The best burger in town

When foodies get restless, they debate “the $100 hamburger”.

It’s an intellectual exercise that asks the question, “What would you have to do to justify charging $100 for a hamburger?”

So, it was with great interest that I watched my Lovely Dinner Companion order a Bison Burger at Skky Hotel’s Volare Restaurant.

It was only $12, but this is an elegant restaurant with top-of-the-line furnishings and an ambiance that is well-suited for the most romantic dinner, or most-important business meeting.

What could these good people do with the simple burger? I would have to wait to hear what she said, because I ordered the Butter Chicken, a Middle-Eastern dish that, when cooked well, is to die for.

Looking at the rest of the menu, there were the usual suspects for starters, including Mediterranean Prawns, Bruschetta and, hmmm, this is interesting, Frazzled Prawns. It is a light batter of shredded phyllo, coconut and chilli flakes. The chef likes to put a twist on things … maybe that $12 Bison Burger will have a twist, too.

Looking at the entrées, I see that the only common thread is the prices that are lower than I would have expected.

“We don’t want to be a steakhouse,” says Corrina Lotz, the manager. “Only one thing is $26, everything else is under $25.

“People want bang for their buck.”

Lotz worked with Antoinette Oliphant when she owned this restaurant and had fallen in love with it.

Coming back, it was like “coming home”, she says.

She is closed for lunch, but, being a restaurant in a hotel, she needs to have a breakfast. So, there are light breakfasts of yogurt and cottage cheese, and omelettes at $8.50 and French Toast at $7.

“But it’s a kick-ass omelet,” says Lotz. “There is no grill, so everything is made in the pan. It’s a fluffier omelet and the stuffing is throughout … it’s more traditional.”

Before our meals arrived, Lotz offered my LDC a martini. She then proudly showed her a list of 30 different martinis – Boston Tea Party, Woo Woo, Cigar Lovers, Manhattan, Classic, Chocolate Mint, Caribbean, etc, etc – and she said there will soon be 30 more on top of these.

Along came our meals and my Butter Chicken was all that I had hoped for … and with a dash of flare. It wasn’t just good … it was interesting and good.

But my LDC’s Bison Burger … my goodness. It was served with grilled in-season vegetables and a big salad. Daisy’s eyes rolled back into her head after just one bite and she declared it the best she’s ever tasted.

I had a bite, and agreed with her.

Why have I been spending more money, all of this time, for burgers that were mostly bun and dry meat?

Every millimetre of every bite was a mix of tastes and textures that worked in concert to create an experience.

The chef came out and was thrilled to hear our assessment. Mike Collie said the ciabatta bun kept it all together and the sauce was his own house barbecue sauce with mango. The burger, itself, is a lean bison meat that is mixed with cilantro and cajun spice.

“I’m the king of looking at the fridge and deciding what to pull out,” he says.

I love this guy! … he’s a skilled, yet playful, chef; a Yukoner’s Yukoner who likes to ride his ATV and has as many photos of his dog, Coach, on his iPhone as he does of meals he has created.

This burger is one of those photos. “The process started with Antoinette and, at one restaurant I worked at, we had mango chutney on a meal.”

Adding feta cheese — “The saltiness and the sweetness” — was his idea, too.

As proud as he is of the Bison Burger, he says his barbecue ribs are his most-popular creation … they sell themselves.

“I use my house barbecue sauce and there is some texture to the meat, a little chew. I don’t like mushy meat, so it isn’t ‘fall off the bone’ ribs.”

And, not for nothing, the more of these they sell, the more rib bones he gets to take home to Coach.

When I commented on the dessert — a sinful Chocolate Genache — he says the credit goes to his sous chef, Joel Gurnett. It underscores how the two of them are in sync: outside-of-the-box menu choices, but delivered simply with more of what people like.

Yeah, baby! There was lots of chocolate ganache, wrapped in a substantial crepe (not the flimsy stuff you get in the name of elegance).

“It’s a very romantic dessert to share,” said my LDC, who couldn’t finish much before she gave the rest to me.

The three of them – Lotz, Collie and Gurnett – will continue experimenting and making bold decisions about the food they prepare.

This fall, they will switch things up; and, this winter, they will start a Sunday Brunch that will offer something different … they just don’t know what yet.

Volare, on the Alaska Highway across from the airport, is open 7 to 11 a.m., and 5 to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

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