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!
Barley Brothers has been the talk of the town ever since it uttered those three little words “Craft Beer Pub” in the fall of 2013. What does craft beer mean? It means good beer. Partner Noel Bernier, who also owns Hermanos, Corrientes, Carnival and Prairie 360, was quoted as saying “You will not be able to order a Budweiser or a Coor’s Light in this place." I like him already.
The décor at 655 Empress St. is just what you’d expect in a pub. Comfortable chairs, brick and dark woods, wrapped around a central large bar with over 50 glorious beers on tap. The walls are covered in memorabilia and large archival photos of Winnipeg’s Shea’s Brewing Company as well as farm scenes depicting the origins of the fare about to be consumed.
Our waitress, Laura, was spot on and took drink and food orders as we arrived. There were only a couple of minor lags as we didn't have an exclusive relationship with Laura - she had other tables that needed care and feeding as well. She recommended the Howe Sound Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout and it made me very happy. Creamy and dark - it was the perfect temperature served in a snifter. Faced with the daunting beer menu, several people opted for a flight of four 4.75 oz beers. You can choose from pre configured flight selections or build your own.
The notion of bringing everyone’s meals out at once is nice, but can result in a long wait and cold food for a large group. At Barley Brothers, the time passed quickly while enjoying our beers and conversation. The burgers arrived as they were prepared; all of us got exactly what we ordered and the meals were served hot. In fact, bacon on several of the burgers was still sizzling.
I opted for the Riedle Brewery Ltd. burger with a side of braised red cabbage (I had fries for lunch). It was served with the top down and capped with a dollop of nosey blue cheese. The drizzle of balsamic reduction added to the burger’s good looks, but wasn't an identifiable flavour in the stack when I bit into it. The sautéed mushrooms and onions provided some nice texture and the occasional savor, but mostly the fragrant cheese prevailed. On the cold side of the bun were several slices of very ripe Roma tomato and fresh leaf lettuce. The flavourful Senf – German mustard - was well paired with the patty; it wasn't overly vinegary. Geoff wrote “The mustard was fun, the seeds were tiny little flavour balls.”
The ground-in-house patty was dense, not hard, held together, and was moist but not juicy. It was thick, had a crispy grill crust and nobody complained of a dry burger. Scott and Brian wondered if there was a sweet ingredient that helped caramelize the crust. The patty was lightly seasoned - not salty - (the salt came from the fries) and I think would appeal to a majority of burger aficionados. The menu described it as a sirloin patty, but I wouldn’t call it a steak burger. It wasn't an overly large patty - it could've been bigger considering the $15 price tag for my Riedle. Most of the group opted for the Benson Brother’s Brewery bacon-cheese burger which was the best deal on the menu at $12.
The Benson Burger came with sweet pickles and they stole the spotlight. If you like sweet pickles, that’s a good thing. If you don’t, you might want to leave them off. Jacques commented “Great burger! The flavours combined well for a fusion of goodness. Glad I asked for no sweet pickles as they would have ruined everything!” The ever eloquent Scott wrote “This was a good burger, not a great burger. High points included a very durable bun - fresh, and light. For overall flavour, the burger had a sweetness to it. Pickles seemed to be the main contributor to that, but the onion ring also had something to say. And it said "I'm tasty!" It was a dense patty with a nice crust. Which is also how I describe my high school sweetheart.” There was plenty of texture and Isabel wrote “Crispy bacon - salty and tasty. I liked the crispy patty bits too.”
Karen had the Kiewel Brewing Co. burger with roasted red pepper, feta and a black olive tapenade. She commented “Nice meaty burger. It was not very juicy though. The creamy feta and red peppers made up for it. Olives gave it a nice earthy flavour. It was balanced and I tasted all the toppings.”
Liz opted for the Shea’s Brewing Co. burger and wrote “My burger had smoked cheese which really was the predominant flavour - kind of overpowered the patty which had a fairly mild taste.” Jeff liked his: “Great burger! The bun did a very nice job of holding the whole package together, right to the bitter (because I didn't want it to end) end. I really liked the smoked cheese on it, and it had just the right amount of BBQ sauce. The red onion was excellent - it's often overlooked as a burger garnish.”
The unexpected star of today’s burger was the bun – most everyone talked about how good it was. It was a light multi-grain, moist and soft. It had an elastic crust that took a firm bite to get through. The bun to burger ratio was a little high – not because the bun was too big, but the patty a bit too small. Too much bun wasn't a bad thing for Sandy though: “The bun held up well, but I ended up with a quarter left over. That's ok - it had the Senf mustard and red onions left and it was delicious!” Cary wrote “Hallelujah! FINALLY a bun that holds up to the burger.”
The fries were skinny, golden, salty, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. They were good. Geoff said what we all were thinking “The fries were almost like McDonalds fries, but were nice and crispy and a good side.” I quite enjoyed the flavor of my purple cabbage side - it reminded me of Jennifer's Restaurant (R.I.P.) in Seven Sisters - but mine had a lot of light oil on it that detracted a bit. Liz also had the cabbage and thought it was good.