I’m back burger fans! At the risk of sounding cliché, this blog post is inspired by the late Steve Jobs, who said “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” Our adventure contained both of these requests, as my good friends Ben, Gregg and I all ventured out to 17th avenue on a quest. It all started a few weeks ago, when my friend and fellow Burger Buddy Leah spotted a sign on the street of a restaurant promoting their “Royale with Cheese”. Now for Pulp Fiction fans such as myself, this is something to take notice of! Gregg and I have been quoting Pulp Fiction back and forth to each other since high school, and now a chance to enjoy an iconic reference to one of our favourite movies? As they say in the biz, ACTION.
Leah let us know of her discovery one night when we were all playing frisbee. Gregg and Ben had both wanted to be Burger Buddies for some time and this was the perfect opportunity. However, there was just one problem: Leah didn’t know which restaurant it was. But this would not deter us, in fact, it gave rise to a whole new burger adventure: a quest to find the Royale with Cheese!
We crafted the plan to head out to 17th avenue with an open mind and empty stomachs. Leah was pretty sure that it was somewhere west of 8th St., past Melrose, towards 14th St. So we had about 6 blocks to find this rare and exotic treat. But it would not be fun to simply look at the menus of restaurants until we found the burger. No, we had to challenge ourselves – for every restaurant we visited that did NOT have the Royale with Cheese, we would have to enjoy one drink of whatever was on special that night at the restaurant before we left to continue the quest. So if we were lucky, we would eat soon, if we were unlucky, we be in no state to notice. So, with those rules in mind, we set out from the C-Train to begin our quest.
As with all quests, things never go as planned. As we made our way down 8th St., heading towards 17th Ave., we saw a specialty doughnut shop called Jelly. Hold on a second! Now, I realize this is a hamburger blog, but who could pass up the opportunity to check out the self-proclaimed “modern doughnut shop”? What IS a modern doughnut anyways? Does it drive an electric car? Ben, Gregg and I all agreed that it would be wise to have a pre-quest snack to fortify ourselves for the journey ahead. In fact, Gregg had not eaten all day, and so the idea of possibly consuming a lot of drinks before dinner without eating would be ill-advised.
What a novelty to go into a specialty doughnut shop! Sure, there are many specialty bakeries around Calgary, however, I think Jelly has the lock on specialty doughnuts in this town. A very simple layout, there was a small display case of different doughnuts, even a Nenshi Salted Caramel (Where’s the Bronconnier Boston Cream?)! Ben bought the first round…of doughnuts that is, and we each made our selections – Ben had vanilla, I had apple crisp and Gregg had the peanut butter cup. I was leaning briefly towards the maple bacon doughnut but decided to save it for another day. My apple crisp doughnut was a great snack size, although I wish I had bought it earlier in the day as it had seemed to go a little stale in the open air. Nonetheless, a novel doughnut experience that I would recommend to anyone. And might I make take this opportunity to suggest they make the doughnut burger – a doughnut of one’s choosing sliced down the middle and filled with all the fixins. The Stampede does it…what more reason do you need! Now I’ve said my piece, onwards!
We exited the doughnut shop and continued heading south. However, as we walked, a peculiar sight caught our eye, and a smoky smell arrested our nostrils. A planter outside a nearby drugstore was giving off smoke – apparently someone had put out their cigarette in the planter but it had not gone all the way out. Rather, it had ignited some dry brush in the planter and was giving off a lot of smoke. We took it upon ourselves as responsible explorers to put out the fire. Digging around, Ben found some old plastic packaging and scooped some water off the street from the rain that day. He doused the planter and stirred it a bit, however it was still smoking! Concerned that the planter might progress to full-grown flame, Ben headed inside the drugstore to let the staff know. I continued dousing the fire while Gregg snapped pictures to document the scene. At one point I thought I was successful, however, the planter continued smoking. Ben came back and he told us he alerted the staff and so we continued the quest. It was already getting dark and we hadn’t even reached 17th Ave. yet!
Without any further interruptions we reached 17th Ave and 8th St. The real quest was about to begin. So we headed down the street, for burger glory! Our first stop was Classic Jack’s where we sat down as our first official restaurant of the quest. Classic Jack’s had burgers, but there was no Royale with Cheese. I think we were all silently relieved as it would have been pretty dull to find the place on our first try! So, true to the rules, we had a drink! Keith’s, my favourite beer was on special ($5 pints for those of you keeping track), a sign of good things to come.
But we were still hungry! As Gregg put it “every adventure needs a little suffering”. Gregg was right, what’s a quest without a little challenge? But he probably should have eaten more than a doughnut before setting out on the quest. We enjoyed our bargain beers amidst great conversation at Classic Jack’s and headed out to continue our search.
There are not many bars/pubs from 8th St until about 10th St. SW on 17th Ave so we walked a few minutes in between restaurants on darkened streets. It’s unfortunate that there is such a gap for explorers and pub crawlers alike, as it messes up one’s rhythm. The east side of 17th Ave. has far more pubs if an adventure is what you seek. Nevertheless it was probably a blessing in disguise, as this meant that we would have a break between restaurant stops. Just as the pangs of hunger were getting unbearable (Gregg claims he was about to go into hangry mode), we came across Watchman’s Pub, our second stop on the quest. We quickly walked inside, hungry for satisfaction.
The pub was already bustling with people. Watchman’s Pub looks like any other pub, with miscellaneous brick-a-brack covering the walls, and the requisite number of fluorescent beer signs. We scoured the bar for a quiet corner, so that we could enjoy a beer while continuing our conversation. The bar’s music was quite loud however, and no matter where we went, it was difficult to be heard. We settled on a corner at the bar and Gregg checked the drink special menu on the table. On the other side, was a small menu advertising the Watchman’s selection of burgers, and lo and behold – there it was. The Royale with Cheese was on that menu! On our second bar of the night we had already found it! What luck!
Our server came over to give us some menus, but that really wasn’t necessary as we ordered 2 Royale with Cheese (just a Royale for Ben). The interesting thing about Watchman’s is that you get your choice of two sides. Now, for those of you who have read the blog before, sides are very important to me. And Watchman’s have a great selection of sides. I also liked the fact that it gave me an opportunity to enjoy a hamburger classic side – french fries, while being able to adventure into more exotic choices (french onion soup). They also had coleslaw and garlic mashed potatoes among other things. Ben mentioned the great value of the menu, and I would have to agree – a burger with 2 sides is just $10 at Watchman’s!
As we waited for our meals to come, we discussed our quest. We all agreed that, even though it would have been more exciting for readers to read about us combing 17th Ave searching longer for the Royale with Cheese, we were all happy that it was the 2nd place we stopped into, as we were all hungry. It was a milestone for Gregg, as this marked only his 4th cheeseburger of all time! WHAT? Hamburger enthusiasts return your jaws to their normal position. Gregg is actually lactose intolerant, and spent his childhood actually despising hamburgers. As he grew older, Gregg came to tolerate the hamburger’s existence, but had never really sought out a cheeseburger too often. But the prospect of chasing down the elusive Royale with Cheese was enough to make Gregg forgo his own rules!
The music level was starting to get to us, so Ben asked a passing server if the music level could be turned down. The waitress gave us a strange look and responded “It’s Friday night! What did you expect?” and further went on to explain that the volume of the music coming out of the jukebox could not be adjusted. We’re a fairly young crowd, and that comment made me feel as if I were 50! But I have to applaud Ben for asking, as the reason I frequent pubs over clubs is the fact that it is usually easier to carry on a conversation in a pub, rather than in a club, where you are screaming to have yourself heard.
Dinner time! Our food arrived, and Gregg and I got what we ordered, however Ben, who had asked for his meal not to include cheese, received a meal complete with cheese – both on his burger and his Caesar salad. Our server apologized and took his food back, leaving the one side that had been prepared correctly – his coleslaw. So Gregg and I set about eating our burgers while they were still hot and, just wow. In my previous post I had mentioned that I was having trouble finding a burger made with quality meat and Watchman’s has got it. Gregg, paying homage to Pulp Fiction remarked “MM! That is a tasty burger” and he was so right. Watchman’s prides themselves on their handmade patties. It was dark and we were hungry so I did not take a lot of time examining the burger, but I have to say, I haven’t had a burger that flavourful in a long time. The Royale with Cheese is exactly what it sounds like – nothing over the top, just a cheeseburger with all the fixins. Juicy, not overcooked, with the flavourful meat stealing the spotlight, as it should. If you do go to Watchman’s in search of a good burger, they have a great variety of burgers, and judging by the great patty they are starting with, in theory, they should all be delicious.
About the sides – the fries were top-notch, crispy and hot, with just the right amount of salt. However, as with all fries, they are best eaten quickly, as they lost their crunch near the end of the meal. Gregg enjoyed his garlic mashed potatoes, however mentioned that the kitchen could have been a little more generous with the gravy. My french onion soup was novel, however, there was too many croutons in the soup, such that all the broth had been absorbed. It certainly is a delicate balance, trying to strike the optimal ratio of cheese to croutons to broth to onions….tricky business. All in all I appreciated the novelty of several side selections, but it became an issue of quantity vs. quality. I would have probably been happier with only fries as I found they were the higher quality side.
Finally, I must commend Watchman’s on their condiment caddy. I’m always happy when a restaurant brings out a wide variety of condiments, as ketchup, salt and pepper sometimes isn’t enough! It brings me back to my Venezuelan burger days, where it was standard to have your own bottle of sauce to accompany your meal. You would take a bite of your burger and then slather on another layer of sauce. So I was elated when we were equipped with a squeeze bottle of ketchup, so that I could hog it and drown my burger in sauce to my heart’s content. When I see a burger joint give me a full bottle of BBQ sauce on the side with my meal, that’s how I’ll know the place is good. Does such a place exist?
Ben quickly got his food after originally sending it back, and everything was as it should be. We enjoyed a comfortable lull in conversation as we enjoyed our burgers, except for an occasional question or prod for comments for my notes. A witty banter sparked up about foods we had hated in the past, but now really enjoyed! On the docket: tomatoes, mushrooms, olives. Who would have thought that all it took was time?
A delicious meal was had. Watchman’s had some great grub at a great price. And even though we weren’t huge fans of Kokanee, $4.75 per bottle on a Friday is not a price that we can argue with. If you seek the Royale with Cheese and want to taste their delicious fries, Watchman’s has a Monday special – Royale with Cheese and fries for $7. How’s THAT? It was unfortunate that we found Watchman’s so quickly, as we were still hungry for adventure. So who says we have to play by the rules? We quickly modified our quest to hunt down the equally exotic and far more rare delicacy, the Penguin Burger. Who knows where it is? Who knows if it exists? All we knew is that the adventure would continue. We got our coats and headed out into the crisp October night.