Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fox & Fiddle (closed): 3.6/5

Perogie Burger
Platter: $15, Score: 3.8
Beef Burger
Platter: $11, Score: 3.0

Cheese Burger
Platter: $12, Score: 3.9
Bacon Cheese Burger
Platter: $13.50, Score: 3.6

The Fox and Fiddle is a beautiful restaurant in the old Toronto-Dominion Bank at 456 Main St. The interior is high ceilinged and finished with stone and wood. There are solid wooden tables, comfortable leather chairs and a long marble bar. Just about all of the Burger Clubbers today commented on how nice the décor was. There's a small patio among the stone pillars out front that is no doubt packed in the summer. The stairs to the basement wrap around a modernized old cage elevator. You pass by a bank vault on the way to the washrooms. It's a locally owned franchise that began in Toronto and opened in Winnipeg in the fall of 2012.

We arrived early and were promptly greeted by a happy hostess. At first I (and she) thought they hadn't set us up. As it turns out, they were ready for us; they just don't set the tables at the Fox & Fiddle. The only things put out were the drink menus and the ever-present little cardboard contest tents. Our cutlery was delivered to the table wrapped in a sturdy paper napkin and neatly stacked in the middle for us to distribute among ourselves. You receive a linen napkin during supper hours.

Our smiling and efficient waitress, Katie, took our drink orders right away and brought out glasses of water for those who requested them. She made sure to get our names for the bill preparation later - rather than the usual diner #1, diner #2, etc. They already had our names with our pre-orders so this just made more sense - and was friendlier! The fun drinks were served by the sparkly bartender; a couple of people ordered the special - cherry blasters.

There were beautiful girls serving in the front and a guy's kitchen party in the back. I asked if I could visit the kitchen, and when I was shown to the hub of activity, one of the chefs asked me where the best burger was. Another chef called out "Fox .. and .. Fiddle!" The third wisely quipped "the one that's in front of you." All three chefs were bustling and seemed to be enjoying preparing our food.

The burger changed since I was last here in October. I didn't realize until I'd made the reservation that our visit coincided with a new menu including revamped burgers. I'm beginning to realize that full menu restaurants like to change up their recipes once in a while to keep things interesting for their regular patrons. It could also be chain strategy to try and stay fresh and trendy. A straight-up burger joint has their secret recipe and they never change it. The Fox and Fiddle replaced their “Banquet”, “Crushed Peppercorn” and “Mediterranean” burger packages with more of a build-a-burger offering. You choose either a beef, chicken or veggie patty then specify a la carte toppings. However, they also added a Perogie Burger to the menu and that’s the one that caught my eye.

I wish I could record tastes and smells as well as thoughts and images, but I seem to remember my burger back in October being juicy and flavourful. Today's burger had no additional seasoning that I could discern - just good quality beef. They were flame broiled, and perhaps it was a lean cut, but they didn't pick up the charbroiled flavour and were quite firm and dry. Our food came out a little later than we'd requested. I'm not sure if there was a miscommunication, or they were waiting for our entire party to arrive before bringing it out. It's possible some burgers were kept warm for a while. I've no doubt a group our size – fourteen this week, all with custom orders - challenges the kitchen to prepare meals and serve them all hot and at the same time. However, when our food came out, Fox & Fiddle got it all right the first time – no mistakes!

The Perogie Burger was a work of art. Russ said the “the burger presented as very impressive.” It was a big burger, but not so massive that I couldn't get my mouth around it. It had a nice potato and cheese perogie - that at first glance looked like a fried egg - on top of the burger. The perogie was big and round - sized to the bun - and flat. There was also split farmer’s sausage and delicious fried onion. Sauerkraut and cheddar cheese rounded out the toppings. Condiments on the burger included sour cream for the perogie and spicy mustard with the sauerkraut.

The assembly was very well engineered with neighboring stratum carefully chosen for compatibility. The bun was described as brioche on the menu. It was a doughy soft white bun whose surface seemed to crumble away as you handled it. It did have a nice glaze and appeared toasted, but mine was cold. The whole package was sprinkled with crispy fried onion bits that cascaded off the crown onto the surrounding plate. They went well with my salad. I had the mixed greens with a pleasant balsamic dressing served on the side. The salad ingredients were fresh and I quite enjoyed mine. This was echoed by other Burger Clubbers that had the mixed greens.

Somehow, even with all those layers of potential flavour on the perogie burger, it didn't throw my taste buds a party. Cary wrote “Flavour was lacking - not bad, just not wow.” Bess opted for a plain burger and had this to say: “Surprisingly average. I'm doing a Paleo diet, so I didn't eat the bun (no wheat) and that allowed me to focus on the dry, flavourless patty.” Some had the complete opposite opinion. A couple of diners described the patty as moist and flavourful. Notably, one late arrival who’s Perogie Burger was made fresh. That may say something about the pre-ordered burgers congregating in the kitchen until it was time to come out and meet Burger Club.

The burger patties are hand formed in the kitchen from good quality, fresh ground beef – with “no filler” as the menu proclaims – and well done on the flame broiler. Russ described them as a “homemade style burger”. I’m sure some diners would enjoy the straight-up beef taste and texture of the unseasoned, firm patties, but I've grown to like a patty with a little juiciness and some seasoning to it.

As to the build-a-burger diners, based on their reviews and comments, you should load up on the a-la-carte toppings. You're already committed to a plain beef patty for $11, so you may as well spring the extra dollars for some cheese, bacon and moist, flavourful toppings like fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, or jalapeños - and really enjoy your burger. April built up her burger, but commented “While the burger was good, I didn't feel it was a $14.50 burger.” She also upgraded to poutine, so her platter was $17.50. I thought about this perception of value. The build-a-burger can end up the same price as a bundle - $15 for the Perogie Burger - but somehow it’s not as fun when every one of your topping choices comes with a price attached. Also, pre-bundled burgers simplify it for the diner by presenting options, the assumption being the chef has created tasty signature combinations.

I think everyone agreed that the lettuce and tomato toppings were nice and fresh. Karen had a bacon-cheeseburger and wrote on her little rating slip “Nice burger, but the patty was a bit hard and chewy and not very flavourful. Toppings of lettuce and tomato ingredients were fresh. Bacon was a bit underdone. Fries and onions were a good addition along with the melted smoked gruyere cheese.” Stephanie had a jalapeno-cheeseburger and wrote “Bland burger. Toppings did not add to the burger experience.” In juxtaposition to these comments, Nelson quite enjoyed his: “Really enjoyed this burger. The bun was very nice and the burger was flavourful and juicy.”

The consensus was that the fries were good. Josilda noted “Fries delicious!” Karen though they were “very nice and crispy.”

On a closing note, the Fox & Fiddle did not apply the dreaded auto gratuity that diners dislike so much. We were permitted to choose our own tips and that was appreciated.

Food pr0n for any veggie-lovers that have found their way here. Fox & Fiddle makes their own veggie patties in-house. Check out the whole peas, corn niblets and black beans!
Fox & Fiddle on Urbanspoon

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