Monday, November 5, 2012

When life hands you lemons, you make burgers

My wife and I had a peculiar evening last week. We were trying to get from our place in Little Italy to IKEA in the west end, but the universe was having other thoughts and decided to throw up a few roadblocks. We took longer than we had anticipated to leave, there was an accident on the 417, and subsequent traffic was miserable. Thing is, this was supposed to be prefaced by a burger and beer at the relatively new Big Rig Brewery. We attempted to at least scrounge a review by stopping at Mill Street, but it was packed to the gills. Nearly ready to give up and get some neighbourhood pho, I spoke words that very rarely leave my mouth: "Sweetie, let's go to the Market!"

I don't like the Market much, for reasons that are entirely my own. (It's not you, Market, it's me.) It's crowded with young'uns and malcontents, crappy drivers and BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM rabble rousing they call music these days. That's its identity and Ottawa needs that area, but few things draw me there. I'll put up with it for Murray Street - the restaurant and the street itself - which seems to be avenue that calls most to dames and fellas rather than characters from Jersey Shore.

It's taking a long time for me to get to the burger, eh? I'm liking the sound of my own typing today.

But lo, amidst much darkness there lies a gleaming jewel of food and beverage known as Brothers Beer Bistro. There you may delve into an artfully-crafted beer menu and order yourself artfully-crafted brew served with a side of artfully-crafted food. Located in the digs formerly occupied by a Japanese restaurant at 366 Dalhousie, Brothers has a slick yet understated decor and offers some of the best service you'll ever have. The kitchen serves up gourmet spins on comfort food, including one of the best burgers I have had in the capital.

This should not come as a surprise. After all, Brothers was up for one of the OpenFile/Ottawa Citizen best burger awards, despite it being a horse too dark for the proles. To many it seemed like this place came out of nowhere to earn accolades without even concentrating on the burger as a medium.

Just how was it so good? Read on after the jump. Unfortunately the dimness of the place meant that the pictures aren't very good. Sorry!


The burger

The Brothers Beer Burger is a fat monstrosity of a beef burger with cheddar, bibb lettuce, fried onions, peppercorn mayo and in-house pickles.

The magic of the burger is firmly patty-based. Everything else is good but it's the meat that matters. It was thick and juicy, fat and round without suffering from baseball burger syndrome. It had nice char on the outside and was noticeably cooler and moister (ie, medium) in the centre, but the dimness of the restaurant meant I couldn't colour confirm. It had a really satisfying, coarse grind that was perfectly seasoned and terrifically beefy.

Fries and burgers: Brothers from another mother


The toppings were serious business, and while they were fairly standard they were all top quality. Often cheddar gets lost amid other flavours of the burger but here it clearly offered creaminess and tang. Cheese blanketed the patty in considerable quantity. A thickly-cut, juicy slice of tomato and crisp lettuce played more than a garnish role because they actually offered flavour to complement the burger. I can't stress how important that is to elevate a good burger to a great one. Sweet fried onions topped off the beast and done perfectly.

You could tell that the pickles were special. By now there is a standard flavour to pickled cucumbers that every major brand strives for but those babies tucked under the Brothers burger nothing to do with it. They were nice and piquant, sliced thin to make themselves known but not pushy. Peppercorn mayo was added in moderation. It was not particularly pungent but added nice creaminess and played harmoniously with the construction.
Here it stands tall, proud, and toasty.

If there was any co-star to the meat it was that bun. Oh that bun. A gorgeous, shimmering, yeasty morsel with a hint of malt that was perfectly toasted. It was full of flavour and soaked up juices from the burger admirably. One could compress it easily to turn a tall and strapping burger into something a bit more manageable. My only complaint was that it was a bit too large for the burger, which meant that both Amy and I had quite a bit of bun left over. Had the bun not been so fantastic this would have meant points off the score.

The burger was an excellent balance of fat, protein, and freshness. The size was right, the quality was unreal, and the details were examined carefully. It was easily one of the best burgers in Ottawa, and quite frankly for $16 a steal.

A suggestion for the Brothers: many great burgers include a garnish - a Burger Flourish - that is speared by the decorative toothpick that affixes the bun to the meat on presentation. In effect this is the chef's signature, a statement saying "I respect the burger." You have built a magnificent creation; you should mark it with pride.
Fryvasion of the plate.

The sides

The burger comes an insane quantity of some of the best-executed fries in Ottawa. Eat them until your button flies off your pants, then eat more of them. You can go for a run before if that makes you feel better but if you're like "awww shucks, I just can't afford the calories" then I politely suggest that a beer bistro isn't for you. Eat the fries.

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