My Buddy, the Banh Mi

I want to paint you a word picture.  Of a sandwich.  A warm, crispy, baguette filled, but not bursting, with crunchy pickled carrots, fresh cucumber, savoury chicken in a sweet sauce, and a punch of hot pepper, cooled off with a swipe of creamy mayo.  This is a Vietnamese sub, a Banh Mi.  Many create it, few master it.  It is convenient, it is comforting, it is refreshing.

Now imagine a day at work.  You look outside your window and can see the summer freshness, but you just can’t reach it.  You’re sealed in doors, breathing stale air, craning to see the sun from your desk like a starved plant.

The Banh Mi is the bridge from office to summer freshness. One bite into a Banh Mi and you’ve snatched a ray of sunlight and brought it back to your desk for lunch. But imagine, much like the 90’s hit song “Steal My Sunshine”, that sandwich disappears.  My favourite Banh Mi food trucks are no longer around.  All of a sudden, no warning, they just stopped coming.  And I was left alone in a barren banh mi-less wasteland.

Ok.  I’ll level with you guys. I wrote out this whole argument about why there should be more Vietnamese sub places.  It was based around the fact that all the good places that served the subs are gone, and that it is really hard to make a Vietnamese sub in the office taste as good as one from a restaurant.  I think I was just angry that my food trucks left me without a farewell tour, nary a goodbye tweet.  I was looking to take out my frustration on the rest of the Vietnamese restaurants out there.

But then I did some research.  According to Google, there are several Vietnamese sub restaurants that are easily accessible and highly rated in the downtown, like Thi Thi Vietnamese Submarine and Mint Leaf.

I think these places deserve a try, because it appears that other people seemed to like what they were selling.  So, I withdraw the argument that good Banh Mi is hard to find. Perhaps, it is an anti-climatic end to this blog post, but I think it is a happy and hopeful ending.  Stay tuned for results of my Banh Mi market research.  If you think you know where the best Banh Mi is…. please tell me ASAP.  I’m hungry.


The A&W Teen Burger Challenge

I was bored at work one day, this is where all good ideas come from.  Weeks ago, my colleague, Greg, had said that he could eat two Teen Burger combos.  Suddenly, the topic had come up in conversation again.  Our group saves A&W coupon books, as their breakfast is quite tasty, and the line for it is way shorter than Tim Horton’s.   There is always a coupon for two Teen Burger Combos for $11, but it rarely gets used, as one often just buys lunch for oneself.

On this day, Greg was browsing the coupon choices, and noticed the $11 Teen Burger Combo coupon and said “Amy, I think I will do the Teen Burger Challenge today”.  I said “Ok, how much time do you need?” There was considerable debate on the topic, including a brief Facebook poll.  The Facebook poll resulted in a general consensus that an individual could eat two Teen Burger Combos (that’s 2 burgers, 2 servings of fries, 2 medium drinks) in 15 minutes (the boldest said 6 minutes).  So I proposed this challenge to Greg.  “No Way!” he said, “I would not be able to keep the food down eating it at that rate”.  As we were still in a professional setting,  I had to agree – we wanted to avoid making a mess as much as possible. He proposed a time limit of 30 minutes.  “No way!” I said, “That’s way too easy.  ANYONE can finish two Teen Burger Combos in 30 minutes.  Hell, I could do that!”  Uh-oh.  Greg seized the opportunity to take me up on this challenge.  Before I knew it, I was scheduled to eat two Teen Burger Combos.

Rules were set.  Two Teen Burger Combos, 30 minutes, everything must be eaten to be considered successful.  The winner would be determined by the one who finished first, or in the event that both parties failed, the one who ate the most.  Loser buys the other person’s lunch.

I started strategizing right away.  How would I tackle this challenge? I opted to go fries first and finish with burgers and drinks.  My reasoning: potatoes are heavy, so they should be eaten first instead of when you are already full.  Try and eat the majority of the food in the first 15 minutes, so the body doesn’t have as much time to register the feeling of fullness.  Armed with my strategy, I was ready for lunch.

Once the combos had been acquired, we sat down to start the challenge.  I felt confident that I would finish the challenge.  I did not think I could beat Greg, but I was more out to prove the point that ANYONE can eat two Teen Burger Combos in 30 minutes.  DING DING! Start the challenge.

The Beginning

The Beginning

True to the above strategy, I started wolfing down my fries first.   I’ll tell you, this was not a ladylike moment, and I had to take several laugh breaks to appreciate the hilarity of it all.  You have to laugh, because it is such an unnecessary challenge.  While I was doing my best impression of Takeru Kobayashi, Greg opted for a slower approach, burgers first.

I managed to finish the fries without much difficulty, and started in on the burgers.  The first one was quite tasty, and went down easy.  I had 2 medium cups of water and 1 Teen Burger left.  I thought I had it in the bag.  Plus, it looked like I was ahead of Greg in terms of finishing first.  I might get a free lunch!

But then, the sickening feeling of fullness started to set in.  The sharp tang of mustard started to feel like a stab to the gut as I struggled to muster another bite of the final Teen Burger.  The hamburger patty lingered on my tongue like a scared child, afraid to go down the slide (the slide is my throat in this “meat”aphor).  My worst fear started to rear its ugly head: I could not keep my lunch down.  Meanwhile, my slow and steady colleague kept on going.


I tried everything.  I drank most of the water, which seemed to help guide the bites of Teen Burger that I managed to swallow into my stomach.  At this point, Greg had drawn even with me.  I struggled to continue eating, while continuing to keep everything down.

With a final flourish, Greg finished his Teen Burger Challenge, with 5 minutes to spare.  I was still looking at half a Teen Burger.  It was time for a literal gut check.  Do I stop eating, and save my professionalism? Or, do I risk losing my lunch to prove that I can do this challenge.  My ego wanted the latter, but my stomach was begging me to quit.  So I finally said “Screw you stomach!” and shoved the last bite of Teen Burger in my mouth.  Have you ever tried to eat something when you were full? It feels like you don’t even taste the food.  It’s just a mass on your tongue.  Time was ticking down, thirty seconds left.  I had to, I just had to.  And just like that, I had finished.  With 15 seconds left to spare, I too had completed the Teen Burger Challenge.

The End

The End

Want to challenge my time? 29:45, good luck!


Amy (and Dave’s) This-and-That Food Truck

This is a rare occasion where I feel the need to post.  I’m at a point in life where I’m young, and much like a 12 year old, my career aspirations are subject to change on a weekly basis.  One day I want to join the military, next day I’d like to go back to university, next day I want to be a spy.  Or maybe, I want to own a food truck.  In my downtime, I’ve done some basic research through City of Calgary to see what it would take.

Though there is a veritable cornucopia of food trucks out there clamouring for our attention, I feel they are all lacking something essential: reasonable portion size and value for your money.

Most trucks I see promote themselves as cooking with locally produced food, it’s gourmet!  But when you fork over $12 bucks for a tiny box of this gourmet stuff, you can’t help but feel disappointed.

The history of the food truck is rooted in serving the working class.  And you know what? The working class appreciates the value of a dollar.

So with that, I present to you my business concept for a food truck.  It’s definitely in it’s infancy right now but it’s time that you see my dream! My dream is that people would still pay $9-12 for lunch, but you will get a meal that is going to put meat on your bones, that will fill you up till dinner time!  Quality of food is still paramount but my promise to diners is that you leave full.


Amy and Dave’s This-and-That Truck


Burritos (breakfast and traditional)

Burgers (with fried egg and stuffed with fries)

Pulled Pork Sandwiches


Food trucks need to focus on food that they can produce quickly and at a reasonable price.  This is my idea and if I ever get really fed up with work, just look for me in my truck and maybe you’ll get a tasty lunch.





Burger #3 – Blowfish

Location: Blowfish

Order: The Ramen  Burger- Sirloin Burger topped with Banana Pepper, Aged Cheddar & Fried Celery on a Ramen Bun.

Blowfish Sushi Lounge on Urbanspoon

Cost: $15

Rating: 3/5 fist pumps 

This kid x3

This kid x3

The concept of a noodle bun burger is not uncommon.  But it’s hard to do well.  Noodles were not meant to be served in bun form, how could a bun made of noodles hold up under the destructive power of hot burger drippings?  Would they overcook the burger to ensure that the noodle bun wasn’t compromised?   I did not have high hopes going into this restaurant.  I figured Blowfish was making an entry into Burger Week simply to drive new clientele to the restaurant, and the ramen burger would be too ambitious to execute well.

I went to Blowfish with my friend Andrew.  You may remember him from such posts as the Charcut visit.  Andrew is a great burger buddy, as his knowledge of food stretches way beyond mine.  Plus, if you ever need a suggestion of a good beer pairing, Andrew is never short of suggestions.  Finally, his company is delightful.  So if you know Andrew, go ahead, ask him to dinner.

We got to Blowfish and staked out one of few tables left.   Much like Diner Deluxe, there was only one server and one bartender for the entire restaurant.  What is with restaurants and understaffing?   If you’re not running your full staff on a Friday night (when we were there), or if a full staff for Friday means one server, there is a problem.  It is not fair to the overworked server and not fair to the clientele. From what I read on Urbanspoon, slow service at Blowfish is not a new occurrence, and I think their approval rating takes a beating for it.

Once we finally got our food, however, it was a pleasant surprise.  I don’t know how the talented kitchen staff pull off the feat of binding noodles together, yet still keeping their crispy texture.  If it was me, I’d have coated each bun in egg, but I feel like my buns would have ended up like french toast, the egg coating all the noodles and losing their texture.  I didn’t taste any binding agent, I just tasted tender noodles.  It was really good!  I loved the use of the banana pepper, which added a great heat, without too much salt, as hot sauce can do.  The burger was perfectly cooked, and the ramen bun held together as I ate it, it didn’t fall apart.  There was a small side of teriyaki sauce which was great to drizzle over each bite.  Side dish was a small bowl of yam tempura.  It was a creative alternative to the classic side of fries, I only wish that Blowfish gave a bigger serving of them with the burger.

The burger was amazing, it is the service that results in this burger being rated only 3/5.  Service has a huge impact on my dining experience.  I would love to come back to Blowfish and sample the rest of their menu, however, if I’m going to have to wait 20 some minutes after the end of my meal to get the check, I think I’ll skip it.  The burger was delicious, well cooked and very creative, very deserving of accolades, but they’re going to have to employ more staff before I go for a repeat visit.

Hope you had a great burger week!  I know I did. Stay hungry.



Burger Week #2 – Diner Deluxe

Location: Diner Deluxe

Order: BRISKET & SIRLOIN BURGER – Hand pressed Burger w/Foie Gras & Truffle Terrine, Sunny Side Egg & Double Smoked Bacon on a Brioche Onion Bun.

Diner Deluxe on Urbanspoon

Cost: $20

Rating: 3/5 fist pumps (see below for definition of fist pumps)

This kid x3

This kid x3

The decor in Diner Deluxe flip flops between cheesy and charming.  Old style ads for sodas and cigarettes line the wall,  and an impressive array of hot sauce bottles lines the wall by the kitchen, much like a collection fine wine.  Less tasteful decorations, like a gaudy flamingo mirror, more common in tacky Chinese restaurants, and a fringe lamp, are kept in the bathroom.  The place is packed, especially for a Wednesday.  There’s only one server in the place and she has got her work cut out for her as the restaurant is full of people waiting for a taste of their burger creation.  Readers, I hope that if you ever see a server responsible for the entire place, you will be patient.  It is a pet peeve of mine where people get pissed at staff for understaffing when really it’s a management issue.  So save it for your angry emails and tweets. Rant over.

Jerri and I were in luck, well, sort of.  We managed to snag the last burger, the special was so popular they ran out!  Another management issue: prep appropriately.  So even though Jerri and I had our hearts set on eating our own burger, we would have to settle for half.  Word must have spread about this burger, we could have a potential winner on our hands!

To compensate for a shared burger, we also ordered a breakfast poutine (with bacon) and I got some local organic lemonade.

When our food arrived, as hungry as we were, we hung back for a moment to study the burger and a mystery sauce that was on it.  We had seen the description of the special on the menu board, but one item was foreign: this thick white sauce.  It wasn’t mayonaise, it wasn’t cheese.  By process of elimination, it was determined that the mystery sauce was Foie Gras & Truffle Terrine.  For those of you who don’t know and were going to Google it like I was at the restaurant, let me save you the trouble: Terrine is is a French forcemeat loaf similar to a pâté.  It is normally served cold.  But Diner Deluxe made layers of foie gras and layers of truffle terrine and packed it into, as Jerri called it “fancy mushroom butter”.  Then they sliced off portions and melted it onto the burger.   This “fancy mushroom butter” not only surpasses cheese, it eclipses it.  The truffle has a wild, decadent flavour, paired with the foie gras and bacon, it’s a flavour unlike anything I’ve every experienced.

The burger was a little too crumbly for my liking, this could be due to the type of meat used to make the burger.  I don’t like scrambling for meat crumbles as they fall off the burger, it should be strong enough to hold together as I demolish it like a rabid animal.  The egg was perfectly cooked.  As I smooshed the top bun down, the yolk broke and ran through the toppings, evenly coating everything with a layer of richness.

Diner Deluxe’s fries are different from a classic diner fry, they are thick cut wedges, more like eating a roasted potato than a french fry.  Jerri and I did not really like them. Her reason: not enough surface area for salt.  Mine: Not enough surface area for grease.  Potato wedges have their place – it’s as a side to a steak, that’s it.

Final verdict: This burger was ok.  The truffle/foie gras terrine was creative piqued my interest, but not enough to hold it.  You can skip this one if you want, as time is running out for Burger Week!  I’d like to try the Klondike Burger at the Oak Tavern.

Stay hungry!

Burger Week #1 – Flippin Burgers

Location: Flippin’ Burgers

Order: THE SUNNYSIDE FLIPP – 6oz burger, melted smoked gouda, sautéed mushrooms and peppers, frizzled onions, and baby spinach on a fresh white Kaiser with melted garlic butter, topped with Provencal mustard an egg and a smoke sauce.

Cost: $10
Flipp'n Burgers on Urbanspoon

Rating: 4/5 fist pumps (see below for definition of fist pumps)

This kid X4

In the interest of keeping your interest, I will keep these posts as brief and entertaining as possible.

Flippin’ Burgers is a small joint just off the major Kensington Strip. When asking for directions, it’s hard to miss because it’s the place in between the dollar store and bong shop.  If you hit the Safeway, you’ve gone too far.

I popped my burger week cherry with the Sunnyside Flipp.  Any guesses why I picked the burger? Don’t read ahead if you want to make a real guess. If you have read the blog and answered “because it has a fried egg” you’d be 100% right and I’d give you 100 respect points.  If you haven’t read the blog, my ego is a little smaller because of you!

Flippin’ Burgers is a great locale, even if it does feel a little cramped on the inside.  The walls are solid with classic framed photos of old town New York City, with black and white pictures of construction workers playing golf on a skyscraper and ladies with large hoop skirts.  Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are crooning in the background and the burnt orange walls make you forget for a moment that it’s 2014, rather you’re sitting in a diner in midtown Manhattan.  Seating is limited, so make sure you either get there early or after the lunch hour.

My friend Tiffany and I place our order for two Burger Week specials and a side of onion rings, and I opt for one of the Cokes they store in their fridge – the ones in the classic glass bottles.  The service is great, I can’t get over how friendly the staff are. This is one of the perks that you get when going to local businesses – this is a person’s passion, and it shows in the care that they take in their work.

The menu is interesting, definitely worth a visit just to check out the toppings.  A standard burger can be ordered, and then it’s up to the customer to dress it up with fixings.  Some are added at no extra charge, but if you want it, you could get a fried egg on your burger for an extra dollar.  We’re here for the Burger Week special though.  And when it arrives, the presentation makes our mouths water.

The addition of roasted yellow and red peppers layered against the spinach gives the burger great color against the backdrop of the multigrain bun.  There is a rich buttery smell of garlic butter wafting up and mixing in with the salty smell of fried onions.  We wait just long enough to take the obligatory food photos and then it’s time to tuck in.  It’s delicious.  The meat is well cooked, NOT overcooked, as is the downfall of so many establishments. The spinach gives the burger an extra smooth, rich taste that lettuce just doesn’t.  And the garlic butter!  Butter is the ultimate food assist: the Scottie Pippen to the Michael Jordan.  The only sad part was that I could not taste the egg.  Contrary to it’s name, the Sunnyside Flipp did not have a sunnyside up egg, rather a fried one.  That’s ok, but if the yolk is left in a more liquid state, I find it acts like a secondary sauce, like getting extra mayo, and adds extra richness to the overall result.  As a result, I didn’t enjoy the egg as much as I could have if it was fried.

Summary: this is a burger worth trying.  It’s the perfect portion of food to fill you up with out making you sick. Flippin’ Burgers should definitely keep this one around well after Burger Week is over.

Disagree? Got another burger I should try? Write anytime, down below. 

Stay hungry!



YYC Burger Week May 2-10

It’s to burger enthusiasts what Fashion week is to…well…you get the idea.  YYC Burger Week began last year, to great success.  I know, it’s a real hard sell trying to convince Albertans to eat more delicious Alberta Beef.  YYC Burger Week is a fantastic concept: encouraging Calgarians to eat locally, and supporting charities at the same time.

Last year’s winner, Naina’s Kitchen, looks to repeat their domination of the competition this year with their offering: The Pepper Steak Stuffed Burger

Check out the website for all competitors: BEWARE, the photos on this page are so graphically delicious, you might want to eat before viewing to avoid excessive drooling on your keyboard.

I hope you attend! If you eat a burger, post your review in the comments below so readers can know what is hot, and what is not.  I’ll be shooting to try at least 3 burgers before the week is up and will post my findings after Burger Week is over.  Hopefully I’ll get a taste of the soon to be 2014 YYC Burger Week Champ!


Happy Hunting


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.

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