Between the Buns: Going Beyond Traditional Burgers

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Can you ever really improve on a classic dish? Can a well-aged T-bone, for example, grilled to perfection and served with an indulgent béarnaise sauce, ever get any better? Or what about fresh, whole steamed lobster with a simple clarified butter?

How about a burger and fries? Perhaps, served with a milkshake or an ice-cold soft drink, a smattering of mustard, some cheese and pickles on a squishy bun. Crispy, salty fries on the side, served with a dollop of ketchup or — if you’re feeling extra-continental — mayonnaise.

As an idealized dish, consumers are quite opinionated on what constitutes a truly great burger-eating experience. Houses across the nation are divided on whether grilled burgers trump griddled, what cheeses and toppings should be included and the correct type of bun that should be used to create the perfect burger.

Burger options for Canadian consumers are seemingly endless. Applying current foodservice trends to this classic Canadian favourite brings flavours, textures and ingredients to the forefront that have never been seen before within the industry.

While the big, classic burger will never go out of style, current trends see burgers taking on new identities — whether it’s the composition of the actual burger patty (we’re seeing more burgers made with non-traditional cuts of beef such as short-rib or oxtail, though chuck remains the most popular) or the flavour profile of the burger as a whole.

As part of today’s foodservice trends, ethnic flavour profiles continue to influence burger trends in 2019. From Asian-inspired glazes to salsa-topped Mexican-spiced patties, adding an extra layer of flavour often intrigues Canadian consumers to step away from their regular orders. Non-traditional approaches to burgers, such as sushi burgers made with sticky-rice buns, are also proving popular options for adventurous Canadian diners.

Rice Burger in Vancouver specializes in unique rice-bun burger creations, such as the Chicken Katsu ($6.60), Spicy Korean Pork ($6.60) and Spam Musubi ($6.60), as well as interesting sides such as Kimchi Fries with cheese, mayonnaise and scallions ($5.75).

Meanwhile, in Victoria, Big Wheel Burger is taking a traditional approach to burgers alongside its thoroughly modern approach to environmental sustainability.

“We have a lot of regular customers who come in for the classics, but also like to try something new,” general manager Yann Frizon de Lamotte explains. “We have a feature burger that changes every Thursday — it’s created by our chef.”

Claiming to be Canada’s first carbon-neutral fast-food restaurant, Big Wheel Burger produces zero emissions in each of its three locations. All packaging is fully compostable, making its customer area 100-per-cent trash-free. It partners with a local non-profit organization to turn compostables into an FED (Food Eco District) garden, growing vegetables which are then used in its restaurant kitchens.

“When we first opened in 2011, our approach was to provide a high-quality burger experience — we were largely driven by quality, along with sustainability,” Frizon de Lamotte says. “At the time, we felt this business was necessary — people wanted an eco-friendly approach to fast food.”

The burgers at Big Wheel are classically American in style, made with fresh, locally sourced Triple-A beef. It also offers two plant-based burgers. To the staff at Big Wheel Burger, the perfect burger isn’t a complicated thing.

“It’s not a gourmet burger,” Frizon de Lamotte laughs. “There are no blue-cheese options. It’s just a simple classic — very well done with great quality ingredients.”

Sustainability is a trend that is constantly growing. While Canadians remain fond of their burgers and fries, they’re also increasingly aware of the sustainability issues in many areas of foodservice. This has led to more providers making the change to compostable packaging and more local ingredients.

This sustainable approach to quick-service operations, as well as an increasing “flexitarian” lifestyle among Canadian consumers, has led to an increase in plant-based alternatives to regular beef burgers. A&W recently launched — to immense popularity — the Beyond Meat Burger, which uses Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat’s 100-per-cent plant-based patty.

President and CEO of A&W Food Services of Canada, Susan Senecal says, when searching for the best plant-based menu option for A&W, Beyond Meat’s patty was the obvious choice. “When we tried the Beyond Meat Burger, we were amazed at how great it tasted and immediately thought it would be the perfect addition to our menu,” she says. “We knew we had to be the first national burger chain to bring it to Canadians and we’ve been thrilled with the response.”

The overwhelmingly positive response Canadian diners had to the Beyond Meat Burger initially caused A&W to sell out within several weeks of its launch. The patty itself is made from a mixture of brown rice, mung beans and peas and intends to perfectly mimic the texture and taste of a beef burger. “We’ve tried a lot of veggie burgers,” Senecal says. “We were blown away by the taste and texture of the Beyond Meat Burger. The flavour is truly satisfying for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.”

Many of the current plant-based proteins on the market attempt to mimic the taste and texture of meat to encourage omnivores to lower their meat consumption. Omnivorous consumers tend to choose more plant-based foods for personal-health reasons, as well as because of their low environmental impact.

While Beyond Meat has proven a popular plant-based burger choice for many fast-casual and quick-service restaurants across Canada, many full-service, high-end restaurants are also offering more plant-based options. Planta, with locations in Toronto and South Beach, Fla., specializes in unique, world-inspired plant-based foods. Executive chef David Lee didn’t always champion these foods, but says he finds them both more challenging and satisfying to work with.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s great, as a chef, to really challenge myself,” he says of the decision to move to plant-based cuisine. “I’m not vegan by any stretch, but there’s so much more to offer in a plant-based world.”

Planta offers small plates, such as coconut ceviche ($14.95) and queso dip (made with a cashew crema, $13.25), but is also home to the epic Planta Burger served with queso, dill pickles, tomato, lettuce, mustard and buffalo aioli ($19.95). A truffle-infused cashew “mozzarella” melt add-on is also available for $9. It was important for Lee to create a plant-based burger that was satisfying and delicious —appealing to meat-eaters and vegans, alike.

“It took a long time [to develop the burger recipe],” he admits. “We wanted something both gluten- and soy-free, so it was a lot of trial and error. It really makes you think about the practicality of it. With a mixture of mushrooms, pulses and spices, it’s a great burger.”

A benefit to creating your own plant-based burger recipe is the ability to add to your brand’s story. Lee says the ingredients he uses set the Planta Burger apart from other plant-based burgers — not only in taste, but also in how they support Canadian grain farmers.

“We use [Vancouver-based] Grain as our main grain and pulse supplier and make use of Canadian ingredients in our burger,” he explains. “Each order is fully traceable and we’re supporting small Canadian farms at the same time. It’s not just a lentil, there’s a story and a relationship behind it.”

SIDESHOW STARS
When it comes to fries, restaurants have started giving customers more options through the use of multiple potato varieties, different cooking oils, additional seasonings, spices, dips and dressings — even other fried vegetables, such as pickles.

Michael Ste. Marie, senior Sales manager at Lamb Weston Foodservice, says while the burger is always meant to be the star of the show, you can also make an impact with the right side dish. While there are versatile and interesting side dishes for burger meals, Ste. Marie insists, when it comes to burgers, it’s never a bad idea to stick to the classics.

“French fries are still very much considered a treat for Canadian consumers — most people don’t have a deep fryer in their home and, therefore, still enjoy going out for their fries,” he explains. “With this in mind, classic French fries still remain the most popular burger side dish.”

There are areas of innovation when it comes to burger sides, though. Many providers offer customizable sides, such as onions rings, fries, salad, fried pickles or baked potato.

Many quick-service establishments, such as McDonald’s Canada, now offer upgrades to burger sides, such as making your French fries into poutine, or upgrading to the Herb & Garlic Seasoned Fries.

Ste. Marie says other potato products making the rounds in popularity include Tator Tots and sweet-potato fries.

“Canada’s always been a big user of sweet-potato fries,” he says. “While they cost more for foodservice providers, they cook more quickly than traditional potato fries, due to their higher sugar content. This means you can serve customers faster and charge a higher price for them.”

Written by Janine Kennedy 

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