The skinny on fat boys Burger buff sinks his teeth into mission to rate every version of Winnipeg’s sloppy fast-food classic
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Bites, camera, action!
To the average person, 11:25 a.m. might seem a tad early for a burger fully loaded with mayo, mustard, pickles, tomato, onions, lettuce, cheese and a whack of chili sauce. Except if you’re Richard Caron, the purveyor of an Instagram account entirely devoted to fat boy hamburgers, it’s never the wrong time of day to dive into one of the city’s signature foodstuffs.
Seated at a sun-drenched table inside Original George’s Burgers & Subs’ flagship eatery on St. Mary’s Road, Caron, whose For the Love of All Fat Boys page has a tick over 1,100 followers, kicks things off by gently lifting the bun back to verify all the requisite trappings are present and accounted for. Satisfied that’s the case, he uses both hands to bring the behemoth to his mouth, all the while leaning forward in his chair to ensure whatever is already dripping out the underside hits a plate resting in front of him, versus his lap or grey sweatshirt.
Veteran move? You can say that again.
The 42-year-old married father of two has sampled and rated close to 40 fat boys since last summer, each sloppier than the next, a ravenous pursuit some have likened to “doing God’s work.”
“The same as anything else, some (fat boys) are better than others,” he says, dabbing his neatly trimmed moustache with a napkin, one of six a knowing server dutifully dropped off, along with an order of fries. You know, in case he saves room for dessert.
“But really, as long as everything that’s supposed to be on a fat boy is there, how bad can it be?”
Caron, whose slim build belies his high-calorie quest, knows of what he eats.
After graduating from Glenlawn Collegiate, he attended “the school of Earls,” toiling first at the chain’s original Main Street location before heading west, to cook at various Earls outlets in Alberta. In 2010, the same year he met his Winnipeg-born wife Chantal, he moved to Charlottetown, to study culinary arts at Holland College.
He left Prince Edward Island in 2012. The couple spent the next nine years in B.C., where their two sons were born. Each took a hit, career-wise, owing to COVID-19, so, in January 2022, they made the decision to return to Winnipeg, to be closer to their respective parents.
One of the things Caron, who is presently a chef at a top-rated Italian restaurant in South St. Vital, enjoyed doing to help pass the time during the various lockdowns was to watch YouTube videos posted by Dave Portnoy, during which the founder of Barstool Sports ranked different brands of take-out pizza. Because he is quick-witted, and because he knows a thing or two about what makes a dish stand out, Chantal told him he should be doing something similar. Only what would he apprise viewers of?
“The funny thing is, fat boys were never my jam when I was a kid, because I wasn’t a fan of onions.”–Richard Caron
In July 2022, during a family outing to Gimli, the four of them stopped by the always-popular Beach Boy Restaurant, for a bite to eat.
“The funny thing is, fat boys were never my jam when I was a kid, because I wasn’t a fan of onions,” Caron says. “But I’d since grown to love them — plus I really missed them, when we were living out west, where nothing remotely close exists — so when I noticed the Beach Boy served one, I was like, ‘OK, let’s see how it measures up.’”
It was while he was explaining the makeup of a fat boy to their sons, ages eight and five, by meticulously pointing out what differentiates it from a chili burger or a cheeseburger, that Chantal interrupted him in mid-sentence to say, that was it; he should review fat boys.
Ground (round) zero for his project was Nick’s Inn, in Headingley. The words “fat boy” don’t appear on the menu there, that’s true, but the venerable spot’s cheeseburger-deluxe is a veritable carbon copy of the Greek-style burger, which has been around in one form or another for over 60 years. (According to reports, the term “fat boy” originated in 1959, when the new owners of St. Boniface’s Dairi-Wip Drive-In dubbed their signature burger just that, to differentiate it from a competitor’s “big boy.”)
Standing in the parking lot that day, directly in front of a sign marked, “Good food,” Caron proceeded to give a chomp-by-chomp account of Nick’s Inn’s offering to Chantal, who was recording everything on her phone.
You can probably guess what (burp) happened next. No sooner had he posted the 45-second clip on Instagram, having granted his lunch a “solid” 7.5 out of 10, than he was inundated with suggestions where to head next.
“Obviously, I was already familiar with places like VJ’s and Mrs. Mike’s, so the fun part of the journey has been discovering places that weren’t necessarily on my radar, like Johnny’s (Marion Restaurant) and the Kiln, in Stonewall,” he says, mentioning his near-weekly pursuit has also included trips to Neepawa, where he hit Uncle Tom’s Burgers, and Ste. Anne, home to Vicky’s Drive Inn, a spring and summer hot spot.
Here’s a question: What’s lacking when, for example, he rates a selection from St. James Burger & Chip Co., on Ness Avenue, as an “8.05/10,” and one from Dal’s Restaurant in Transcona as an even “8,” a super-subtle difference of just five one-hundredths of a percentage point? Are we to infer there was one less sesame seed on his bun?
…THE MUSTARD-STAINED ENVELOPE, PLEASE
At last count, Richard Caron had consumed and rated 37 separate fat boys, in and around Winnipeg. Here is a list of his current top 10, along with the score out of 10 he awarded each burger.
1. Super Boy’s, 1480 Main St. (9.35)
2. Mrs. Mike’s, 286 Tache Ave. (9.25)
3. Original George’s Burgers & Subs, 1404 Regent Ave. W. (9.015)
4. Original George’s Burgers & Subs, 1141 St. Mary’s Rd. (9)
5. Dairi-Wip Drive In, 383 Marion St. (8.95)
6. Bright Side Kitchen, vegan food truck (8.85)
7. Original George’s Burgers & Subs, 1680 Main St. (8.85)
8. Original George’s Burgers & Subs, 2253 Ness Ave. (8.675)
9. Dairy Delight, 467 St. Anne’s Rd., (8.65)
10. Brian’s Drive Inn, 1220 Dawson Rd., Lorette (8.5)
To begin with, he favours shredded lettuce versus a full leaf, and sliced pickles instead of the speared variety. Red onion as opposed to “yer regular, chopped white onion,” is always a pleasant surprise, and when it comes to the tomato, he’s all about freshness, though it can’t be cut so thick that it dwarfs the patty, as is sometimes the case.
Girth is another determining factor.
“There are some fat boys you can eat with one hand, and when that happens, you’re almost disappointed from the get-go,” he says. “The experience is supposed to be kind of… monstrous, right? The fact it can be a battle just getting it to fit in your mouth is a good thing, not a negative, in my humble opinion.”
People often ask whether a certain burger’s chili is spicy or not, but that isn’t the sort of thing he touches upon, mainly because his notion of spicy is probably different than somebody else’s. And if you’re thinking he’s all about the beef, think again. One of his highest ratings went to a vegan fat boy prepared by Bright Side Kitchen, the city’s first vegan food truck, during last September’s Le Burger Week.
Unsurprisingly, as word of his exploits has spread, he has been contacted by a number of restaurant managers, who’ve invited him down for a fat boy on the house. To remain impartial, that isn’t something he’ll ever accept, he says, adding he even does his best to conceal his identity when he’s placing an order here or there, by donning dark shades and a hat or toque of some sort.
Not that his cover hasn’t been blown, intermittently. One time he was in the parking lot at New York Burgers on Notre Dame Avenue, where Chantal was documenting his interplay, when the owner came rushing outside, yelling, “Hey, my kids told me about you!”
Of course, all good things must come to an end, and with only about 30 spots remaining on his hit-list, including (fair warning!) Angelo’s Chip Shop on Main Street, the Timberline Restaurant in Richer, and Scotty’s Drive In in Falcon Lake, Caron knows that day is around the corner.
Admittedly, he’ll probably linger over that final shred of processed cheese or dollop of chili longer than usual, but at the same time, he can simply think of it as doing his homework.
Owing to his culinary background, he has already begun reaching out to various independent breweries, to ask about the possibility of doing a For the Love of All Fat Boys pop-up at their premises, this summer, featuring himself as grill master.
“I can prep out of the restaurant I work at, no problem, then show up and get to it,” he says, polishing off the last of his burger. “By now, I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about fat boys, but I suppose there’s only one way to find out, for sure.”
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
Updated on Saturday, March 11, 2023 10:22 AM CST: Updates cutline