The first rule of Burger Club is you do not talk about Burger Club... when your mouth is full.
Burger Club -- Winnipeg is an informal group of gourmands who sacrifice time, money and waistlines in pursuit of this city's premier patty.
"We're definitely not the first people who've gone searching for the best burger in town," says Tim Turner, the club's leader. "But there's a difference. We have spreadsheets."
Turner's not kidding. Members meat, er, meet at a predetermined location and rate their food on a scale from 1 to 5, in a variety of categories. When lunch is over, Turner collects everybody's report card. He then publishes the results, along with photos and a 300-word synopsis, on the club's blog (www.burgerclubwinnipeg.blogspot.ca).
Burger Club -- Winnipeg got its start three years ago. Surprisingly, Ground Zero didn't involve ground round at all.
One day, a friend of Turner's went for lunch at a downtown greasy spoon. Later, he made what Turner calls an "outrageous claim" that the clubhouse there was better than the one at the now-mothballed Wagon Wheel. Turner immediately organized a search party, and for the next few weeks, he and his chums headed out every Tuesday to sample club sandwiches at various restaurants around town. (In the end, the Wagon Wheel's clubhouse, may it rest in peace, won out.)
That quest led to a second expedition involving Reubens. After that, it was gyros.
Finally, the by-then 10-member ensemble decided to take on a fourth challenge, one that might take months, even years, to complete.
On March 15, 2011, Turner and company gathered at Original George's Burgers & Subs at 1141 St. Mary's Rd. for the inaugural Burger Club chow-down.
"I picked George's as our first stop because in my mind, it was Winnipeg's best burger and I thought we'd start with the 'best' to measure all other contenders against," Turner says. (Tough crowd: although George's burgers netted four out of five stars, that number isn't high enough to crack Burger Club's current Top 20.)
Scott Hewitt, a club member since Day 1, says that he bases his final grade on the total experience, not just what adorns his bun.
"We rate places so many different ways that it's almost got an electoral-college feel to it," Hewitt says, mentioning that something as quaint as a hand-written, "Here Is Not Bus Shelter" sign in the lobby at Sonya's (190 Henderson Hwy.) is sometimes enough to separate the men from the fat boys.
"Service is another factor," Hewitt goes on. "We went to one place where some of the members actually got up and left, it was taking so long. The waitress kept apologizing, saying that they ran out of burgers."
To prevent that from occurring, Turner always calls the restaurant in question a day ahead of time to let them know that the Burger Club is on its way. Average attendance is 12, Turner says, but there have been days when as many as 25 people -- men, women and children -- have shown up.
"Usually I pick where we go; voting just complicates the process," Turner says, explaining how they decide what's next on their plate. "But I do keep a list of contenders, which are recommendations I received from other burger clubbers or blog readers."
And what do cooks and waitresses think, when everybody gets out a pen and begins taking notes on everything from the cleanliness of the washrooms to what tunes are playing on the in-house sound system?
"Occasionally the staff will ask us what we're doing -- we're usually a large and boisterous group," Turner says. "They often want to know where our favourites are, and usually have suggestions of their own where we should eat next week."
Five guys' burgers
Like this column, Burger Club -- Winnipeg generally eschews franchise restaurants in favour of homegrown icons like Blondie's and the White Top Drive-In.
But when Five Guys Burgers and Fries opened its first Winnipeg location earlier this year, Burger Club members couldn't resist heading down to taste what the Five Guys fuss was all about.
"Eighteen of us went; everybody gave it a passing grade and as always, some people liked it better than others," says Tim Turner. "Overall, it got a respectable 4 out of 5."
If you haven't been to Five Guys yet, here's your big chance. We recently sampled five guys' burgers ourselves -- that is, hamburgers from local institutions named for George, Pete, Eddie, Angelo and Johnny.
Your job is to match the burger to its namesake. Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org before noon on Wednesday, Nov. 14. We'll draw one name from all correct ballots and award that person a $20 gift certificate to Five Guys Burgers and Fries, on Regent Avenue W.
Match the burger to the restaurant it came from, using this list and the images in the slideshow:
- 669 Selkirk Ave.
- 1777 Main St.
ORIGINAL GEORGE'S BURGERS & SUBS
- 1141 St. Mary's Rd.
JOHNNY'S MARION RESTAURANT
- 382 Marion St.
ANGELO'S CHIP SHOP
- 902 Main St.