How can a simple disk of ground beef on a bun inspire such devotion? Canadians faithfully congregate at events such as Alberta Burgerfest and Le Burger Week, held in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Last April’s edition of PEI Burger Love, co-founded by Fresh Media in partnership with P.E.I. Cattle Producers, sold more burgers in 30 days than there are residents in the province (163,170, to be exact). Kelseys has launched its own burger festival (June 5 to July 2, 2017 ) with features such as the new “Canada, Eh? Burger,” in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. So, how do you make a righteous burger? Follow this year’s 10 Commandments.
1. GO UPSCALE
“The biggest trend is the premiumization of burgers,” says Robert Carter, executive director, Foodservice with The NPD Group in Toronto. Demand for quality continues to boost premium chains such as Hero Certified Burgers, South St. Burger and Relish Gourmet Burgers.Burger luxury knows no limit: Splitz Grill (Vancouver and Whistler) routinely offers free-range bison ($9.25) and Salt Spring Island lamb burgers ($8.95). For Chinese New Year, West-Coast chain Vera’s Burger Shack ran a Golden Lobster burger with butter, truffle oil and 24k gold flakes ($19.99); Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon carries a Hamburger de foie gras ($39).
2. OFFER CHOICES
“We’ve seen growth with build-your-own options,” says Charles Winship, senior research analyst, Consumer Insights with Chicago-based Technomic Inc. “It’s centred on putting consumers in control, letting them order a burger exactly how they want to.” Thus, Hero presents five patty possibilities, five cheeses, five buns (including gluten-free and blackened “Bamboo Charcoal”) and a plethora of toppings. Wahlburgers promises “over 14 million flavour combinations.” Even McDonald’s, founded upon standardization, has introduced a “Create-Your-Taste” menu.
3. BE INDULGENT
The Fionn MacCool’s chain recently launched an extravagant Flagship Bacon Burger topped with potato chips ($16.95). The Burgeroni at Ontario-based The Works chain is a cheese-stuffed patty topped with pepperoni and pizza sauce ($16.76). At Montreal’s Jukebox Burgers, diners who finish the JBB Challenge ($59.95) within one hour eat free; it’s a two-pound waffle burger plus four meat toppings, chili, cheeses, onion rings and wings.
4. GO GLOBAL
“We’re going to be seeing more adventurous ethnic flavours,” says Winship: “bold Mexican and Asian flavours, a few Greek-theme burgers, even some Cajun options.” Jukebox Burgers is already on-trend with My Big Fat Greek Burger!, a turkey patty with cheese, crisp vegetables, olive tapenade, tzatziki, guacamole and house dressing ($10). The Works has its Greek Goddess with feta and tzatziki ($13.97). Winnipeg’s Marion Street Eatery offers Baba’s Uncle: The Ukrainian Delight, which buries the beef under cheddar, bacon, garlic sausage, perogies, pickles, beets, caramelized onions and horseradish sour cream ($12.50).
5. INCLUDE FISH
Although beef is still the gold standard when it comes to patties, customers want a range of proteins. Chicken is most prominent, Winship says, while “the fish category has been driven mainly by salmon.” Hero routinely offers chicken, salmon and turkey; Jukebox Burgers always has turkey and crispy or grilled chicken; and The Works features chicken, turkey and elk. The Great Canadian Burger Bar at The Fifth Pubhouse in Toronto includes “Alberta bison” ($17) and “Nova Scotia salmon” ($15). Winnipeg’s Chosabi concocted its occasional special Angry Tuna Sushi Burger ($14.95) for Le Burger Week.
6. BE MEATLESS
“Vegetarian burgers have become increasingly popular as more diners are turning towards a plant-based diet,” says chef David Lee of Chase Hospitality Group’s Planta in Toronto. His vegetarian Planta Burger is “fully loaded with our house-made pickled onions, house-made tomatillo ketchup, pickled pepper and cucumber and a side of spiced fries.” Nuburger in Winnipeg has five different meatless burgers, including portobello, a decadent veggie option also offered by such outlets as Kelsey’s, Wahlburgers and Toronto’s popular The Burger’s Priest.
7. DON’T OVERLOOK THE PEPPERS
“Red peppers have increased 23 per cent among burgers at [Technomic’s] Top 200 chains,” says Winship. “Many of the newer applications are for veggie options such as the Kelsey’s “No Meat” Portobello ($13.99) and Applebees’ Portobello Veggie burger ($12.99), so operators may be using these to convey more flavour for veggie-based options.”
8. BE VIRTUOUS
Diners are demanding “clean” food: healthful, environmentally sustainable and humanely produced, embracing, for instance, vegan and gluten-free choices as well as ethically raised and antibiotic-free meat. Many chains (such as Burger King, McDonalds, A&W and Wendy’s) have made formal commitments to animal welfare and/or meat raised without steroids and antibiotics. Winship predicts that this is “going to become more of the norm rather than the exception.”
9. ADD AN EGG
With more “eating across the day”, Winship predicts a “huge push for brunch-themed burgers.” Already on the table: Kelseys’ All-Day Breakfast Burger ($15.49); Jukebox Burgers’ Monster Mash (with an egg, fresh spinach, avocado, bacon and cheddar: $16.45) and The Works’ Beverly Hills Lawsuit (egg, sautéed spinach, havarti and bacon: $15.31). Montreal’s Nuburger hits all the trends with its Drunken Aussie featuring grilled pineapple, candied bacon, egg, cheddar, veggies and low-fat mayo ($10.90) and The Golden Boy made with egg and cheddar with a black-currant shiraz reduction, sautéed mushrooms, balsamic onions and truffle aioli ($11.95).
10. BE AUTHENTIC
Who has burger authenticity? Wahlburgers trades on the Wahlberg family’s small-town Massachusetts upbringing with ingredients such as “government (processed) cheese” and menu items named for family members such as (matriarch) “Alma’s Macaroni.” But no one’s more genuine than Steve Mikos, owner for 48 years of Winnipeg favourite Mrs. Mikes. Customers embrace his enormous double-decker King Burger; the toppings are traditional, but Mikos makes fresh patties “as many as three and four times a day” and personally checks every single hamburger. “I believe in quality and no changes; my customers believe in no changes,” he says. “I have had [some of the same]customers for the last 48 years.”
Volume 50, Number 3
Written by Sarah B. Hood