It’s always a good time for a burger, isn’t it? Maybe it’s summer BBQs that spark the cravings, or maybe its because they are the ultimate sandwich. Whatever the case, recently I had two remarkable experiences at supposed burger emporiums, at opposite ends of the pleasure spectrum, with most unexpected results. It all brought to mind our old friends Public Enemy when they wisely suggested: Don’t Believe The Hype. Here is the tale of one of the two excursions.
On a jaunt downtown with the family lunchtime snuck up on us. What to have, what to have? Local paper The Suburban recently named ‘Burger Bar’ on Crescent Street the home of the best burger in Montreal as per a month long reader vote, an impressive crowning for a relative newcomer to the restaurant scene. In reading reviews of the place, fans raved about the burgers, milkshakes, even the wings. I had my husband at ‘Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake’, which one reviewer insisted everybody on earth try. Who were we to disobey random reviewer #6? We aimed the car at rue Crescent.
We walked in to the narrow resto and the waitress greeted us. We asked if they had highchairs, and they didn’t. Parental Strike One. Okay, maybe restaurants on Crescent Street don’t have a booming highchair need, but not even a booster was to be found. We feared disaster (a near two-year-old unrestrained in a restaurant should frighten the bejeebers out of you) but were so tempted we chose to stay.
It’s a very pretty premises. Light wood floors and table tops contrast nicely to black tufted leather banquettes and exposed red brick walls. I had time to focus on décor as it was a small lifetime before our waitress came over to see if we were ready, or say hello, or offer us a beverage. I asked if there was a kids’ menu. Parental Strike Two. My husband said ‘ok so you guys hate kids’ which I thought was unfair, at the time. She said “no, no, we don’t…are you ready to order”? That’s a negative on charm, folks. We put in for the kids to share a regular burger, and an extra plate to divvy it up. My hubby ordered a Diet Coke and poutine potato skins, and I requested the holy Toasted Marshmallow shake. I swear to Gosh, the waitress asked ‘are you ordering more?’. We assured her we would be, which is a ridiculous thing to have to do as clients. The implication that our tab at that point wasn’t to her satisfaction was obvious and incredibly without tact. Wow.
Shortly the server returned with the soda, an old fashioned bottle of Coke Zero. No mention of it not being a Diet Coke and therefore not what was ordered. No biggie, said hubby, he prefers the Coke Zero, but still strange that the server never mentioned it wouldn’t be an actual Diet Coke just as a courteous FYI. Moments later she delivered the magical milkshake, in the old fashioned tin it was stirred in. On top floated a meringued marshmallow, but it was alone in the cup. As in, no straw. I waited impatiently for her to come back with one and then dove right in taste buds a-blazin’. And then a-fizzlin’. The milkshake was entirely unspecial. Nary a hint of marshmallowy goodness, way closer to vanilla, and was more warm than cold. A more to the point review: I poured half of it into a glass for my 3 ½ year old, and he didn’t touch it. Give him a McDonald’s shake and you’d think the straw had been surgically attached to his lips. Get the picture?
Still, we forged ahead and placed our burger orders. For the monsieur the Supersonic Burger (two points for probably unknowingly using a Pearl Jam song title in the name), a burger topped with onion rings, Jarslberg cheese, bacon, kosher dill pickle, tomato, banana peppers and spicy mayo (which he switched to a side of BBQ sauce, he’s one of those anti-mayo freaks, you probably know one). For me it was the more standard BBQ Burger, Jack Daniels BBQ sauce, caramelized onions, bacon, cheddar, lettuce and tomato, with a side of sweet potato fries. I was so excited for a burger drowning in saucy sweetness AND sweet potato fries AND to try the sweetness of the brioche style buns they opt for. I was determined to remain undaunted by the waitress/milkshake’s lack of zip.
Next to arrive was the poutine potato skins. OK, credit where credit is due. They were beautiful and devoured by hubby. Simple enough in presentation (and lets face it, execution: take toasty skins, pour gravy over top and add a handful of curds to get melty and gooey), the idea is genius and one I’ll probably steal for my recipe collection.
Finally, the burgers. The Supersonic is a sight for hungry eyes (look, I threw in another song title!), stacked high and made to tower with the onion rings on top. Very impressive…looking.
Hubby ate his burger without a single ‘mmm’ escaping his lips. When I asked him what he thought he said ‘meh, it was average at best’. I asked what he thought of the brioche bun and he said ‘it was stale, and chalky/pasty’. I asked what he thought of the BBQ sauce (he is a huge fan usually) and he said ‘it was nasty’. I was supersonically surprised to see the little dish of it still full. That was an actual first. Now my husband is a pretty happy-go-lucky easy-to-please guy. Here he was barely finished his last bite and already dying to get out of there. Not exactly what you hope for with first time customers.
Granted, hubs was surly from handling the loose toddler. Baby had to be changed very awkwardly with no change table present (Parental Strike Three). When he got really fussy we had to break out the IPhone videos because nobody came to our rescue with a smile and a pen or crayon. Overall it was as if to the server the children weren’t there at all, and as a parent and former waitress this peeved me to no end. Even if you hate when kids are seated in your section, it is totally unprofessional to let that show. A good waiter treats every kid at their tables as if they are the cutest on Earth (and mine are) and the best behaved (mine are still the cutest). And if they become a handful it is the waiter who can swoop in and be the lifesaver angel by handing over a writing device or making a ketchup happy face on a plate (a la Johnny Rockets, a place to get a great burger and shake but alas non existent in Montreal). You play to the parents, right, because parents love a fuss over their children, and parents leave the tips. But when a server instead steers clear of the table, and doesn’t even show up to ask if everything is OK after the food is delivered, AND forgets to bring the spare plate for divvying the kids food so that their mother, enjoying the first meal she hasn’t had to prepare and clear all week, has to stand up and go over to the expo area and get one for herself, well…it’s obvious her tip was of no interest to her, and we were happy to oblige her non need for it, leaving our first minimalist tip possibly ever. Turns out, yeah. Burger Bar may not hate kids but they do a good impression of not giving a flip about them.
But I’ve digressed. Back to the food.
You’d think I knew what that BBQ sauce tasted like, having ordered the BBQ Burger, right? It was sure to be smothered in the stuff, right? Like all good BBQ burgers ought to be, right? Wrong. I am not exaggerating when I say that after three bites I took my burger apart to try to locate the sauce. There was a dry smear of it on the bottom bun. That’s it. No dripping. No licking it off my fingers. Actually, I’d have been happy to simply taste it! Then again…after hubby’s reaction maybe I should be grateful. In his little ramekin the sauce was extremely thin and…yucky. But I will say this. The first bite of burger was good. True, I hadn’t eaten breakfast and didn’t get even a smidgen of the poutine skins, but I thought it was good, the bacon/caramelized onion/cheese combo on the well cooked burger. It briefly reminded me of my favorite burger, which can be found in Manhattan at Cosy Soup and Burger (GO THERE.). But that enjoyment was fleeting. ‘Where’s the sauce’ and ‘Where’s the waitress’ and it was downhill from there. It was just OK. I thought the brioche was an interesting change but didn’t have any big overall effect as I hoped it would, and we all left tons of it over on our plates. The sweet potato fries had a nice amount of salt on them, but if I’m being honest (and I am) they were bland, and the spicy mayo dip for them wasn’t tasty or flavorful, just hot. I wanted to be knocking on heavenly food’s door, but we took a wrong turn somewhere and wound up in run-of-the-mill-ville.
Here is the last straw (maybe why it wasn’t in my milkshake!). That new, clean image I was given by the décor? Washed away by the nasty crust around the mustard bottle’s top, and the dirty, torn ketchup label that clearly showed it was being refilled and reused and usually means the ketchup on the bottom is old and gross. We were finished and ready to go. My husband flagged down our hostess with the leastest, and was told that she’d be back with the machine to swipe his card. Now taking bets: Did she come back with said machine as promised or did hubby curse a blue streak and then get up and go to the machine at the bar so we could get the hell out of Dodge?
I’ll let the suspense just eat you up with that one. And when it comes to Burger Bar, let that be all the eating up that’s done. For the sake of those dining without babies, let’s remove the parent/child aspect of the review and strip it to what matters at a restaurant: food and service. The food was very one note and very not notable. The flavors don’t come to life, especially for those Crescent Street prices. Not to mention absolutely the worst service ever, and a slow Sunday afternoon provides little excuse for the server. Best burger in Montreal? Don’t believe the hype.
Stay posted for next burgery review.