Meatheads fight for burger glory
By Tim Pawsey
Friday, Feb 1, 2006
|| Gerald Tritt, co-owner of Vera's Burger Shack, hams it up with a six pack of patties at his inaugural burger-building contest as designed by the customers. |
Some things the Hired Belly does on a whim, occasionally against his better judgment...
While the rest of you were making good on your New Year's resolutions, we were busy with constructive carnivorous research last week co-judging Vera's Burger Shack's "Build a Better Burger Contest."
Of course, if anyone really needs to build a better burger-design a combo with all the inventions the fertile culinary mind can imagine-it probably isn't Vera's, though we can think of a few others who could use help.
This day belonged to Vera's, a success story to relish indeed. What started out humbly as a West Van beach side concession continues to expand at a rapid rate, with openings planned soon for Surrey and possibly other points east.
Last year, "Vera" decided it was to time to let her adoring public go wild. "Let them create their own burger," thought co-owner Gerald Tritt. And believe me, they did-to the tune of about 1,100 different combinations.
So there we were, like sheep headed for lamburgers, to taste the 10 finalists. A few more innovative offerings didn't make the cut for a variety of reasons, ranging from food cost issues to "engineering" challenges and a few unusual flavour combos. We can't say we're upset that we missed out on banana and peanut butter. Or the blueberry pancake, eggs and maple syrup special. And as for the blood sausage? No doubt that guy's still recovering from the ravages of Burns Night.
We learned a few important things from this tasting. First and foremost: if meat is big, it's even bigger at Vera's, where even a perfectly built oyster burger has a tough time making it to the menu-although a Po-Boy is under consideration.
As for size, nothing that can be held between two hands is too daunting for the loyal Vera's customer. Some of these servings were just plain humongous-bib material for sure. (It's also surprising, despite numerous "just one bite" good intentions, how much of these test burgers we actually wound up eating-no small testament to Vera's overall quality.)
There's also no threat to B.C.'s diminishing salmon stocks from bait and switch burger-meisters: Vera's smoked salmon plate is experiencing its own diminishing returns and may even be retired. In favour of what? Don't bet on tofu.
The fun of this contest stems from its unequivocal homage to the cow. Witness second placed Cowabunga, which was dreamed up by Brian Chung, who wins dinner at Vera's every week for a year. It sported a double whammy of a six-ounce beef patty, plus similar sized turkey burger, plus two rashers of bacon, all of which should be more than enough to keep your average carnivore happy at least until dinner. Not for the faint of appetite, for sure.
Jeffrey Phillips' third Place Mediterranean Heat had plenty going for it. It was layered with mayo, "Medi-mix" of olives, feta and sun-dried tomatoes, and loaded up with shredded cheddar and guacamole, with a few sneaky peppers to make good on the heat promise. (Phillips gets a $100 Gourmet Warehouse gift certificate.)
Ultimately, though, it was the Asian-influenced, mild heat and gently sweet combo from Dan Noble's Thai Me Up that nailed down first place. Even with Vera's skilled assemblage (along with cheese, peppers, mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomato), it's messy as hell but you just can't stop eating it. What makes it tick is the match of sweet chili sauce with caramelized onions. There's bacon in here, too, to further bump up the savoury-sweet contrast-a nice touch but almost unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. You'll be able to taste it shortly at any of Vera's shacks.
Noble wins an all-expenses paid trip to Vegas for his efforts. Tritt, meanwhile, is already planning a second contest.
Me? I think I'll be buying new pants. Again.