author: quinn bell | A&C writer
yum, yum, yum… / Pixabay
Last week was a special time in the Canadian food scene. Every year during the first week of September there is an international food festival called Le Burger Week, celebrating the humble burger. Chefs in restaurants and food trucks across the country (as well as the U.S. and Haiti) put forward their best burger creations in an effort to bring in more customers, to gain popularity and recognition in their own communities and beyond, and to bump up sales.
The festival is not all about the money and business. Rather, festival co-founders Na’eem Adam and Thierry Rassam stress the importance of giving something special to the public: an excuse to get out and try something innovative, delicious, and, an opportunity to get to know their local chefs. Le Burger Week is also a chance for these chefs to show off a little. It is an excuse for them to get creative in the kitchen. Every burger on sale during the festival is crafted only for the event. Creations range from a fancy double-decker cheeseburger on sale for $24 (see the “Dragon-Slayer” at Vancouver’s Bells and Whistles restaurant) to a vegan-friendly warmed beet on a bun (see the colourful “Beet-A-Licious” at Gatineau’s Microbrasserie Gainsbourg). Photos of all the burgers — alongside mouth-watering descriptions — can be found on Le Burger Week’s website.
What was on offer in Regina this year? There were only four in the running, and two of them (the Taco Burger and the Fiesta Burger) were, it appears, the same. Both coming from the Canadian Brewhouse, these were burgers with guac, salsa, sour cream, jalapeño cheese, and Dorito chips. The other two burgers in the city were the “Beaster” from Roots Kitchen in Harbour Landing, and the “Chicken Karaage Rice Burger” at Wann Izakaya Japanese Brewpub on Broad Street.
The Beaster was a powerful-looking burger. In lieu of a basic patty, its meat was pulled barbecue beef-brisket. This was topped with smoked white cheddar, bacon, onions, tomato, and lettuce, all on a fresh brioche bun. Such a recipe is straightforward enough that everyone should be comfortable with it. It brings back memories of summer barbecues past, but is also original enough to be exciting and worthy of Le Burger Week.
The Karaage Burger from Wann Izakaya was very, very different from the Beaster, but it was still intended to bring up fond memories of good times for those who have spent time in Japan. The Karaage Burger was a departure from the typical Canadian burger. Firstly, its “bun” was made entirely of rice. It was crunchy, having been fried. I’ll admit that at first, I couldn’t help but think of stale rice cakes, lost in the pantry a bit too long. Once I took a bite, however, I got hit by some sesame oil and a more complex texture than I had anticipated — it was chewy, crunchy, and soft all at once. The sesame oil did make the “bun” a bit greasy and slippery, but that just made licking my fingers all the better.
Between the rice buns there was no patty, but rather crispy Japanese fried chicken (karaage). The meat had a really nice crunch on the outside, and was incredibly juicy on the inside; it reminded me of well-cooked chicken schawarma, the kind you get late at night at a donair stand. The lettuce also reminded me of late-night donair, but this, unfortunately, isn’t a compliment. Intended to brighten up the burger and cut its greasiness, it was instead warm and thin, having melted a bit under the heat of the rice buns. Thankfully, refreshing redemption came in the form of a really special yuzu citrus mayonnaise. The yuzu sauce brought the whole burger together, brightening it up and giving it a very unique and citrusy taste. I loved it.
Sadly, Regina’s was not the selection to be had in Canada’s more major cities. Saskatoon — always a few steps ahead of us in terms of food — had thirteen burgers on offer, including some really funky ones that I really wish I could have tried. One that caught my eye was the Caprese Burger from 2nd Ave Grill: tomatoes, basil, bocconcini (fresh mozzarella), olive oil, and a balsamic reduction, served open-face atop an Angus beef patty. Another cool looking one was the Stuffed Bun, from the Honey Bun Cafe. This burger was baked right into owner Joscelyn Armstrong’s fresh bread alongside cherry bacon, smoked cheddar, caramelized onions and mushrooms. They then topped it all off with a house-made hot mustard. Drooling yet?
Although Le Burger Week 2018 is now over, it’s not too late to enjoy a good burger in Regina, whatever your diet. My two favourite burgers in the city (so far) are both veggie burgers. The first to try is Hunter Gatherer’s “The Stranger” — which to me is actually very familiar. It has a satisfying and flavourful bean patty, topped with some spicy goodies and more satisfaction and flavour. If you’re scared of a little spice but still want to give this one a shot, you can order a “Stranger, No Danger,” or else just try “The Usual,” which is also pretty amazing. Please order with fries.
My other favourite burger is at the Avenue, on 11th. I initially ordered it because it was one of the less expensive options, but I got my money’s worth and more. Describing it won’t do it any justice but know this: it comes with an egg on it, which seeps right into everything in the very best way, making the burger just so savoury. I could hardly stop humming!
I would love to see some more Regina venues taking part in Le Burger Week in 2019, so please spread the word to your local chefs and restaurants. I’m looking forward to next year!