Sometimes in the depths of winter you need a treat to lure you out of the house. This year, we consoled ourselves for icy winds and freezing drizzle with semi-regular dates for burger lunches with friends. We found that in a neighbourhood with a big population of students, there are lots of options when it comes to the humble hamburger.
One snowy day in January, we began our investigations at In’s Kitchen, the Korean restaurant at 65 Templeton St. We had enjoyed their traditional Korean dinners several times, but were curious about the Korean BBQ burger, available at lunchtime only. It turned out not to be a traditional hamburger at all, but rather a hearty sandwich of sliced marinated beef served on a seedy triangular bun and garnished with shredded cabbage as well as a house sauce; it makes for a hearty and extremely tasty meal. All lunches at In’s are $17.00, which includes a beverage, and options like bibimbap were available for those who weren’t into meat or a hand-held meal. As we left, we were charmed to notice that near the door were disposable cups that held plant cuttings that were free to take home. Clearly, the owners of In’s have green thumbs as well as cooking skills.
Our next outing was to Egg Pops, at 358 Rideau St. We all found the name of this new takeout place a bit too cute. Somehow I couldn’t stop picturing an egg on a stick, or perhaps a breakfast treat meant to be warmed up in the toaster. But it turns out that Egg Pops’ menu consists of breakfast sandwiches and burgers, each topped with an optional fried egg. The young proprietor told us that this is the type of food he likes to fix for himself at home, and it seems he is onto something; we all found our meals delicious. Egg Pops gets its excellent buns from Art is In bakery, and they were up to the challenge of containing the generous portions of fillings and the extra richness of the runny egg yolk. Prices ranges from $6.50 for a basic egg and cheese breakfast sandwich (which is really the only option for vegetarians) to $12.50 for the Meat Pop, a burger garnished with bacon, smoked turkey and smoked cheddar cheese. Good luck taking a bite out of this one without doing some deconstruction! Along with our sandwiches we got a side of homemade chips — crinkle-cut rounds of deep-fried potato that were a truly delicious treat.
No Forks Given, 191 Somerset Street E., is a classic student hangout. There’s plenty of seating space in the upper level and a good selection of beers on tap. Burgers range in price from $11.00 to $18.00, and seem to be aimed at youthful appetites, as the basic ones promise 6 ounces of meat and the larger ones are 9 ounces. It’s a lot of food! Once again we found that generous brioche-style buns were doing a good job of holding things all together. The meat was divided into thin patties, two per burger, crisped-up around the edges in a pleasingly savoury way. You will have the usual choices to make regarding cheese and bacon. If you really want to pile on the calories, there is one that comes with a slab of deep-fried mozzarella. There are some plant-based burgers, a mac and cheese option, and likewise a flavourful elote salad, based on corn and cheese, for the vegetarians. There are also onion rings, coyly referred to on the menu as The Lord —“of the rings,” explained our waitress —which are well worth sampling.
Want to settle into posh surroundings, enjoy a post-lunch cappuccino, and maybe pick up a loaf of excellent sourdough and some croissants on your way home? Working Title Cafe, at 330 Laurier Ave. East, is the place for you. At $22, their burger was a little more expensive than most of our samplings, but not outlandishly so, and it came with a generous side of excellent roasted potato wedges. The burger had much to recommend it, with an excellent bun and crisp pickle garnish. We had mixed feelings about the meat patty itself, however, which was tasty, but extremely dense, and so thick that it was a bit of a chore to chew. And the smoked Applewood cheddar was pretty hard to taste on top of all that meat. Working Title’s excellent soups and quiche made for nice alternatives for the non-burger eaters in our party. We left in good spirits, having enjoyed basking in the company of the enormous paintings of historic Ottawa by Bhat Boy, beautifully displayed on the restaurant’s walls.
Our final stop was Le Bac à Frites, the classic chip stand that has stood in the University of Ottawa parking lot at 56 University Private for many years. They were doing brisk lunchtime business when we visited, with students and construction workers carrying away feasts of poutine and hotdogs. We found our sides of fries and onion rings to be nicely browned and tasty. And I have to say that the hamburger was exactly what I’d hoped for: hand-shaped, nicely adorned with lettuce, tomato and mustard, not too plump to take a bite out of. There are no fancy housemade sauces or artisanal buns here, but there’s a good selection of mustards, sauerkraut and other condiments. The grilled cheese sandwich and the chicken burger earned lacklustre ratings, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the burger for a quick and tasty $7.50 lunch; it evoked memories of the beachside snack bars of my youth.
There are so many places we didn’t get around to! Safi Fine Foods on Somerset E. serves burgers, as does The Bridge at the Rideau Sports Centre — not to mention Burger Lovers on Laurier Avenue. If you’d like to recommend a favourite of yours, please send a few lines to email@example.com for our next issue.