GOING OUT: THE DISH
By ALEXANDRA GILL
Friday, June 17, 2005
I've got a beef with thin patties
I don't understand why fast-food hamburgers have become such a big fat deal. In the good old days, a burger was just a burger -- a cheap and greasy comfort food, handy for curing hangovers or eating on the run. Then along came Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock's gross-out documentary, for which he ate nothing but McDonald's for 30 straight days. All of a sudden, burgers became the No. 1 cause of America's obesity crisis and the source of all evil. As gimmicky as it was, the documentary turned the stomach of millions, thereby prompting the fast-food giant to downsize its menu and add a few healthier items.
Before you could even say, "I'll have a free pedometer with those fries! " the tables turned and every celebrity chef from here to Manhattan was competing to create the world's priciest burger. I mean, come on. Is a Big Mac really any harder on the old cholesterol count than a thick Kobe-beef patty topped with a slab of foie gras? And am I the only one who thinks that ordering a salad at McDonald's is about as silly as going to a gourmet restaurant for a $30 sirloin burger with pommes soufflées?
Just when it looked like the burger wars were over and sanity would once again prevail, along comes Fatburger charging across the border. Fatburger, for those who haven't heard, is a big U.S. chain that's famous for its diet-defiant name, fresh made-to-order menu items and celebrity clientele. Well, it's not quite as popular as In-N-Out Burger (Graydon Carter's caterer of choice for Vanity Fair's annual post-Oscar party), but it does count talk-show hosts David Letterman and Montel Williams among its more fanatical followers.
Now, Fatburger has landed its first Canadian franchise in Vancouver, a cute 1950s retro-style diner all dolled up in the chain's signature red and yellow, with leather booths, neon lighting, open grill and faux-vintage jukeboxes. On opening day, there were lineups all the way down Denman Street. Since then, a number of local fancy burger-slinging chefs have quietly snuck in to pig out in the name of professional curiosity. And everyone I ask says they're dying to try it too, but haven't done so yet because they feel guilty about betraying Vera's Burger Shack, a local institution only a block away.
Frankly, I don't understand what all the fuss is about. Yes, it is kind of ironic that Fatburger has become the official burger of the B.C. Lions, given that Vera's is co-owned by former B.C. Lion Noah Cantor (who now plays defensive tackle for the Toronto Argonauts). But according to his partner, Gerald Tritt, Vera's only slowed down for a few days after Fatburger opened, and several of the B.C. Lions are still interested in buying their own franchises. So who needs a big, expensive sponsorship anyway?
The true test of any burger is in the taste. And in my humble opinion, a Fatburger is actually rather skimpy. The meat is fresh, but the single patty (1/3 pound) is pretty small for $4.99 ($6.49 for a double or king). According to the menu, customers can opt for charbroiled or flat grilled. I wasn't given the option. Mine was grilled.
When it comes to condiments, Fatburger keeps it fairly simple. Burgers come with your choice of mustard, relish, onions, pickles, tomato, lettuce and mayo. For an extra charge, you can add on plain old sliced cheese, bacon, chili or egg. The burger bun is soft and white. I've heard some complaints (Neil Wyles, executive chef at Hamilton Street Grill, says it's "Wonderbread-ish"). But to be honest, I kind of like that melt-in-your-mouth texture.
On the side, Fatburger offers fat fries or skinny fries. I like having the choice, even if the skinny fries are frozen, but I did miss the option of gravy (how very American). Fatburger also has homemade onion rings and chili cheese fries. No salads.
The best part of the meal was the milkshake, thick and smooth, made with hand-scooped vanilla ice cream. Even Tritt over at Vera's will concede Fatburger makes a mean shake -- even better than his. But the next time I'm going for a burger, I'll skip Fatburger and go back to Vera's for an even fatter, six-ounce charbroiled burger, slathered in garlic-mayo sauce, with an order of poutine on the side. Because if you're going to clog your arteries, you might as well go for the gusto. And sometimes the little guy still does it better. "