Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 30/8/2018 (516 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For some, September signals the start of the school year. For others, it's a time to put on one's most forgiving sweatpants and head out to Le Burger Week, the annual bonanza of beefy goodness that takes over the citySaturday and runs to Friday, Sept. 7.
This year Winnipeg and the surrounding area have more than 115 participating restaurants in the culinary event and competition — more than any other city. The contributions range from mouth-stretching takes on the local fatboy to sophisticated, upscale fare, including some everything-but-the-kitchen-sink creations that beggar belief.
In an annual "nice work if you can get it" outing, a group of arts and life reporters — Erin Lebar, Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson, Jill Wilson and Jen Zoratti — armed themselves with Lactaid, Pepto-Bismol and Wet-Naps and set off on a belt-busting tour of St. James and Charleswood to see what the western ‘burbs have to offer for this year’s event.
Though the offerings were less avant-garde than those on 2017’s Exchange District tour — brioche buns turned up on four out of five burgers, bacon and some form of deep-fried onions on all five — no two were alike in flavour or execution, and all had something to love about them. Here are our findings, in order of our visits.
St James Burger and Chip Co.
(1866 Ness Ave.)
17 WING BURGER
Single, double or triple options of a homemade Angus chuck patty on a local brioche bun, topped with thick-cut bacon, slapper pickles, tomato, lettuce, spicy mayo, barbecue sauce and a sunny-side-up egg.
• Bun integrity: The beautiful brioche with a glazed top holds up well, considering the extreme sauciness of this burger. ("Brioche should be the only bun allowed," Jen opined.)
• Biteabilty: That all depends on the number of patties. Single and you might manage to get your mouth around it. A double is pushing the bounds of possibility — one taster pulled out the extra patty — and it’s impossible to imagine eating a triple. In any case, by the end, it will be a delicious mess. The single patty was deemed a four-napkin burger; the double a 12.
• Creativity: It’s not super out-there compared to many Burger Week offerings — it’s more like a classic with a twist — but the egg is an awesome addition. Plus, the excellent crispy-tender fries, seasoned with cinnamon (don’t knock it till you try it!), are OMG-good.
• Overall flavour: Our tasters agreed it was a winner — a great blend of textures, with no one taste dominating or overpowering the others. The nicely seasoned patty has a good beefy flavour and the vinegary bite of the pickle cuts the richness of the mayo and sweetness of the barbecue sauce.
• Tasting notes: A fine entry-level burger to ease yourself into the more eclectic offerings Le Burger Week provides.
"If you take a big enough bite, you can get a taste of everything... I love the runny egg." — EL
"This is as tall as my face! Would eat again, for sure." — JZ
"I can’t stop eating it now." — BMS
Boulevard Pub & Bistro
(3670 Roblin Blvd.)
THE BOULEVARD BISONATOR
Manitoba bison meat topped with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, crispy onions, sour cream, feta and cucumber dressing on a black pepper bun.
• Bun integrity: The only non-brioche offering of the day turned out to be the best and sturdiest — enough give to squish down and hold in the toppings, but firm enough to maintain its shape — plus the slight sharp pepper flavour is unique.
• Biteability: Excellent. The Bisonator was easy to cut for sharing (not even this group of gluttons can stomach a full burger from five stops) and it held together to the very last bite, with almost no loss of filling or toppings.
• Creativity: The Mediterranean flavours and the unusual condiments made this burger the least traditional of the day, without making it outlandish or weird.
• Overall flavour: The mildly spicy Greek slant to this burger earned raves, with tasters singling out the touch of cumin in the bison patty and the use of cucumbers instead of pickles. It had a nice lightness.
• Tasting notes: The group unanimously voted this the most beautiful burger, not only for the striking black bun, but for its colourful layers and glistening frizzle of onions. It also scored big for its combination of warm elements and cool condiments, especially the tangy, addictive sauce,
"The bacon and the onion give it such a good texture... this would be great with a Greek side salad." — BMS
"This would be good with a lamb patty, too; I think beef would have been too greasy. It stayed together so well in spite of its wet elements... slippery components?" — JZ
"The bison is a little bit drier (than beef), but with the sauce, it’s perfect. And I love the seasoning." — JW
"A bit more of an avant-garde burger experience." — EL
(6500 Roblin Blvd.)
MUSHROOM AND SWISS BEER CAN BURGER
A seven-ounce patty stuffed with garlic mushrooms and Swiss cheese, topped with chipotle mayo, crisp lettuce, tomato, apple-smoked bacon, ketchup and haystack onions.
• Bun integrity: Grilling the brioche was a nice addition, both esthetically and for flavour, but even that couldn’t keep this towering creation from falling into pieces.
• Biteability: Very difficult, unless you can unhinge your jaw like a snake. It might end up being eaten piecemeal.
• Creativity: This is a essentially a deluxe backyard burger made three storeys high.
• Overall flavour: Though the umami-bomb filling of beef, mushrooms, onions and cheese was great on its own, it was oddly overpowered by ketchup in the burger. The tasters couldn’t detect any chipotle.
• Tasting notes: A classic mushroom-Swiss burger on steroids. The tasters liked the toastiness of the bun and the crispness of the bacon.
"There should be iceberg lettuce, an actual "crisp" lettuce, rather than greens mix… I feel like if you eat the component pieces, you get the different flavours, but if you eat the whole thing together, some of those things just disappear." — BMS
"I feel all the flavours are in the same family of heartiness and so they blend together. There’s no brightness to set them apart." — EL
"I like the grilled bun, and the patty has a nice sear." — JW
"The ketchup is wrecking it for me." — JZ
(2609 Portage Ave.)
Manitoba beef patty, local blueberry-bacon beer jam, creamy Brie, bacon strips, onion rings, fresh greens, lemon-chipotle aioli on a mango-habanero buttered brioche bun.
• Bun integrity: Very good. Despite being buttered and slathered in jam, the brioche holds up.
• Biteability: The best of the day. Though it doesn’t lack in height, thanks in part to the fat onion rings, it compresses nicely and the relatively thin, flat patty keeps the toppings from sliding off (the melted Brie kind of holds things in place, too).
• Creativity: An unexpected combo — blueberry, bacon, lemon, habanero? — that sounds deliberately weird or over-the-top but ends up having amazingly broad appeal and an addictive quality.
• Overall flavour:The tasting panel called this one "hugely flavourful" and loved the combination of sweet and spicy (though one panellist found the bun too hot for her liking.) It also scored high marks for the zingy aioli.
• Tasting notes: Two of the four voted the Randy Savage the best of of the day, citing its bold but blended flavours and varied textures. The Brie got a unanimous thumbs-up, both for its taste and its decadent texture, and the thinner patty that doesn’t overpower the toppings.
"This is the first one that made an ‘Oh my God’ impression. Delicious... I feel like a good cheese on a burger is underrated; it really takes it over the top." — JZ
"Oh, the Brie. I wasn’t sure about it, but it’s amazing. So much better than processed cheese." — BMS
"I thought this was going to be a hot mess, literally, with way too much going on, but it’s a really harmonious blend of flavours. I love the burst of blueberry." — JW
"I think the blueberry is too strong for me, but those who love spicy, salty, sweet, it would be great." — EL
Silver Heights Restaurant & Lounge
(2169 Portage Ave.)
Beef patty with jalapeno-cream cheese, honey-candied bacon, shredded lettuce, tomato and Beef Eater onion rings on a toasted brioche bun.
• Bun integrity: The extreme juiciness of the thick beef patty made fast work of the brioche; eat this one quickly.
• Biteability: A bit sloppy but not bad overall, though napkins are required.
• Creativity: Mild — nothing a traditional burger-lover couldn’t get behind — but the jalapeno-cream cheese got an A-plus for its welcome kick.
• Overall flavour: The burger with the most focus on the beef, it has a charbroiled taste like it just came off the backyard grill, with some complementary savoury-sweet-spicy components to bring it home, and great crispness from the onion.
• Tasting notes: The panel loved the richness the cream cheese gave this hearty, beefy burger, and the sweetness from the honey bacon was a delightful accompaniment. The lettuce was largely unnecessary, as it got quite soggy.
"That is rich... I like the candied bacon." — JZ
"The jalapeno-cream cheese tastes like a jalapeno popper, which I love. This would be good very-drunk burger." — BMS
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Here are some Le Burger Week drinks-pairing suggestions from Free Press drinks writer Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson:
St. James Burger & Chip Co.
This retro-style burger stand is known for its milkshakes, so it’s hard to advocate for anything else (although if you’re going for the double- or triple-patty option on their Burger Week entry, you might want to stick with water).
Boulevard Pub & Bistro
Boulevard’s slightly spicy Burger Week entry would work well with the Little Brown Jug 1919 Belgian-style pale ale, which is available on tap and features a hint of spice of its own. On the wine side of things, the Ventisquero Pinot Noir from Chile should match nicely for a red, while the grassy notes of New Zealand’s Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc will sync up with the feta and cucumber dressing on the burger.
The mushroom and Swiss cheese components of this burger need something to cut through the richness and the umami notes; a can of Torque What the Helles, a Munich-style lager, should do the trick nicely.
With a delicious mish-mash of spicy and slightly sweet on Underdogs’ Burger Week entry, there are plenty of ways you could go here: the Lagunitas IPA would stand up to the heat; the Leinenkugel lemon shandy from Wisconsin could help tame the spice; the Aveleda Vinho Verde is a vibrant, fresh Portuguese white wine; the Craft & Origin Cabernet/Shiraz from South Africa would match the spice component.
Silver Heights Restaurant & Lounge
The richness and spiciness here again beg for a beer, and their house brew, the Sleeman-made Sheights, is an amber lager with just enough hops to do the trick. Wine-wise the Castillo de Jumilla Monastrell/Tempranillo is a Spanish red with bright red fruit flavours and enough earthy, spicy notes to work well too.
Updated on Friday, August 31, 2018 at 1:20 PM CDT: Typos fixed.