The first rule of Burger Club: Burgers are made of beef. The team of sandwich eating professionals that brought you Winnipeg’s Best Club House, Reuben and Gyro, now embark on a life long quest to find Winnipeg’s best burgers. Yes, burgers – we’re going to rate the best Bacon, Cheese, Chili, Fatboy, Greek and Mushroom burgers. I know what you’re thinking – there are already several lists for Winnipeg’s Best Burger – but we bring the science – we have spreadsheets!
Shoulda, woulda, coulda. The burger at Rae and Jerry’s could’ve received a good rating if it hadn’t taken an hour for the food to come out only to have it served cold. If the slow food was because they were trying to serve our large group all at once, it would’ve been understandable – but that wasn’t the case. Some diners were finishing their meals while others were still twiddling their thumbs in anticipation. The last to arrive were served first and the first to order were served last. The high price tag should’ve resulted in a better dining experience. Rae and Jerry’s reputedly serve Winnipeg's best steak, but you wouldn't go there just for a burger. Then again, Rae and Jerry’s target patrons are the old-money crowd, not burger eating riff-raff.
We were a group of 24 and they didn’t bat an eye at taking the large reservation. A big point in Rae and Jerry’s favour is they don’t apply a “group gratuity” to the bill that is so irksome at some restaurants. They had set up a very comfortable private room and the hostess was waiting to great us and seat us when we arrived to an empty restaurant before the lunch rush. By the time we left, the large restaurant was full and new arrivals were being shown to the lounge. I think the waitresses are expected to show quiet deference to the clientele here and are not to smile and banter. They were brisk (one table of diners felt brusque) and efficient. The old pros in red dresses were gone – replaced by the next generation in collared white shirts and black pants with their hair pulled back. The room and furniture was still the famous dark wood and red Naugahyde seating that transports you back to the ‘60s. Tazz said “feel the wall!” and sure enough, it was red velour. Awesome!
Drink orders were taken promptly and my glass was never empty as refills came quickly. We had four tables set with silverware and cloth napkins, and once the waitrii made the determination that most of our group had arrived, four of them appeared and took everyone’s orders simultaneously. I remember thinking “this bodes well.”
It was an expensive burger, but it was large with an 8 oz. patty. My bacon cheeseburger with fried onions and mushrooms was $17. The patty was fairly dry but had a nice texture. There was a subtle spice to the meat. Discussion around the table concluded it to be garlic, pepper and perhaps Oregano. Russ exclaimed “Huge tracts of bacon!” There was bacon galore and the three slices of bacon draped over the burger were crispy fried and very tasty. The large quantity of sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions were perfectly prepared and very enjoyable. The romaine lettuce and tomato slices were fresh (if not ripe). The cheese was a slice of processed cheese. Mike quipped “Today's burger was big. Like a big piece of meatloaf that was full of beefy flavour. I know where Clara Pellar's beef is! It was stuck back in the 60's with the décor. Many cows were sacrificed in the making of this review.”
A couple of things we could all agree on was the pickle was huge and the egg bun fairly hard and dry. I thought mine had sat out for a while, another diner thought hers had sat under the heat lamp for too long. It held together well though.
I think depending on the temperature of your burger, reviews were either good or poor. Some thought the burger was plump and delicious; others commented it was big on size but short on overall taste. Several of the burgers - and fries - were cold and most of the buns were cold. The burger was comparable to the Park Tower, except at the Park Tower they were served steaming hot for half the price. We had a large group at the tiny mom-and-pop shop, Sonya's, as well, and received our burgers steaming hot so I’m not sure why Rae and Jerry’s couldn’t manage a hot meal.
The Ellice Café makes an excellent burger served by very friendly and attentive staff in a nicely decorated sit-down restaurant. Like the Seine River and Oakwood Café, the Ellice Café uses top quality ingredients, but unlike the other two, the Ellice Café adds more seasoning to the burger patty making it very tasty. It’s Burger Club’s new #3 burger!
A little history on the restaurant: The Ellice Café is in a colourful part of town and is the result of Harry Lehotsky’s (RIP) vision. The café is a non-profit community development initiative of New Life Ministries. The Café has no liquor license at the request of community residents in recovery from addictions that wanted a “dry” place to relax and eat. It recently changed from counter service to table service and uses real plates and cutlery. They also take reservations.
We were quickly ushered to our table by our entertaining waiter, and manager, Tim. He took orders as we took our jackets off - several us had already looked at the menu online and knew what we wanted. Drinks came quickly and as the rest of our group of eleven arrived, orders were promptly taken. The initial wave of food came out fairly quickly and just as ordered. There was a mix-up with some of the latecomer’s sides when their food came out, but the mistakes were quickly fixed.
Several of us opted for the Bravo burger which came with double everything. The patties were hot, there was lots of bacon and I could actually taste the two slices of real cheddar cheese! I was very happy. It was also quite good value at $9.99. The patties were large - one would’ve done. It was so massive I cut the burger in half and it still slid all over the place. Romaine and tomato makes for a slippery burger! There was just a hint of chili seasoning in the patty giving it very nice flavour. The patties were juicy and thick, had a light crust from the grill and were leaning to overcooked. Brett commented “You could taste each layer individually yet they worked together marvelously.” The bacon was cooked soft and very tasty. The only room for improvement was the bun which was a little lacking - it was cold and doughy - a little gooey where it was against the plate.
Another popular choice was The Rancher which came with onion rings, ranch and BBQ sauce, as well as bacon and cheese. It made for a impressively tall burger! Geoff had to unhinge his jaw to accommodate the burger and had this to say: “With the onion rings the burger was almost too big to bite. Almost. A lesser man wouldn't be able to handle it. There BBQ sauce was tasty but made the bottom bun disintegrate a bit. Bacon & onion rings on a burger … I can dig it.”
Cary commented the Furby Fries – with bacon, cheese and gravy - were amazing. I tried them as well and they beat the heck out of Poutine! The crispy yam fries with curry mayo were also super tasty.
You can always count on a good dining experience at the Oakwood Café. The table they had set for us was festivity decorated with mini Christmas trees – and there was plenty of elbow room for the twelve of us. The waitress started taking our drink orders immediately and waited politely for our entire group to arrive before taking food orders. The menu offered six different gourmet burgers and you have your choice of a hamburger, chicken or a veggie patty. In Burger Club though, burgers are made of beef. They also offer a list of topping customizations to rival the Salisbury House’s Build-a-Nip and a selection of side dishes to equal Original Joes.
My ice tea came in a vase. I was momentarily flummoxed what to do with it and was contemplating stealing my neighbors glass when I spotted the straw sticking out of my tall drink. Cool! It took a little while for our food to come out but when it did we were all served at once. There was only one error – regular fries instead of yam fries on one plate – and that was quickly fixed. All in all the service was quite friendly and attentive.
The burgers were presented open-faced and the bright colours of the fresh ingredients stood out. The mushrooms were fresh and burgers were topped with real cheddar cheese! The burger patty was hand formed, a good size and nice and juicy. There were two full slices of perfectly cooked bacon on my “Oakwood Burger”. The sautéed onions were raw on my (and a few others') burgers, but sautéed on some. The bun was a largish Kaiser – quite tasty but a little high on the bun to burger ratio. As one diner put it “Everything looked poised to make this a delicious burger, but alas the taste was just not there. There was a lack of chili or seasoning.” It really was a good burger, just a little bland, but as the Oakwood’s clientele seemed to include a lot of silver manes, they were probably in tune with their customers tastes.
I had a bowl of chili for my side. It looked beautiful. My neighbors wanted to know how it tasted but food must be eaten sequentially and I started with the burger. The finely grated cheese sprinkled on top, partially fused from the warmth of the chili, would've had a nicer texture broiled. The chili was thick and had a good kidney bean flavour, but was otherwise fairly pasty and bland. A couple of burger clubbers had the mushroom soup and said it was delicious. “I wish I had ordered the poutine. It was yummier than salad. Never hesitate on bacon, never second-guess poutine.” Our team expert said her beautifully constructed shake was “very chocolately.”
It was a fairly pricey burger – most of the burger platters were $12.99 - but good quality ingredients cost more and as one diner put it “worth every penny.” A Burger Club voyeur (we'll call him Thomas) commented in an e-mail "The old folks home across the street is apparently filled with high rollers who frequent this place."
I overheard one side of a cell phone conversation down the table but all I caught was “Put some jam in it!” They tried to explain but I didn’t want to hear - "Context spoils everything!” Another comment heard round the table was “Brett's moustache is frightening. I think he may now be doing undercover work for WPD.”
New York Burgers makes an inexpensive burger served to you fast! There aren't many burger joints in this corner of town so no doubt the nearby high school students are very happy to have NYB close by. Burger Club's unbiased and comprehensive quest for Winnipeg's best burger includes fast food and it seems we started this week.
We had an alumni with us today and she had this to say: "Coming here brought back memories from high school. I ordered my usual strawberry and banana shake, and for the sake of burger club I also ordered a burger :p"
We usually meet at 11:30 and my carload of four arrived a little early so we led the charge. The grill was covered in cooking patties and the service was very fast - we'd barely sat down before they were calling our orders. Kitchen staff yell out your order, instead of giving you a number. A line-up formed quickly but nobody had to wait long for their meal. The owner-lady perked up when she saw something was up with our group and stopped to say "Hi" with a big smile even though she was quite busy. The four person booths were made for high school students - two regular sized people could fit less uncomfortably.
The cooked patties were perfectly round with square sides – about 3” across and 5/16” of an inch thick after all the fat was fried out of the meat. I needed a double – a triple Fat Boy wouldn’t have been out of the question - but appetites vary. They were cooked to dryness and had no discernable seasoning. They certainly appeared to be factory frozen, but I didn’t confirm that with the kitchen. They could have been carefully pressed to appear like pre-fab patties. Eight out of nine of our group today independently described it as a tasteless burger on their rating slips. People usually do this privately, without discussion, until everyone has finished their comments so as not to bias others. We sat at three separate booths today so social interactions were also separated into three zones. One person liked it. It’s that way every week and why we average out ratings – tastes vary. Processed cheese is the same – some people like it – some don’t. Usually people have more to say about the juiciness, flavour, size and texture of the patty but not this week – comments were terse. It was by no means a “bad” burger - it still rated 3-stars in Burger Club’s opinion. For 90 cents more you got two full slices of tasty bacon which was a great deal. One diner ordered double bacon and observed "Four large strips of bacon flowed over the edges of the bun. I honestly think I had more bacon than beef." The chili was sparse but quite tasty – better than most places we’ve been to.
"Good company makes mediocre food better. Yummy the fries were - the highlight with nice gravy."
There was some discussion over the price. One person felt the price was irrelevant if you don't like the food. Another rebutted, perhaps if you are starving the value is great because taste doesn't matter. I pointed out that there were a couple of places (Sonya's and Burger Factory come to mind) where you can get a really good burger for even less money - with 3 times the meat! However, they're both across town so NYB probably has great value to local folks.
When I came in I introduced our group so the owner knew what we were up to. Somewhere along the way someone put up a sign in the kitchen pass-through facing us. Very fun!
Brett was showing off his porn star Movember-stache to the girls.
Today we learned that Kari has worn a goat path at the Grant Park Mall between liquor and chips.
Blondie puts the "rant" in restaurant! It's a shtick and Sandy (Blondie) does comedy while her waitress plays the straight one. Tazz commented “The attitude of the owner and server was excellent! It was like eating at home! Just enough grumpy to burger ratio.“ The walls are covered with Rules for Proper Restaurant Etiquette as well as hundreds of photos of smiling diners. Nelson pointed out that the 9 lb burger looked like Mayor McCheese posing in many of the photos.
I started out by taking Sandy's parking spot so we were in trouble before even getting in the diner. The restaurant opens at noon - no earlier – because Blondie doesn't arrive until 11:59 am. After our orders were taken and the food was cooking I started taking photos until I heard "No pictures!" shouted from the kitchen. I said, "Can I take your picture?" and when Sandy posed dramatically I realized I wasn't really in trouble. I found you had to listen carefully to catch all the cajoling from the kitchen - while the waitress apologized; “Cruella is in a bad mood today." Tazz commented "Someone at Blondie's said sorry? Here comes a guy on a white horse." We were threatened with slow service for having the audacity so show up as a group for lunch, but in fact, our waitress was very efficient taking orders and our food started coming out in a reasonable amount of time. It was about 30 minutes of sequential burgers until the twelfth and final meal was delivered. They all came as specified. Stan pointed out it was “Nice to have a real plate and real cutlery to eat with.” A lone customer came in and rather than making him wait for our large group, he was served his burger right away. Sandy told us she was serving him first as punishment for our group not pre-ordering.
I think somebody meddled with Blondie's scale a long time ago but don't tell her! The 1/8 lb burger is bigger than most single burgers we've had and at $4.95 (including bacon) it was a bargain! Our waitress called it the baby burger. The 1/4 lb is a big meal and you'd better be good and hungry to take on a 1/2 pounder. Russ (the original) tried but didn’t finish.
The patties were hand made – in fact Sandy was working from a bowl of ground beef. Even more impressive was that she did it all in high heels. The patty was cooked perfectly throughout, but still quite juicy with a crispy outside. Not a lot of seasoning - perhaps just a little salt. The buns were very soft and had a glaze, were homemade and sized to the patty. Bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and cooked onions as well as all the usual condiments come standard! There were several leaves of iceberg lettuce on the bottom which made for a dangerously slippery burger. Russ (the other one) commented “The right balance of extras wrapped in a tasty bun.” They were all served with a steak knife so you could cut your bronto-burger into more manageable sized pieces if you wanted.
The chips were very crispy and tasty and served with a soup bowl full of gravy. The 7 scoop milkshake was impressive, served in the steel mixing vessel, but be prepared to spend $10-$12!
One kafuffle we had was Blondies adds on a 15% gratuity for groups - but a number of people didn’t realize that and ended up tipping twice. A messed up bill can spoil an otherwise great meal.
Remember how I took Sandy’s parking spot earlier? When it was time to go, she handed me her keys and told me to move her car – she was busy making burgers!