Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jekyll and Hyde's Freehouse: 4.4/5

Classic Jekyll Burger
Score: 4.4
Platter: $11.99

Bacon and Blue Burger
Score: 4.5
Platter: $14

Holy Jalapeno Popper
Score: 4.3
Platter: $14

Jekyll and Hyde's, the latest in the lineage of restaurants at the corner of 437 Stradbrook and Osborne, features a winning combination of food and fun. Brian Allison created Cheer to celebrate the return of the Jets, but found the hockey rink sized space a little unwieldy. In April 2014 Brian split the room in half with Jekyll presiding over the cuisine on one side, and Hyde carousing on the other. In the summer Jekyll & Hyde’s boasts a large patio at the corner of Stradbrook and Osborne. It’s possibly the only restaurant in Osborne Village that has parking.

Brian’s a character who signs his email “Life Coach” and business card “Man About Town”. He gave me a rapid fire tour intermingled with chatter about needing to go rescue his wife whose car needed a boost. It was Comedy night at Hyde’s and Brian was preparing for a full house. The event side has a good sized stage, booths along one wall and tall tables and chairs in the centre. The “green room” next to the stage had the curtain pulled back revealing comfy couches for lucky patrons. Hyde’s has its own beautiful bar and a few pool tables used by the Wednesday night league.

The restaurant is high ceilinged and roomy with comfortable pleated booths and low tables in earthy tones. The crowning bar has 29 draughts on tap – including 3 Half Pints varieties – and 1 cider. There was a large screen at one end playing the Jets game, which was great for hockey fans, and the volume wasn’t obtrusive for those enjoying food and conversation.

They were ready and had us set up conveniently close to the bar. Our server Kelly was attentive and personable – she managed our group of 15 handily and was quick to take drink orders from new arrivals with the resulting libations arriving fast. Flights of beer were delivered in “Meet the Family” boxes.

There are three beef burgers on the menu: The Classic Jekyll with chipotle mayo and Jekyll’s BBQ sauce, The Holy Jalapeno Popper that adds cream cheese and tempura jalapenos, and the Bacon and Blue that piles on maple bacon and blue cheese. The burgers all come with two sides, but on Jets game days, the special is a burger, one side and a beer.

The burger combos were presented on a wooden cutting board with the stack assembled and skewered with a frilly cocktail stick. The first thing you noticed was your reflection in the incredibly shiny bun. An egg washed Brioche by the look and feel of it that would challenge Original Joe's gleaming roll. Mine had bacon lolling out of it which made me happy just to look at it. Russ observed "This place wins best buns in Winnipeg.”

During a break from the mayhem in the kitchen, Chef Scott came to see how we were enjoying our burgers and told us how they hand build the 5.5 oz patties from Angus beef with 19% fat and no fillers. That was just the right amount of fat to make it moist, delicious and nicely crusted from the grill. It was a good sized patty with a slightly oversized bun and the BBQ sauce on the bottom added some zing and moisture.

I opted for the bacon and blue cheese and it was delicious. Jekyll and Hyde’s bakes the bacon with a maple syrup drizzle adding a little sweetness and texture. There was just the right amount of blue cheese on my assembly. Enough so I could savor it, but not so much that it tipped the flavour balance. There was plenty of shredded lettuce but the tomatoes were a little scarce. They’re hard to grow in a Winnipeg winter.

April wrote “This burger is to burgers as cheesecake is to cake. This is my favourite - I would have to find the Rob Ford burger to compare it to again. Also the beer & burger special rocks.”

Karen had the Holy Jalapeno Popper: “I really liked the flavour, texture and, oh, the bun! Especially the bun; soft and warm, it fit snugly holding all the toppings against the burger. The sauce on the burger was terrific - jalapeño spice not too spicy.“ Jessica modified hers and scribbled “Shiny bun, good burger, moist. Needed the cheese to cut the tang of the jalapeño. Ordered with no cheese.” Don’t mess with Chef’s design!

Nicole opted for the Classic Jekyll: “Flavour and toppings were awesome. Sauces were a little drippy but not too much so. Bacon, mayo & BBQ sauce were a great combo.”

I started with the Tomato Basil soup side and it was delectable. Thick and creamy with toasted baguette slices on top. I stole some of Karen’s sweet potato fries and they were soft inside, crispy outside and great with the garlic aioli. Mo had the slaw and noted “Apple coleslaw had nice crunch and freshness.”

We were pleasantly surprised when the bills came and April called Kelly over to make sure they were correct. As we’d arrived during happy hour (4-7) on a Jets night, the burgers with a side and draught were all $12.99. The additional beers were only $4.75 (tax inc.) Great deal!

It’s been said that Winnipeg has only 2 degrees of separation. I’d barely started introductions when Geoff, Jessica and Julian realized they’d had lunch together in Montreal 7 years ago.  “Oh hey Nicole!” exclaimed Jessica as she spotted her IQ’s co-worker from years ago arriving. Small world. Smaller Winnipeg.

Here’s a little contest to earn the respect and admiration of your peers: see if you can list all the incarnations at this location since the Beefeater. Go ahead and print out this coupon if you guess correctly. Well, even if you don’t – we’re not checking.

Jekyll and Hyde's Freehouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mark's the Spot: 4.3/5

  Score: 4.0, $4.95
  Score: 4.1, $5.95
Deluxe Burger
  Score: 4.3, $6.95
Bacon Cheese Burger
  Score: 4.5, $7.95
Mark's Special Burger
  Score: 4.6, $7.95
Double Dare Burger
  Score: 4.1, $9.95

Mark's the Spot is a cheery old school diner where you can enjoy a delicious home style cheeseburger for under $6. A 5-Star burger according to Burger Club!

It’s a little off the beaten path at 405 Turenne St. in the St Boniface Industrial Park, but well worth seeking out for breakfast or lunch – and now Thursday supper as well. Judging by all the regulars, locals quickly embraced the friendly little diner Mark Gawthrop opened in May. It feels very welcoming as you pass through the door and are immersed in memorabilia. Mark's racing roots are evident from the photos, slot-car track and diamond plate trim. There’s a Rock 'em Sock 'em Robot on the table and the walls are covered with classic games and cartoons.

Mark, and our server Diane, both greeted Burger Club warmly. They greet everyone warmly and Mark is very appreciative of his clientele. I'd been to the restaurant when it was the Riviera and remembered how small it was, so I phoned Mark to see if he could accommodate 16 of us. "Sure, I can seat you all, but the fryer can only cook 4 servings at a time." No problem - Diane took our orders as we arrived and the burgers and fries were delivered in waves hot off the grill. There’s no heat lamp – when the food’s ready, it gets served. The large patties need a few minutes to cook, but that’s what it takes when eating fresh. Mark took a break from the kitchen to greet us and say a few words about how he locally sources the beef, potatoes and bacon.

The large straightforward patty is very lightly seasoned with a good beefy flavour and grill crust. The lean ground round was fairly dense, held together well and was very filling. Mark uses minimal salt, but there’s salt on the table if you'd like to add your own. I went for the Double Dare (how could I not?), but I'll have a single next time – I was stuffed! Mark has a challenge: “If you can eat 2 Double Dare burgers, 2 orders of fries and 2 coleslaws with 2 milkshakes in 30 minutes you get a free T shirt.”

I know right away when Burger Clubber’s had a good time by how much they wrote, and they wrote a lot about Mark’s. Quite a few people ended their review with the words “I'll be back!” High praise indeed.

Brian commented “The platter arrived at the table with beef, bacon and cheese aplenty.  It would be impossible to miss the generous pile of shoestring fries.  The bacon was fresh and the patties lightly seasoned. They put a crisp on the patties adding a nice flavor.  The bun was fresh, and considering the size of the burger, performed quite a feat keeping everything in place. It was simply delicious, but it defeated me; I couldn’t finish. If you order the Double Dare, come hungry.”

The bacon was the bounty on the burger. There was lots of it, thick and cooked to leathery perfection. If you go for the Mark’s Special you get side and back bacon. That’s the burger I'm getting next time!

Mark’s not shy with the groceries and Deluxe stacks were piled high with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and a big slice of dill pickle. Burgers come with fried or raw onions; I opted for fried and there was a succulent layer nesting the beef patty. I was happy.

The soft Kaiser bun did an admirable job of managing the two-hander. Pulling the frilly cocktail stick out of my double beef patty stack was like drawing Excalibur.

Karen wrote “The beef patty was stellar, and I tasted all the ingredients. Everything held together to the last bite.” Scott added “Burger was under-seasoned as promised. Although I would have liked more than plain meat taste. Tomato, lettuce and grilled onions made me appreciate the toothpick's efforts. Top marks for the bun.”

The fries were shoestring thin, but dark and soft. They were easy to stick a fork in and stuff in my mouth - and there were lots. Karen and I shared a big bowl of Borscht with a side serving of sour cream. It was good.

Cary brought hats for Burger Club pioneers April and Esther. April couldn’t make it this week, but modeled her Winnipeg Roller Derby Valkyries hat when she received it later in the afternoon. Esther was treated for breast cancer this year and coped with her hair loss by wearing a different Hat of the Day every day. She’s printed a wonderful calendar with over 80 photos and proceeds going to CancerCare Manitoba. They're $15 and you can contact Esther here if you'd like one.

Mark's The Spot on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Cornerstone: 4.2/5

The Cornerstone
Score: 4.1
Platter: $13

Papa Gorgeous
Score: 4.9
Platter: $12.5

You can expect great food and the best service at The Cornerstone. The sister to The Grove opened in the Papa George’s location at 93 Osborne Street in February and it’s a perfect fit with the Village vibe.

As a nod to the iconic former occupant, the first burger to go on the menu was the Papa Gorgeous. The self named Cornerstone Burger was added during Burger Week and for those in the know, you can also order the off-the-menu Grove Burger.

The Cornerstone is roomy and brightly lit, dominated by a large bar overlooked by the open kitchen. It’s an acoustically bright space and I'm sure Burger Club were the noisy ones when we were there for supper. Karen and I arrived about an hour early and they already had us comfortably setup on the River Ave wing of the L shaped restaurant. Geoff wrote “My first time in the building since it was Papa George's. I like how they opened up the inside, taking out the walls and putting in a multitude of large windows. The beer selection is expansive, but not very expensive which is a bonus.

Our waitress, Elodie - “Melodie without the M” – was fantastic. She was all smiles, quick with the drink orders and refills, and happy to answer questions about the restaurant. The Cornerstone received Burger Club's highest service rating: 4.9/5. Head Chef Norm Pastorin dropped by our table to say hello and see how The Cornerstone was doing. “I thought there’d be more of you …” Tonight we were a smaller group of ten. Norm told us about the locally sourced ingredients such as the soft fluffy buns from Stella’s and the bacon that’s smoked and seasoned at a local butcher. He likes it because it cooks to leathery perfection; so did we – the burger had a folded layer of bacon that made everyone happy.

Eric, the award winning bartender, told us about the beer machine made in Chicago, the only one in Canada, that chills and pours 20 different drafts. The self contained cooler keeps the whole keg at a perfect temperature which means no foamy waste as the barrel warms up. The lines are only 3 ft long so it’s quite easy to maintain and hook up the latest craft beer offering. Several of us opted for the Cornerstone Caesar with Sriracha – it was tasty and the second one was even better!

Most of us feasted on the Cornerstone Burger with bacon, cheddar cheese, and onions prepared 4 ways. Karen and I tried it during Burger Week; the main difference being the prototype patty was a blend of beef and bacon. We wanted to share it and our waitress offered to cut the stack in half and serve it on two plates for us. They each came with a shiny skewer to hold the compromised assembly together. There was no sharing today though, and we all devoured our own burger.

The patty was well seasoned and had a good grill crust. It was juicy – the kind of grease that makes a burger heavenly. When the patty's just about done, the cook piles on succulent sautéed onion and a heap of shredded cheddar cheese turning the grill into a delicious mess of love. Green onion, pickled red onion and aioli go on the bottom, and crispy fried onions and more aioli are on the top with the sandwich presented bun-open. It was a good sized patty and plenty to satisfy my hunger. When I had it in September, the sauce was very rich – today’s burger wasn't so rich and that was fine with me. Looking at the pictures afterwards, it looks like the dollops of sauce varied a bit.

Les waxed poetic “This was one of the best burgers ever - very juicy, spiced, tasty burger. My taste buds fairly sparkled when the rainbow of onions (4 kinds) hit the mouth. The in-house bacon was zesty & tall on taste creeping over the cheese.”

Brian added “The bun was perfectly sized for the patty, and the patty was nicely seasoned. This is a burger not disguised by an overabundance of toppings, and what toppings there were, were superb.  The star of the show was the aioli sauce that brought all of the flavors together making it an above average burger, in comfortable restaurant, at a great price.

Karen ordered the Papa Gorgeous and had this to say: “I ordered my Greek burger as-is. It was very nicely presented with a pile of feta on the burger patty. Leaf lettuce and marinated onions were on the top. Overall the taste was excellent; great Greek flavour came out from the feta. It became a lovely mess as things fell apart towards the end. Fries were excellent as was the Caesar.

I had tomato soup with a dollop of Crème Fraiche. I like saying dollop. It was a good sized serving and pleasant enough. I stole Karen’s fries and they were delicious – crispy perfection. Most everyone enjoyed the fries but Geoff commented “Fries were a bit soggy and not my favourite.” Not sure what happened there.

The Cornerstone Bar and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Maw's Eatery: 4/5

Score: 3.9
Platter: $12

Charlie Sheen
Score: 4.0
Platter: $16

Burger Club spans a wide demographic with some of us remembering Maw’s as the Old, Old Spaghetti Factory and some more recently as Sound Republic. The bartender, Cody, said her dad used to win the limbo competition every week when it was Brandy’s. The restaurant at 111 Princess is named after the pioneering building – Maw’s Garage - built around the turn of the century. The other end of the original Maw’s Garage extends to King St. next to the King’s Head.

Maw's Eatery and Beer Hall, a.k.a. Maw’s Garage, has two personas. The eatery side offers a seating style for any mood. There are tall chairs in front of big, bright windows, short chairs and a high backed bench along one wall, and couches and coffee tables centered in front of the stage or tucked away in a cozy nook. You can also sit at the bar. It’s a high, roomy space with heavy wooden pallets suspended from the ceiling. An area for smaller performances is backed by curio cabinets with the stage defined by a rug and microphone stand. It’s a very welcoming, comfortable atmosphere. The beer hall was empty at lunch time today, but on weekends it’s a large music venue complete with a long bar and balcony overlooking the stage and hall. Between the two sides, there are shows every day.

When we arrived they didn't seem to have our reservation, but were very quick to set us up comfortably together. Our waitress, Amy, was fast and cheerful, happily answered all our questions and took a couple of group pictures. She was on top of our drinks and the food didn’t take long.

Meals were served on a variety of large plates and platters – some right out of Maw’s china cabinet. Except for Dani’s – she opted for no side and her sandwich came in a bowl. The burgers were a bit of an optical illusion – the tiny homemade brioche bun perched on top of the double Charlie Sheen made the assembly look small – but it wasn’t. The two patties were thick, juicy and flavourful - nobody left hungry.

My Charlie Sheen came with two perfectly cooked slices of bacon lolling off the side and way more burger than bun. I ate it like an ice-cream cone – nibbling my way around the patties before reaching the bun.

Those that tried eating it by picking it up with both hands and digging in found themselves juggling a handful of meat – the patty quickly fell apart with the bun containment overwhelmed. Russ said it best: “Like Sheen himself this burger was an exciting mess, when pressed it fell apart completely.”

Brian reviewed: “The burger arrived, stacked high with cheese, and bacon clearly visible.  Also immediately noticeable was the size of the bun, small compared to the beef patties jutting out in all directions.  The beef was seasoned well, though a little greasy, the bacon was cooked fresh and the cheese portion was generous.  The other condiments where almost invisible, and that was a great disappointment.  There was supposed to be a jalapeno relish, promising a little heat, that didn’t materialize.  Overall a good burger, but it was missing the promised heat, and a little pricy.”

Karen had the single cheeseburger and scribbled “The burger looked a little small, however proved to be just right in portion size. The patty was good quality beef, dense and finely ground. Simple ingredients were nice. Nothing in condiments distinguished it in flavour.”

The flavour of this stack was all about the beef patties. Esther ranted “Burger was good but menu said pickles and it was relish. They are not the same thing!” I couldn’t discern the jalapeño relish either and there seemed to be prepared mustard on mine. The leafy bed of spinach wasn’t mentioned on the menu. I don’t remember having spinach on a burger before and it worked quite well in flavour and grip.

Staying on theme, Stephanie tweeted on her rating slip “Eating the Charlie Sheen at Maws #winning”. Mike wrote “Burger-to-bun ratio was a bit off (too much meat). The taste of the burger and bacon was good. Couldn't detect any tiger's blood though!

Everyone enjoyed the crispy fries, the only gripe - they were too short to dip into the little jar of ketchup – we really are a critical bunch! Cary had the Sexy Fries – they looked spectacular with their pizza topping. He said they were “interesting.” Cary didn’t share so we have to take his word for it.

Karen and I opted for the tomato soup side – it was creamy, and thick enough to spread on toast - with a delicate, fresh tomato flavour. It came served in the bottom of a mostly empty soup cup that left me wanting more. The dollop of soup was a $1.77 add-on to my $16 Charlie Sheen burger. Karen wrote “I started with the tomato soup with crunchy croutons. It was very tasty and the crunch of the croutons complimented nicely.”

MAW'S Eatery & Bar on Urbanspoon