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Bargain Burgers

Let’s talk deals.  I don’t care where you come from, everyone likes paying less, especially when it comes to food.  So today’s post will talk about a bargain burger joint that I frequent: Bootlegger’s.  Our basketball team, Razzle Dazzle of the Fantazzmanglers goes there for post-game drinks/snacks anytime we’re in the area.  This is because, every Monday, Bootlegger’s runs three specials: dry ribs, tacos, and burgers.  The burgers are only $9 (it used to be $6) and it’s a standard burger with your choice of two toppings: bacon, cheese or mushrooms.

A fellow Razzle Dazzler, Steve, has always wanted to “be on the blog”, so one Monday night, we agreed that we would blog about Bootleggers.  Thanks for feeding my ego Steve, you made me feel like a big shot.  Steve and I have been hoopin’ it up, drainin’ buckets and shootin’ treys for the last two years, and it was finally time to get his two cents on the burger scene here in Calgary.

So, we both ordered burgers.  I got the Monday burger (with cheese and mushroom) and Steve elected the Jalepeno Jack burger.  But Steve believes that too much spice can ruin a burger, and originally asked for the jalepenos to be left off, which, naturally incited some good natured ribbing by the rest of the team.  I don’t remember the exact words, but it basically hinged around manliness and being able to tolerate spicy food. I have to agree with Steve: a little heat can enhance flavours, but excess spice is only ordered to show off in front of onlookers how tough one is.  Too much spice can ruin a burger just like too much garlic can ruin….well…anything!  So, under the weight of peer pressure, Steve bravely retracted his modification and left the burger as is.

Bootleggers is a great place: it’s low key, not overly busy on a Monday, but the staff is friendly and attentive.  It’s conveniently located next to one of our weekly basketball gyms, and they give a discount for Calgary Sport and Social teams (if you have your card!).

We got our food and Steve immediately remarked that “the garnish is lovely”.  He’s right: it’s a bargain burger, Bootleggers wasn’t obligated to bend the pickle spear into a crescent moon and spear a grape tomato in the middle, and I appreciated the extra effort.  Unfortunately the rest of the burger was, frankly, average.  It was exactly what I expected to get out of a discount burger: it was hot, not overcooked, and the portion size was decent.  Steve and I both noticed that our ketchup use was a little higher than what we would like it to be.  Ketchup use is inversely correlated to burger quality: the more ketchup you use, the less you are enjoying the burger.   In the end we both agreed that our burgers were satisfying, but nothing special. The only thing I do want to rave about is that Bootleggers grills their buns with garlic butter.  The result is a crunchy grilled cheese bread bread texture and is so amazing.

Now I hate to leave you with such an underwhelming review of one burger special, so let me tell you where I think is the best bargain burger in Calgary (so far): Fergus and Bix.  This little Marda Loop darling puts their classic burger on special every Monday for $10.  Not only is their burger delectable, but $10 also gets you a pint!  The burger is “hand packed & ½ lb beef patty, char-grilled to perfection. served with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, red onions and No. 3 burger sauce”.  Cheese isn’t included, but it’s worth the extra $1.50.  The best part is the bun: I don’t know where they get them but they’re delish.  Finally, cap it all off with the included pint from their wide selection of delicious craft draft, and I’m in heaven.  This is the best burger bargain running.  Am I wrong, then comment below and I’d be happy to undertake your delicious challenge.  Until next time, stay hungry my friends. 


Totes My Goats – Iron Goat, Canmore

Good Morning my fellow burger enthusiasts! I’m going to try to post more often, and more concise entries.  I’ve noticed I’ve been selfish with my long posts, akin to a professor droning on because he loves the sound of his own voice. Sorry!  I first became aware of this after reading my friend Monica’s awesome blog The Frugal Optimist.

For Calgarians, you might remember that, two weeks ago, it was a beautiful weekend.  The cold snap broke and the snow melted.  So naturally, we headed to the mountains to do some skiing in the sunshine.  Only one problem: everyone else had the same idea.  Cars were lined up to Sunshine and Lake Louise out to the HIGHWAY.  So we decided to hang out at the Chateau Lake Louise for a while, and then get some lunch in Canmore.

We weren’t sure where to go, I was pushing for the Belle Patate, a marvellous poutine place tucked away in industrial Canmore.  But Dave got pulled over by a cop for speeding in the national park on our way to Canmore, and the cop suggested this place off the beaten path.  We weren’t really sure what it was called, and we’re not sure if we followed his directions correctly, all we know is that we ended up at the Iron Goat. 

I’ve been to the Iron Goat several times, and it’s a beautiful place to lunch.  A huge picture window gives you front row seats to the mountain show.  The place makes you feel like you’re walking into a rustic cabin.

I’m going to give you the details quick and dirty.  The Iron Goat has great food.  However, their one weakness is portion sizes. You order a sandwich, beware.  I’ve had the Cuban and I’ve seen my friend’s smoked meat sandwich: they are tiny. It’s the size of a snack sandwich.  Taste good, but tiny.  Sorry, but if I’m going to a pub, I expect large, hearty portions.  If I wanted a tiny sandwich I would have made it at home.

But the burgers are a different story.  Dave ordered a Big Papi, and I ordered a Johnny Appleseed.  You’ll notice that the burgers cost a little more on the menu, around the $17 range, but it’s worth it.

Here’s what you get with Big Papi: Is it a burger or a monstrosity? You decide. Beef patty, nacho’s, banana peppers, cheddar, pimento cheese, chili, lettuce, tomato and red onion.

Here’s what you get with Johnny Appleseed: Beef patty, cheddar, house-cured bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, Jack Daniel’s mayo, two apple rings and topped with a fried egg. And oh yeah a bun.

These burgers were monstrous.  And delicious.  Fries, they were all right.   Again, a smaller portion of fries than you get at most burger joints, but the above burgers were so massive I didn’t care.  The Big Papi, like a taco on a hamburger.  Dave didn’t like the crunch on the burger, so he ate some of the nachos like an appetizer before tucking in.  Verdict: tasty, juicy, big and one of the better burgers he’s ever had.

The Johnny Appleseed burger was also juicy, not overcooked.  The ingredients blended together for something that was rich and decadent, but the lightness and crunch of the apple kept the flavour from getting monotonous.   The egg, as always, provided an extra rich texture to the meat, further supporting my motto that : if you see a burger with an egg on the menu, order it.  Normally I would wax on about every bite that I enjoyed, but I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

The Iron Goat is one of my all time favorite restaurants.  Come for the view, stay for the food.  Enjoy your weekend!

The Iron Goat Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon


The Mighty Pig

When was the last time that food made you laugh? A meal so good, so decadent, that you laugh maniacally because you can’t believe your good fortune, and you’re delirious with delight.  You laugh because encountering food so wonderful is so unbelievable, it is so improbable, it is laughable that someone could actually create something this good.  Well, in a nutshell, that was my meal at Charcut.

I had the pleasure of meeting chef and co-owner of Charcut Connie DeSousa speak at a Women of Influence event.  I was already a huge fan of the Alley Burger, Charcut’s famous elusive, exclusive burger.  When I mentioned my interest, Chef DeSousa offered to have me visit Charcut and spend the evening watching their kitchen staff in action.  Hard sell, I know, a Top Chef finalist invites you to get a behind the scenes look at their operation, sure, let me check my schedule.

After twisting my friend Andrew’s rubber arm, we strolled in just before the dinner crowd on a Saturday night.   We were escorted to the back of the restaurant, where a small bar allows lucky patrons to get a front row seat to all the kitchen action.  The kitchen has enough room for two people cooking on either side and one person can squeeze behind them in the middle to get back and forth.  It’s amazing they’re able to get anything done at all.  One wrong move and you’ll be wearing dinner instead of eating it.

In a HamburgerPants first, I have attempted a blog.  This video post shows Chef DeSousa giving a mouth-watering description of the Charcut ShareBurger that Andrew and I ate.  I’ll let her introduce it to you:

Andrew and I knew we were getting the ShareBurger before we looked at the menu.  What we didn’t anticipate were all the extras that we ended up tasting.  Connie and John set us up with an amazing sample of two of their starters: a warm Quebec raclette cheese served with house made brioche buns, and the fan favourite: the Pig’s Head Mortadella.  Says Chef DeSousa “Our Pig head Mortadella is prepared using traditional artisanal techniques, but is cooked in a very untraditional way…inside of a pig head!  It cooks for 9 hours, then cools overnight and we shave it paper-thin the next day and serve it with our local Brassica Mustard.”.  Mortadella and mustard pair wonderfully, and I know it’s not the traditional way of eating it, but I may have made myself a raclette/mortadella sandwich on a brioche bun.  Yum.

Back to the kitchen.  My only kitchen knowledge comes from the movies, so I expected chefs to be barking orders like a drill sergeant.  I mean, there’s a reason that kitchens have doors.  But that’s not the atmosphere at Charcut.  The only words you hear are the orders coming in (read only once, no repeats), and calls of “behind you” as chefs and sous chefs travel back and forth.   Maybe the occasional comment that the pace needed to be quickened from co-owner and chef John Jackson, but it seemed more like encouragement than criticism.  It’s complete focus.  Not robotic focus, more like watching an intricate ballet taking place.   Or maybe like he’s the Ian Malcolm of the Jurassic Park that is culinary arts (stay with me here), and the patrons are the hungry T-Rex chasing them. “We must go faster”.

Classic Grits

Classic Grits – Credit

And having the front seat to all this gave me the opportunity to preview all the dishes and taste!  At one point Chef DeSousa was ladling a portion of some green, chunky mixture into a plate, at which point I asked what it was.  “Grits” she replied, but not just any grits, like the picture on the left.  Chef DeSousa mixes whole corn kernels with an aged cheddar and (correct me if I’m wrong) a hint of pea soup to give the grits their unique green colour.  The result is a rich taste and texture like scalloped potatoes.

But I digress.  We’re here for the ShareBurger.  If you didn’t hear in the video, they melt Quebec cheese curds (1 oz curd per oz of meat) on top of the burger and serve it on a fresh brioche bun.  Guests may order as many oz they like.  Charcut has even served a 100 oz. burger that had over a dozen fried eggs on top and a giant brioche bun.  After Andrew talked me down from splitting a 20 oz burger to 16 oz., we finished the order with a side of duck fat poutine and sat back to continue watching the kitchen show.

A massive patty the size of a dinner plate with the thickness of a kitchen table thrown down on the grill.  After it was cooked they let me backstage to see 16 oz of cheese curds get piled on the burger and then melted to caramelize the top of the curds and give the cheese a hint of crispiness.  Watching it being prepared for final presentation is sweet torture.  The finished patty oozing rivulets of grease drains onto the cutting board as brioche buns spread with aioli and poutine are placed alongside it.  Finish it off with a mason jar of house made pickled veggies (carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms and beets), Chef DeSousa stabs a knife into the board and the meal is ready to serve.  Chris, one of the servers, walks the piled-high board over as Andrew and I bounce in our seats like a couple of kids on their birthday.  Chef John had to gently remind us to eat the burger while it was still hot, because we were taking pictures of it like tourists.

The sausage patty is tender and juicy, the cheese curds, now all melted together are both crispy and stringy like cheese on a pizza.  Order the ShareBurger, do it.  Get your friends together, and challenge the kitchen.  I’ve had plenty of overcooked hockey puck burgers, dry and unappetizing.  But the staff at Charcut cooks the burger perfectly, even though it’s twice the size of a what a normal restaurant would cook up.   The pork is juicier than beef, and it’s nothing short of amazing. Andrew and I take our bites and Andrew remarks “I’m so happy I think I’m gonna cry”.  There’s a corner of burger and cheese poking out of the side of the bun and when I bite it off, it’s the tastiest bite of the meal.  It’s that moment when your eyes go wide and for a moment, you forget where you are and what you’re doing.  The brioche bun is doing a great job of soaking all the run away juices  and it’s this rich, lightly textured break from the rich, dense, sausage meat.

Honestly, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.  Heck, if I had the money, I would have asked them to make the 100 oz burger again, just to see it get made.  And to think, I wanted to order 20 oz.  About half way through our respective portions, Andrew and I start getting the puffy cheeks, we start leaning back in our seats, to give our stomachs some much-needed relief.  Chefs and servers a like pass by us, each one with a remark similar to “looks like you’ve been beat”.   I undo my belt a notch.   Andrew is so full that he’s hiding anything that isn’t burger and cheese under half of a brioche bun as not to insult the chef.

We sampled the poutine at the beginning of the meal, but we were so full all we could do was ask for it to be packed up.  Always order the poutine.  ALWAYS.  Even if you take it home, it’s still good the next day.  The curds are brought in straight from Quebec and the finished poutine is drizzled with truffle oil before being served.  If you need more to convince you, then you don’t deserve it.

We finish off our decadent feast by sharing a dessert, a lovely milk chocolate parfait with chocolate cookie crumbs and crispy ovaltine. It’s time to leave, but not before the kitchen sets us up with the best idea a restaurant has ever had: the bag of warm cookies.  Two cookies in a paper bag with a cute little pig shaped paper clip to send you on your way.  This is definitely a place to check out.  The menu is creative, and I wish I had more stomach, so I could have sampled it all. I had so much fun during the meal, I wanted to hug the whole kitchen as we took our leave.  I opted not to in the end, but Charcut folks, if you want a hug, I’ll be more than happy to come back.

CHARCUT Roast House on Urbanspoon

The Thrill is in the Chase

This is how it always goes down. You’re on the bus, minding your own business, when suddenly the girl behind you starts gushing about “the best burger in New York”. If anyone has watched How I Met Your Mother, you’ll agree with what is coming: EVERYONE (includes me) thinks that they know where “the best burger” is. But the fact of the matter is, it’s so subjective that when you hear this…you never know if you’ll agree or be sadly disappointed. But no matter, I was up for an adventure. So I got this girl to write down the directions to “The Burger Place”. It’s so great, this place is located in a fancy hotel, but the burger place looks like a dive so they hide it behind a curtain. A classic case of hide and seek.

Upon our family’s arrival to New York, all I could think of was this burger. I’d seen the sights: Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, but there was one aspect of New York that I had neglected – food. Every day that I spent in the Big Apple and wasn’t devouring this secret burger felt like an eternity. We were so busy touristing but I finally caught a break and dragged my brother on my search. The search didn’t start off well, there were no tell-tale signs of a kitchen anywhere nearby. When we finally tracked down the hotel, we searched the lobby, the entire ground floor to no avail. But then we noticed it. We had been looking for a tiny curtain, but the place had been hiding behind this massive floor to ceiling curtain. And sure enough, there was a line of curiousts (curious tourists) like myself lined up outside the door.

I’m a little late to the secret burger party, and it’s become something of a tourist trap now.  But if it’s between jockeying for position in the Empire State Building elevator line and this line, I’ll ALWAYS choose this line.  You can tell because instructions for ordering are listed in 6 different languages outside the door (I can read three [read humble brag]). But the staff has no patience for dilly dallying. If you hesitate at all in your order, they will send you to the back of the line. Trust me, I read it on their menu, which also happens to be an old flattened pizza box.

The decor of “The Burger Place” makes it look like a dive, but it’s funny because it’s crammed to capacity with young 20/30 somethings. There’s something about a place that makes you THINK you’re living on the wild side. But the ambiance is cool. The walls are covered in the scrawlings of former guests, some of which I’ve heard are movie stars. Fighting for real estate on the walls are numerous movie posters, giving you the feeling that you’ve gained access to the coolest fort ever. Whoever said forts were just for kids, they were wrong. This one is perfect: and it serves beer.

James opts for a burger without mayo, healthy fella, but me, I select the “Half Noah’s Ark” approach : which means 1 of everything. One cheeseburger, one fries, one brownie. That’s what I said: brownie. The Burger Place has a limited menu, but they’ve saved room for dessert. The brownie is a massive hunk of chocolate love. No icing, which made for ease of transport in a communal brown bag.  No chocolate icing sneaking onto my fries…but hey, I wouldn’t have complained if it had happened! When was the last time you had a burger, fries and a brownie?

As we were in a hurry, we ordered, took some photos, and split. We ended up speed walking downtown and eating our burgers leaned up against a hotel near Times Square. In that time, a gentleman also tried to sell my brother some cologne that was dispensed out of a container that looked like a cigar.

As the title suggests, one can get carried away when chasing after something secret. The chase can make something seem better than it really is. And this was the case with the burger. Now this burger is certainly a cut above anything that you’ll eat at any chain restaurant. The meat is tasty and cooked to perfection, the toppings are plentiful but not too messy. If there was one twist moment to this story, it would be the thick cut dill pickles, which added a great crunch and flavor to the experience. Often we as diners are plagued by “wuss pickles” as they will be referred to from now on.  Wuss pickles are cut thin, just enough to register the flavor but not enough to make you sit up and take notice.  I really enjoyed the thick cut delicious deli pickles that New York is so famous for.  the fries were comparable to McDonald’s, nothing special, but plentiful. I ate the entire “half-ark” in about 5 minutes, and that’s rounding up. So, I wasn’t savouring the delicate nuances of flavor. Overall, it was pretty tasty for the price I paid and it’s less than any tourist trap that you’ll find in the surrounding area.

So, after that lack lustre review, would I recommend you try this burger? Absolutely. Searching for something that’s hidden is so exciting, just the prospect of finding something that was off the beaten tourist path was so alluring that I had to see it for myself. And the satisfaction of finding this place and discovering a part of Secret NYC was so satisfying, it makes me wonder what else this city is hiding.  Something tells me it’s a lot more than the double decker tour buses will lead you to believe.  The thrill is in the chase.


Soda Jerks

Men suppose that women love jerks.  The more terrible that a man treats a woman, the more attracted to you they’ll be.  Is this the customer service philosophy at Soda Jerks? Not even close.  Soda Jerks is an upscale hamburger joint with two locations: one in Edmonton and one in St. Albert.  I was visiting my friend Emily in Edmonton back in August and she loves Soda Jerks, so we went to go check it out.

Before I get carried away, I just want send a quick apology out to Emily.  She provided some great witty quotes (you’ll see soon enough) and I promised they would be posted soon.  But it is now beginning of October and I’m just making the post now.  And I’m sorry readers that you were deprived of said wittiness for so long.  Onward!

Soda Jerks has upscale decor, bright red vinyl booths with a dark black bar snaking around the centre of the lounge area.   Soccer is playing up on the TVs, alluding to the fact that it is a) little Europe b) little hipster c) a Saturday afternoon where soccer is the only thing fit to put on sports programming.  An array of soda bottles is displayed in a complex looking conveyer system, encased behind a wall of glass.   It looks like a wine cellar except the vintage is…well….non existent.  And it’s definitely a different “bouquet” of flavours.  Definitely Soda Jerks is a refuge for adults who like simple, decadent food, but might not want to share their meal in the presence of the younger generation.

25 Flavours of Milkshakes

Milkshakes at Soda Jerks – Photo Credit Soda Jerks Burgers and Bottles – Urbanspoon

To confirm this adult focus, you can order alcoholic milkshakes!  I love it when you order stuff you ate as a kid as an adult.  Because now you don’t have to ask for your parent’s permission to get it.  Being an adult rocks.  Emily gets a “Big Kid” milkshake and I opt for the non-alcoholic but still appealing chocolate strawberry shake.  Our drinks arrive and I must say, the milkshake at Soda Jerks is a little disappointing.  There’s no “extras”, the extra cup with milkshake that didn’t fit in the glass.  Also, there’s a lack of chunks in my shake, which to me indicates lack of real fruit.   It tastes fine.  But I don’t pay extra money for “fine”.  I pay for this:

Emily recommends Soda Jerks for its “plethora of choices”.  Oh ya, that’s the old arts degree hard at work.  And she’s right.  Soda Jerks menu boasts several house specialty burgers and then a mammoth “Choose your own adventure” menu, where you build your burger from the bun up.  And Emily is a pro at the menu.  She makes sure that I avoid some pitfalls that newbies often face on their first Soda Jerks trip.  So take these tips under advisement:

  • Don’t get the chocolate bacon.  It seems like a good idea but it’s too salty….doesn’t quite mesh with the chocolate
  • The sourdough bread choice is really bread.  So if you’re ordering that you may find that it is not strong enough to hold your burger and toppings like a bun would

Hungry? Excellent.  Soda Jerks has two different food challenges.  1) Doris: Four pieces of sourdough | eight strips of bacon | six pieces of processed cheese | two beef patties | fried egg | mayo | lettuce | red onion | tomato - Finish it and get a “one size fits all XL tshirt” 2) Eat all three “Big Boy” Burgers and at $100 gift certificate and your spot on the wall of fame.   It’s high risk, high reward.  If I had the stomach for it, I’d definitely try it.  But I think that’s just too much meat for me.

So I wuss out of the burger challenge and choose the “Macho Nacho Burger” instead: Doritos | jalapenos | red onion | tomato | guacamole | sour cream | salsa | olives | cheddar | sesame seed bun (but no sour cream for this cowgirl).  Much like fried eggs, poutine and other fatty treats, I have a major weakness for Doritos so the Macho Nacho was an easy choice. Fun Fact: Doritos can be used as a fire starter (they burn well because of their high fat content).  So you can get the Macho Nacho to go….and if things get rough in the outdoors, you can just set that sucker on fire and warm up.

As Emily is practised at the art of Soda Jerks ordering, she expertly navigates her way through the daunting “Build your own burger” menu and selects the following:

Sesame bun, beef patty, cheddar cheese, coleslaw (excellent creamy crunch), pickles, jalapeno, Cajun onion ring, regular mustard, Dijon mustard, and garlic mayo.

I love the addition of coleslaw on Emily’s creation.  Burgers are a traditionally soft sandwich, which makes it all the more satisfying when restaurants add a crunch factor inside the burger (chips, fries, coleslaw, etc.)  The Dijon mustard provides a little zip to keep the flavours light and keep your taste buds from going into a coma.  As Emily says: “Spice plays an important role, I want something that wakes me up, gets me going.  What’s the point of living in a grey world when you can live in colour?”.

Our orders arrive and I am prickling with excitement.  For the Macho Nacho burger, the crunch of the Doritos is perfect, adding a layer of texture between the soft bun and the meaty centre.  The Macho Nacho burger is a good example of great toppings, but too many.  It’s got all the greatness of nachos in it, but the burger gets lost in the tang of the olives, the juicy salsa and the zip of the jalapenos.  I taste all the toppings but I don’t taste the beef.  I conclude that the burger is ok, but falls short of the mark.

Soda Jerks Burgers & Bottles

The Macho Nacho – Photo Credit Soda Jerks Burgers and Bottles – Urbanspoon

Emily’s burger turns out very well.  She would know: she ate the same burger the week before.  The Cajun onion rings were forgotten and came out after the burger was served, which added to the overall flavor but, unfortunately, lacked Cajun spice.  This might have just been an oversight in one case.  But Cajun would have definitely added a little kick to the burger that would cut through the rich deep-fried onion.  Emily took this opportunity to impart the most important nugget of burger wisdom: eat the burger over your fries.  Because when the burger drips, you will get additional seasoning on your fries.  BRILLIANT.

Overall, I love the concept of Soda Jerks.  I like the idea of a modern burger joint that doesn’t overdo nostalgic stereotypes and gets creative with old favourites.  I definitely recommend at least one trip there to try out their menu.  I’ll definitely be back.  I think my next choice will be the PB & J: Peanut butter | strawberry jam | chocolate covered bacon | eggo waffles .  Be still my heart. Well not too still….but I will permit you to skip a beat.

Stay hungry.



Soda Jerks Burgers & Bottles on Urbanspoon

The Future of Hamburger Pants

It was a sunny day in Okotoks, and friends were talking about the blog.  As the resident burger enthusiast of the group, my friend Kyle (or Champ as I like to call him) told me about a guy who reviews burgers in his car, and one of his videos, a review of Five Guys Burgers and Fries, went viral.  I thought, this guy must be doing something pretty special in his burger review style, maybe I could learn something.

Let me tell you something, if burger reviews were a class, then this guy is the president of the university.  His personality shines through, making the viewer pay attention to his words, but let’s be honest, he’s also flat-out entertaining.  Please enjoy the review below, and the auto-tune remix of the review below that.  Feel free to comment on which one is better, I’m torn.

All I can say is dayum. 

Coming soon: I go to Soda Jerks in Edmonton with my friend Emily

The AutoTune Remix

Best Burgers in the United States

Thanks Mom for sharing this mouth-watering link with me.  Even if you’re not going to the States anytime soon, check it out.  But make sure you have a napkin handy to wipe up the drool.

Click here for slide show


Stay hungry my friends

Stay hungry my friends


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