Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There will be grilling

We'll leave no patty unturned to crown the city's best burger

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I'd like you to put your newspaper or handheld device down for a second, relax in a comfy chair, close your eyes and imagine the best burger you ever had in your life.

Visualize the soft, pillowy buns, the perfectly grilled and seasoned patty, a fresh slice of ripe, red tomato, some crispy green lettuce, a sweet dreamy disc of Spanish onion, topped off with a zingy dill pickle and whatever condiments you desire.

If a long trickle of drool isn't dribbling down your chin at this very moment, then I am deeply ashamed of you.

I am not one to brag, but the unvarnished truth is, I am the Wayne Gretzky of the burger world, by which I mean, when it comes to eating and grilling moist, juicy burgers, I am a natural. You will be extremely jealous, but I am also the owner of my very own overpriced Williams-Sonoma professional, cast-aluminum, adjustable burger press that allows me to create patties with a perfectly uniform shape and thickness every time.

The expertise I have acquired will come in handy this week, because I have been invited to use my vast storehouse of knowledge to help crown the city's best burger. We are not talking about haute cuisine here; we are talking about the heart-clogging, soul-satisfying fare dished up by Winnipeg's top burger joints.

As you can imagine, I felt a surge of pride when CBC Information Radio 89.3's morning show featuring Marcy Markusa invited me to be one of three judges for its big burger showdown. Online votes from about 3,000 diners have already narrowed the field from 26 to the top-five finalists -- 1) Mrs. Mike's (with 14.9 per cent of the vote); 2) Boon Burger (13.95%); 3) V.J.'s Drive Inn (10.11%); 4) Dairi-Wip Drive-in (8.13%); and 5) Five Guys Burgers & Fries (7.25%).

On Thursday morning, wearing a blindfold, parked at a picnic bench outside CBC's downtown studios, I will engage in a blind taste test to determine the champion. Also putting their taste buds on the line will be fellow judges Tim Turner, founding member and spiritual leader of Burger Club Winnipeg, a group of burger fanatics who post mouth-watering reviews at burgerclubwinnipeg.com; and Robin Summerfield, an award-winning travel and food writer who dishes on the local food scene at pegcitygrub.com.

The winning burger will be unveiled on Marcy's show Friday a little after 8 a.m.

On Tuesday morning, when we arrived at Information Radio to promote the burger battle, I savoured a chance to grill the other judges. To say they are passionate about burgers is like saying Jets fans are "a little excited" about the upcoming NHL season.

Tim, an electrical engineer in his non-burger life, explained he launched the online burger club in the spring of 2011 in a courageous quest to eat as many of the city's best burgers as humanly possible.

"It's me and about 59 other people, but there are usually about 12 of us who go out for lunch at any one time," he said. "I just love eating burgers. It's a social event. We want to answer the question: Who makes the best burger? We try to be unbiased."

(For the record, the club's current No. 1 is Sonya's Restaurant on Henderson Highway. "He's got the magic," Tim says. "It's just the right chemistry.")

The judges agreed we live in a culture where burger love borders on obsession. "They're almost an art form," is how Tim put it.

"It's kind of an everyman food," Robin added. "Everyone can afford a burger; it's very accessible."

But the judges' juices really got flowing when I demanded their recipes for a truly great burger. As they spoke, they fired off answers like frazzled waiters shouting orders in an overcrowded greasy spoon.

Declared Tim: "The patty has to stand on its own: Not too dry, not too fatty, not too soft."

Chimed in Robin: "The patty has to be the star of the show and all the toppings are the supporting cast."

Chirped Tim: "The bun is important, too. It can make or break the burger. It can't break apart. And bacon! It's tough to cook bacon right."

Then, eyes ablaze, Robin channelled a book I'll call 50 Shades of Burgers. "It should satisfy all the senses," she declared, sensuously thrusting one hand in the air as if clutching the burger of her dreams. "I want it to drip down my wrists. I want it moist and juicy. I want a gutsy cheese. No wimpy cheese. Maybe a really old cheddar.

"I want to have tongue tingles, a little heat to make my mouth zing. That's a full burger experience, and when I'm done, I want to see a pile of greasy napkins on the table."

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am definitely feeling the deep-seated stirrings of true burger passion. I suppose that's just what happens when boy meets grill.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2013 A4

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