meat altogether.

More after the break.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

At the dusk of a scandal: thoughts on pink slime

If you're into food and read the news, no doubt you have read about the so-called "pink slime" scandal in the United States. It reached a fevered pitch over the last two weeks as AFA Investment Inc. - one of the largest beef processors in the US - declared bankruptcy. A cadre of state governors gathered to express outrage at how this upstanding industry was under assault by a smear campaign, and that the product in question is perfectly safe.

As a blogger who writes about burgers, often beef ones, I feel obliged to weigh in on this tempestuous public debate and give my thoughts.

Read on after the break

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Your 'ol buddy on Rochester Street

There's an old house on Rochester Street between the corners of Beech and Norman that stands defiantly amidst a street of low rises and government offices. The Rochester Pub is a relaxed local watering hole with a draw much wider than just the neighbourhood. A great selection of craft brews on tap, good music not too loud and the cozy interior that makes it one of the better places in Ottawa to congregate with friends over a pint. It certainly draws in a good crowd of people across age groups on most nights, well after bureaucrats have left for the night. Warm stucco walls and dim lighting make it an inviting place to hang out for a few hours of conversation. The Rochester is not the type of place that will become a chain; it's the quiet guy in the back of the bar that takes life slowly.

We went on a Monday night, which for most places would be classified as an off-night, but the Rochester was packed with regulars for pub trivia. A woman crooned questions on the microphone as teams debated their answers over fish and chips and a beer. It was great to be a fly on the wall and take in the atmosphere. Given how busy it was, the food would probably be on.

The Rochester offers four burgers, all beef. There is a standard hamburger and cheeseburger; a "smokehouse" burger with bacon, cheese and barbeque sauce; and a "Mediterranean" burger with tzatziki, feta cheese and fried onions. The first two were a measly $7.00 and $7.25 respectively; the latter two were $7.95. Pub grub at rock-bottom prices.

I ordered the Mediterranean burger. Tzatziki is the Grand Condiment: it offers freshness, umami and garlic that is incredibly satisfying, especially paired with something crunchy like crispy fried onions. I had high expectations given my previous experiences here that the burger would be really good.

Not so much. Review after the break.