When you eat as many burgers as I do, you become thankful for the creativity and ingenuity of chefs across Canada.
Canadian restaurants are busy flipping the classic burger on its head. From coast to coast to coast, they take the art of burger making to the next level. As the host of You Gotta Eat Here!, my taste buds are consistently spoiled. How many people can say they've been able to sample everything from mac and cheese to chicken balls, chili to oysters and sausage to soft shell crab on top of their burgers? And that's just a small sampling of the mouth-watering menu options I've encountered.
Part of the giant burger's appeal is the spectacle of it. Some of them arrive at your table bigger than your head - like, there's no way you should try to finish it. But people like being challenged by a colossal burger and thinking, "Oh, I can do that." It's the caveman in us shouting out "Ooooh, me strong! Me eat burger! You give me free T-shirt!"
The funny thing is that I'm actually a very simple burger kind of guy. Left to my own devices, I'll always order a cheeseburger. I've just always loved its simplicity. But the burger craze across Canada is inspiring and the variety out there is truly staggering. How do you not try them?
We eat a lot of burgers in this country and every town seems to now have its own unique, gourmet burger place. They're popping up everywhere. I think chefs want to outdo themselves and "out create" other restaurants, too. The hyper-local food trend is also part of it; people don't mind paying that extra money for locally-sourced beef and homemade condiments.
I think Canadian multiculturalism and regional cuisine has also played a role in our eclectic burger scene. When you get into the middle of the country, where you find all that beautiful beef, it's basically super-fresh ground chuck. Essentially, the cow was around in the morning and now it's a burger - that's how fresh it is. That's pretty wild. And when you go out to the coasts and find all that fresh seafood, the chefs are combining it with traditional burgers in really interesting ways.
In Season Three we were treated to The Outlandish Oyster Burger at Mile One Eating House in Pemberton, BC. This burger is the best of BC on a bun. Chef Randy Jones takes three big, ocean-fresh oysters and breads them in panko before pan frying them and finishing them off in the oven. Once they're hot and golden, the oysters are loaded onto a fluffy potato bun smeared with smoky, creamy chipotle mayo and topped with crispy bacon, fresh tomato and lettuce.
The Surf and Turf Burger special at Little Louie's Burger Joint & Soupery in Cambridge, ON, is the owner Steve Allen's tribute to his hometown of Cape Breton, NS. In order to make his signature beef patties, he starts with ground beef and adds hoisin, soy sauce, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Sriracha, eggs and diced onions. To build the burger, he spreads house made tartar sauce on a bun, then places the patty down and adds a generous helping of sweet cabbage before finishing with the deep fried lobster tail. For presentation, a beer-battered lobster claw is skewered on top. Little Louie's Canadian Chinese Food Burger - packed with chicken balls, cherry sauce and ginger, skewered with a freshly made spring roll -- is also one of a kind.
What makes an exceptionally good burger? It's all about flavour and texture. And it can even be done without the meat. I ate a vegan burger at Boon Burger in Winnipeg -- Canada's first all-vegan burger joint -- that was unforgettable. Shooting for Season Three, I worked with one chef who outdid himself in the number of burger toppings. Erv Salvador at Lucy's East Side Diner, Vancouver, BC, does an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink hamburger creation that features four, 5 oz. hamburger patties, each covered in melted thick-sliced Canadian cheddar and topped with crisp bacon, caramelized onions, and mushrooms. A thick, crispy onion ring is balanced on top of the mushrooms and the center is filled with homemade chili and topped with a fried egg. Finally, the chef adds a butterflied smoked sausage and a handful of ultra thin and crisp deep fried onions. The list of tasty treats we sampled goes on, whether it's the nachos-inspired, The Rebel, at Burger Revolution in Belleville, ON or the Country Road Pizza Burger at St. Joachim Diner in Belle River, ON.
For all the burgers I've tasted on my travels, lamb patties are one of my favourites. There's something about mint and garlic together that's ridiculously delicious. Avocado on a burger -- usually as a spread - has also become one of my go-to toppings. And it must be the Italian in me, but I do have a dream topping for any entrepreneurial chef out there: I'd like to see fried prosciutto on a burger instead of bacon. Wouldn't that be delicious? You invent it and, who knows, I bet our cameras won't be far behind.
We live in a massive, diverse country, full of endless possibilities for travel and long road trips. It's nice to know that you can eat a burger at practically every step of the way and feel like you're eating something different each time you sit down for a meal. Keep up that kitchen creativity, Canada.
Season Three premiers April 4, 2014. You Gotta Eat Here! airs on Food Network Canada on Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
The Absolutely Ridiculous Burger at Mallie's Sports Bar & Grill in Southgate, Michigan comes in at $499 per burger. But that's not all that's special about this burger: it's also the Guinness World Record holder for the biggest burger on the planet, weighing 185.6 pounds. (According to Mallie's website, you can also get this monster delivered for $2000.)
Not content to let Serendipity 3 take the crown for most expensive burger in their hometown, 666 Burger has thrown down the gauntlet with the Douche Burger. The team at the NYC food truck, told Gothamist that the (appropriately priced) $666 sandwich is covered and stuffed with "rich people shit." That is: a foie-stuffed, gold-leaf-wrapped, Kobe patty smothered with caviar, lobster, truffles, Gruyere melted with Champagne steam and BBQ sauce made using Kopi Luwak coffee (research on this coffee is best done after lunch).
Paris Las Vegas', Le Burger Brasserie priced its 777 Burger intuitively. It's $777. The Kobe beef and Maine lobster burger is topped with caramelized onions, Brie, crispy prosciutto and 100-year aged balsamic vinegar. Oh, and it's accompanied by a bottle of Rose Dom Perignon champagne, which may help account for the price.
Chef Hubert Keller has already won James Beard awards and a Michelin star, now he's vying for most expensive burger in the world. At the Las Vegas outpost of his restaurant Fleur, you can order up the FleurBurger 5000: a Wagyu beef and foie gras patty, topped with truffle sauce and shaved black truffles, on a brioche truffle bun. This burger that sounds like a robot is served with a 17 year old bottle of Bordeaux (a 1995 Chateau Petrus).
You read that correctly. A few years ago, Hardee's (known to some regions of the U.S. as Carl's Jr.) created a $6000 combo meal that includes one of its $6 burgers, an order of fries and a $5,994 bottle of Petrus '82 Pomerol Bordeaux. Legend has it that this is available on the Room Service menu at The Palms. Thanks for throwing in the free fries, I guess?
As far as we can tell, at $10,000 the uSocial burger, created as a charity auction item by Australian advertising agency uSocial, is the most expensive burger in the world. What makes this burger worth $10,000? For starters, the patty is a blend of Australian Wagyu beef with a solid white truffle core. That gets topped with a slice of aged cheddar and a generous portion of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, a rare Spanish ham from "free-range Iberian pigs which feed almost exclusively on acorns during the last period of their lives." The burger is then layered with sliced white truffle and a 24kt gold leaf, drizzled with a reduction of 8-year aged Aceto Balsamico vinegar and sandwiched on a 24kt gold leaf, saffron and black truffle brioche bun. Bidding starts at $10,000, with the proceeds split between over a dozen charities.
Follow John Catucci on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johncatucci