This is the second year that Northern Vision Development has challenged Whitehorse restaurants to make the best burger.
This year six restaurants took the bait -- The Gold Pan Saloon, the High Country Inn, The Cut Off, Earls, the Steele Street Restaurant and Lounge (which is the Westmark) and the Klondike Rib and Salmon.
Six writers each tried a burger, and rated them according to their own standards.
The Yukon Burger Challenge runs til the end of August. Vote for your favourite. Each restaurant has a ballot box and forms. Those who cast a ballot are entered in a draw to win a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant they voted for.
The restaurant that wins the challenge gets a plaque.
And eternal fame.
The Cut Off Burger is a Winner
by John Alderson
Since we have relatively few options for going out to eat in this town, I was looking forward to checking out the new restaurant at the Carcross cut off with the fitting name of, “The Cut Off.”
The restaurant's location isn’t ideal for those who live right in Whitehorse, but since we live five minutes down the road it’s a great option.
The restaurant is located in an old highway truck stop, and the owners have maintained a truck stop vibe with the décor and menu. It’s upscale, home-cooked, truck stop food.
At $18 the Alaskan Hamburger is priced to set gourmet expectations. It’s $2 extra for bacon, $1 extra for cheese and $3 extra for onion rings.
I easily rang up a $24 plus tax and tip bill, without a drink. This seems steep, but on the other hand the portions are very large. My companion and I split one burger and neither of us left hungry.
The atmosphere at the Cut Off is similar to Burnt Toast Café in downtown Whitehorse, which makes sense as it’s run by the same folks. It boasts lots of reclaimed old wood and tasteful truck stop-chic décor. It was a little dark for my liking, with small tinted windows. It's a tough space to work with, but the owners have done a good job.
My fiancée decided on the beer battered onion rings instead of fries, which in retrospect was a mistake. There was way too much batter for my liking, though this might be exactly what some are looking for. Nevertheless, I wished we'd ordered the yummy looking shoestring french fries that were being enjoyed at neighbouring tables.
The burger itself comes on a nice, fresh ciabatta bun and it’s served with bourbon barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomato, garlic mayo and crispy onions. It's certainly very tasty, and at this price I wouldn't expect anything less.
Location and décor play a big role, but the most important thing for a restaurant is how good the food is, so all in all The Cut Off's Alaskan Hamburger has earned itself a gold star in my book.
Tainted Judge at the High Country
by Darrell Hookey
I didn’t have to taste High Country Inn’s candidate for the Yukon’s best burger to know it would be the best. Executive chef Brian Smith and executive sous chef David Verney are famous for their Lead Dog barbecue sauce. It is a loving combination of Yukon Brewing’s Lead Dog ale, smoked ketchup and molasses.
And, for the meat, they take a smoked brisket, marinate it, and mix it with chorizo sausage. No fillers like bread, egg or anything...
Well, there is some seasoning from the rub, but that’s it. It’s a tantalizing mixture of sweet and spicy.
Then there are the mushrooms, sauteed with Forty Creek Rye.
See? Every ingredient is there in all of its own excellence.
Next, all Chefs Smith and Verney had to do was put the meat and mushrooms between a bun.
But they didn’t. Nope. They took it up a notch and added onion rings.
And cheese and salty bacon.
The burger is named Too Big For Your Britches.
A burger has to live up to its name.
So they added another eight-ounce patty of meat.
They didn’t stop there.
Oh, the humanity!
They added a grilled cheese sandwich in the middle.
It was bigger than my mouth! It was bigger than my head!
Our server, poor Emily, winced with the effort to heft it onto to table.
Mothers hugged their children close lest the beast fall over.
Construction workers, done for the day, avoided eye contact with me so that I would not challenge them to order one.
I realized I needed to remove the sourdough grilled cheese sandwich from the middle. I needed to chew out some relief bites from the bun to get at the meat of the burger. These preparations complete, I was finally able to rest my entire mouth into the orchestra of flavour that was the scent and juice of perfection.
The natural-ness of the ingredients were unfettered with process, allowing each taste to take its turn, delighting my senses.
It’s named Too Big For Your Britches; thankfully, what it was actually too big for was my stomach.
I couldn’t finish.
Medal Finish for Taste
Points docked for style
by Glenda Koh
Let’s start with lineage. These Earls guys have a long history in big city casual dining with a solid showing in the beef burger category. They’ve run with the small fries and hung with the home fries; we’re talking 20, 30 years of burgers going back to when it was practically illegal to use mayonnaise.
Now the program: we saw a classic couples routine: one chicken, one beef, two beers, a side of fries and a yam fry option.
Nothing wrong there.
Nobody needs a burger jumping off the menu acting like a meat head before it even hits the table.
Initial presentation lacked showmanship: where were the parsley and pickles that we’re used to seeing on a plate? The white space won’t cost them, but the wrinkled bun might.
Earls set a good foundation with fresh ingredients. A solid two slices of red tomato, firm lettuce (not iceberg), two wedges of avocado and a double strip of bacon. Wow! We haven’t seen bacon like that since the brunch challenge of ‘06.
Where these two burgers really strutted their stuff was in the fresh meat. No pre-fab meat pucks; these guys had an actual ground beef patty and a piece of grilled chicken. Unbelievable!
So this duo laid a good footing, but did they bring down the house? They came close, but the banana peppers cracked their facade. Let’s talk about this particular program element. Not everyone agrees that style is going to make or break a burger, but in this case, putting “banana” on the same menu item as “beef” might have been an error.
Ultimately, it was those peppers - yes tangy, yes spicy, but nonetheless, they brought the crash. And it was spectacular! Not five minutes into the routine, the bottom bun was melting in pickled pepper juice, the top was soggy with thousand island.
Good old knife and fork had to pick up the pieces.
Let me tell it like I see it, these guys have the chops to make a great burger and they gave it 110 per cent on taste, but ultimately, style and ambition kept them from gold.
They wanted it all, but no burger can stand up to the richness of bacon, cheese and avocado at once. All that and banana peppers too! What a night! Unforgettable!
The Rip-Roarin’ Rockin’ Rudolph Burger
by Lily Quan
This is a guy’s burger, the kind where you crush a beer can on your forehead afterwards and go, “Yeah, I ate that.”
Katie Thom, the kitchen manager of Klondike Rib & Salmon, laughs and agrees, “It’s a rowdy burger.”
The Rudolph burger is Klondike Rib & Salmon’s entry in Burger Challenge Week: a patty of reindeer meat, cheese curds smoked on the premises, deep-fried onion bits called tinsel onions and two slices of deep-fried pickles. Sriracha-lime mayo is slathered in two separate layers, which lets you taste the mayo’s kick with each bite. A soft brioche bun encases the whole thing. The burger arrives at the table five inches in height. Any taller and you’d need an escalator.
Katie and her staff wanted a burger that was different. They did their research, checking out the burgers of competing restaurants in the Burger Challenge Week. In the end, they chose reindeer meat, (also known as caribou), because wild game is abundant in the Yukon.
The Klondike Rib & Salmon is known for smoking its own meat. They didn’t want to smoke the burger, so in this case, they chose to smoke the cheese topping. The onions provide crunchiness, the pickles a sour edge. The Rudolph burger gets a creative thumbs-up.
Katie thinks it’s funny that I call it guy food: the burger was created in a joint effort by three women on staff.
The restaurant has had positive reviews. “People think it’s great,” says Katie.
The household I grew up in had three brothers and a grandmother who loved to watch wrestling. I could picture any of them – including Grandma – chowing down on the Rudolph burger, wondering when they could come back and order it again.
I find the Rudolph burger very tasty – the meat is moist and firm and the smoked curds are particularly yummy – but I can’t finish it. Midway through, I order a salad with balsamic dressing on the side to balance out all the heaviness.
My parents owned a restaurant and I know what they would say if they saw me: “Lightweight at table Eight.”
Living Large at the Gold Pan Saloon
by Peter Jickling
The song “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer,” written by Rudy Toombs and recorded by Amos Milburn in 1953, is about indulging in the moment and damning the consequences. Now, the brain-trust at the Gold Pan Saloon on Main Street have channelled the spirit of that song into the Milburn-Toombs Burger – their entry into the second annual Yukon Burger Challenge, running until August 31.
The centerpiece of their creation is a Scotch egg, which is boiled and wrapped in both pork belly and breaded bacon. This patty is glazed with bourbon barbeque sauce and laid on a bed of onions and mushrooms braised in Yukon Brewing’s Bonanza Brown beer.
Get it? One Scotch, one bourbon, one beer.
Fixings include lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and jalapeño jack cheese. The kitchen staff serves the Milburn-Toombs with a steak knife protruding vertically from the top – a sassy touch.
The sandwich is 11 centimetres high, and the parenthetical cheese bun is thin, meaning its girth lies in the meat.
Upon arrival it prompted excitement and confusion. How was I supposed to eat the thing?
The answer is: messily.
Fortunately, it’s damn tasty, if a tad excessive. The pork belly is exotic and succulent, the barbeque sauce adds southern tang, the braised veggies leave a finger-licking chin rivulet and the bacon does what bacon always does: improves life. The egg, around which everything orbits, is lost amongst other flavours, but don’t worry, your arteries will know it’s there.
At the burger’s three-quarters mark, rumblings in my stomach were replaced by rumblings of self doubt.
Could I finish it?
When entertaining such thoughts, consider the lesson Milburn and Toombs taught us: if you’re going to go on a bender, you might as well go all the way. The same holds true for the burger they inspired – quitters need not apply.
Considering the extensive ingredients, the Milburn-Toombs burger is a reasonable $16.
Big Name, Big Flavour, Big Price
by George Maratos
It breaks from tradition, it’s packed full of flavour and - like the sports car it’s named after - its price tag sets expectations high.
The Mediterranean Lamborghini is the Steele Street Restaurant and Lounge’s entry in this year’s burger challenge.
The Lamborghini is not your traditional burger. It is an eight ounce lamb patty infused with mediterranean spices and feta. Now, being the son of a Greek man, who grew up on a mostly Mediterranean diet, I’m all for lamb and feta. The more the better.
If you’re more of the classic beef, bacon and cheddar burger connoisseur you’re in for a surprise – a very delicious surprise.
I respect the Steele Street kitchen staff for thinking outside the box. It would be easy to go with a classic burger, especially being a restaurant that sees a lot of American tourists.
I like that on a culinary stage, like the Yukon Burger Challenge, the Steele Street took an unordinary route. They’re skating to hip hop, not classical.
Big points here for that risky choice.
Let’s talk presentation. The Lambo isn’t a massive burger. It is not small, but it isn’t anything John Candy would struggle to get down. Your friends don’t need to gather around and cheer on each bite.
If you eat burgers you can get this down.
For me that’s a big plus. I can eat it and not feel immediately bloated. There’s no beads of sweat, no shortness of breath, no dozing between bites.
That said, when it costs $27.95, you want lots of burger. You almost do want to be comatose when you’re done eating it. But, in the case of my dinner companions, it was the bill that did just that.
The Lamborghini is messy and full of wardrobe malfunctions. The roasted red pepper and goat cheese aioli oozes from the burger. That, combined with lettuce, tomato and cucumber, is too much for the poor little kaiser bun. The result is a sloppy, but delicious, mess. I caution the bearded and first-daters against taking on the Lambo.
In the end, there is no denying the flavour of The Lamborghini. You won’t be disappointed with the taste. Just remember to stock up on napkins and bring your wallet.