Friday, September 10, 2010

Burgers Gone Wild

Earlier this summer I had the privilege to work on the promotional magazine for the third annual Rifflandia Festival, a music festival held in Victoria from September 23-26. I wrote the feature food article and am just tickled pink with how it turned out. Editor Chris Long and I staged a blind taste test with three local foodies, six burgers and countless laughs pursued. The magazine is out and available around town at places like Market on Yates and Ditch Records so if you live in Victoria, pick a copy up and check out page 102.

Kicking back waiting for the burgers to arrive: Street Level Espresso's Ken Gordon (l) and photographer Peter Gardner (r).

Burgers Gone Wild

“The best burger I’ve had in my life was at the Pink Bicycle where they had an organic kangaroo burger with pickled beets, fried egg, bacon, pineapple, Shiraz cherry sauce and a really big bun,” claims Ken Gordon. “Because of how thick the pickled beets were, as you bite into the burger it appeared to dribble blood out of the sides of the bun.”

Hamburgers have been around for a seriously long time. The first reference to ground beef as hamburger dates back to the invention of mechanical meat choppers in the early 1800’s. By 1920, the first A&W Root Beer stand had opened and drive-in hamburger joints with carhops on roller skates began springing up everywhere.

Hamburgers quickly became synonymous with American fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s and the In-N-Out Burger. Cheap food that is at the same time loved and detested and leaves you feeling dirty. Processed cheese dirty. And just as soon as fast food joints began mass-producing them, there was a split in quality. Lines were drawn and the sides were clear. You had cheap as you can make ‘em fast food hamburgers and homemade, grilled on the bbq burgers.

Over the past decade, the burger scene has struck gold all over the globe. It started in 2001 when chef Daniel Boulud took a jab at burgers with his sirloin burger stuffed with braised short ribs and foie gras on a Parmesan bun. People went crazy for it and were suddenly willing to pay big bucks for a burger. Now in Manhattan, you can get a burger topped with gold flakes and served with truffles.

While Victoria isn’t New York, we do have an amazing and growing gourmet burger scene. Just coming out of their second summer, the Pink Bicycle is Victoria’s newest gourmet burger joint. And mini burgers or “sliders” are being served up around town like at Smiths Pub and Veneto. Perhaps we’re ready to give Fuddruckers, the make your own hamburger joint, a second chance?

Burgers may well be the single greatest food North America has to offer. Even if you don’t eat a lot of meat, chances are you still love a good burger. So why are some local restaurants messing with our humble hamburger and taking it to new heights? The truth? You, me, everyone we know loves the familiar but wants something new, something real and something just a little on the wild side.

pt. 11 The Blind Burger Taste Test

Earlier this summer, we caught up with Morgan Hradecky of the Pink Bicycle, Andrew Elliott of Smiths Pub and Ken Gordon of Street Level Espresso at the Pink Bicycle Gourmet Burger Joint. The guys agreed to a blindfolded taste test where they blindly compared some of cheapest, middle of the road and best burgers in town. Hellz yeah this was fun, but it was also a way to find out what some local gourmets think about burgers.

You’d think these guys would totally go for a basic, diner style burger from one of Victoria’s institutions like the deluxe cheeseburger from the Beacon Drive-In. But the processed cheese did not go over well. The overall experience was “if I got a corndog with this burger, I wouldn’t expect it to be cooked on the inside,” said Ken. And Wendy’s Baconator Double faired worse. “I get the feeling that whoever made this burger makes thousands of burgers. They don’t just make burgers for forty of their friends.” While that doesn’t sound all that bad, that the guys inability to finish the third of the burger they were given speaks volumes about the quality of this burger.

The next stop was White Spot’s Legendary Burger with its equally legendary Triple “O” sauce. The burger had a pungent, overpowering pickle flavor and a cold bun. And muffled between bites came what everyone was thinking, “I would have enjoyed this more on the ferry.”

The last burger on the blindfolded taste test was the Black and Blue Burger from the Flying Otter Grill. Blindfolded or not, the refined palates and sense of taste Morgan, Andrew and Ken displayed was seriously impressive. The Cajun spice rub and flame-charred patty were detected right away. Although the patty was a little too flame-charred for the guys, all round they enjoyed the nicely melted blue cheese and the soft, quality bun.

When it comes to sitting down for an enjoyable meal the new gourmet burgers win big with quality, freshness and quality. As the price of the burgers went up, so did our tasters’ liking. And what do these guys think make a great burger? Real, quality meat that’s cooked but crumbles in your mouth, a nice fresh bun that’s lightly toasted but soft when you bite into it and melted cheese.


YRS said...

I'm a big fan of food experimentation, but some of the trends and experiments in the burger world are a bit over the top and exceeding the ridiculous. Burger making loses me when it forgets the basics and turns into extreme culinary sport.

I'm a huge fan of Pink Bicycle (best burger in Victoria, in my opinion) because they do the burger fundamentals so well: high quality, locally sourced ingredients that are not overpowered by topping gimmickry and multi-stack overkill. Gourmet does not mean quantity or weird; it means quality and quality.

I was reading with interest today about wine-fed beef being produced in Kelowna,

Could this be BC's answer to the fabled beer-fed Kobe beef? I'm curious to taste a wine-fed beef burger, with a couple glasses of one of those deep red wines from the southern Okanagan.

Paula said...

What a great blog!

Have a nice time!