Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hamburger Hoedown Throwdown

I have never been one to crave a burger. As a kid I was always into chicken nuggets - and to be perfectly real with you, besides my introduction to (and subsequent love affair with) In-n-Out Burger 8 years ago, I have never eaten a fast food burger in my life. No Big Mac, no Quarter Pounder, no Big Bacon Classic, nada. However, I do like me some junk food. Like every true Quebec native, I enjoy a good poutine with steaming hot gravy and melting cheese curds... and chicken fingers with french fries will always put a smile on my face. But I don't hang with the Hamburgler and don't bow to the Burger King. That stuff just smells like garbage to me.
Eight years ago I tried the in-n-out burger, and it was amazing. Still, I didn't venture far into burger eating world, figuring that In-n-Out just happened to be one amazing item, and I would enjoy it whenever I got the chance. Cut to two years later. I meet my now husband, and the burger was forced right back into my life. He's a burger freak, and now I find myself eating more burgers and seeking out great burgers everywhere we go.
After Eric and I got married, we drove up to the Laurentians and stayed at the very beautiful Quintessence for a few nights. Of course, we had no interest in eating resort food every day - we needed some authentic post- nuptials casse- croute action. But with so many options in the area, and only one meal to spare on junk food (OK... maybe 2 meals), I needed to investigate. So one morning while we were having breakfast in the Q dining room, I poked my head into the kitchen and asked the staff where the best burger in town was.
"Benvenue" was the unanimous response.
I reported this news to Eric.
"Bull****" he said. "100% Boeuf is definitely the best burger in the area."
Now let me just preface this by saying that Eric and his snowboard buddies go to Mont-Tremblant every weekend and ALWAYS stop for burgers at a place called "Le P'tit Stop" on hwy 117 southbound near St-Jovite. They all call it "Cent Pourcent Boeuf" (which means one hundred percent beef, in french) because of the huge sign on the roof of the restaurant that says, well... 100% Boeuf. I'm going to say based on how much they talk about it that it's at least 25% of the reason they snowboard, and for some of them, much higher.

Anyways, this time we tried Benvenue. And I loved it. And so did he, except he's too biased to admit it's better than 100% Boeuf, and he actually made us stop at 100% ALSO that day. I haven't been back to Benvenue since, until this past weekend where we made our second double casse-croute pilgrimage together. The order was going to be a simple Cheeseburger and fries - we didn't want to muddy up the test scores by adding poutine or other Quebec delicacies to the mix.

The scene at Benvenue was as I remember it. In fact, it probably hasn't changed in 20 years. Benvenue's unimpressive on the decor front. I don't mind the green chairs attached to tables MacDonald’s style, but Eric says the discomfort doesn’t invite hanging with friends or taking your time while eating. So Benvenue loses points there. It does however, make up for it ten fold with the Pepsi menu board with velcro lettering - bienvenue a Quebec! The place is spotlessly clean, and the kitchen is open air, and as I watch them whizz around assembling burgers, toastees (a hotdog in a toasted bun) and poutines, I felt great about the hygiene and food care in that kitchen. Seriously.

There’s a constant flow of people lined up at the counter making orders, and then a mess of people waiting to pay and waiting for food. I ordered fries a cheeseburger, with tomato, lettuce, and ketchup, Ric had the same with the addition of “chou”. The googley eyed old man at the cash took my order, turned to the cook and translated it from French to Laurentian Quebecois French.

The burger came in a tightly wrapped wax paper bundle, and I smiled as I looked down- the burger stork had just dropped a little tightly wrapped bundle of cheeseburger love right into my lap.

The burger from Benvenue is the perfect package I remembered it to be. Let’s start in the center and work outward. The beef: By no means is this a thick and heavy duty patty. But it smells great, and it’s just thick enough to be cooked all the way through and still be juicy. It’s the perfect size to complement its neighbours, the cheese and crispy bun. The lettuce and tomato are pretty standard - shredded iceberg and a slice of tomato - both perfectly good, the right amount & not slimy. The cheese: light orange in colour, the cheese is somewhere between velveeta and a melted kraft single. It’s warm and spreadable and dolloped on with a spoon - but not quite “spread” on. I am really not sure what they are using or how they assemble the cheesy mixture, but it’s cheesy, sticky but not runny, and tasty. And they don’t use too much. If I caught a glimpse of the stuff in any other setting I would never go near it - but it truly makes the Benvenue burger special. Again, if the burger patty itself was any meatier and thicker, the taste and delicate balance of the cheese would be lost. Finally, the bun. The bun has been pressed on a griddle to toasted perfection. The entire top and bottom of the bun have a light crunch all the way across, and the bread itself is moist and fresh all the way through, so when you bite through the delicious toasted exterior, the moist inside is no let down. I may have enjoyed it even more sitting at a table and chairs, but I wolfed it down on the way to our next burger stop, and snuck in the remainder of my fries for comparison. My moxie only goes so far.... I polished off the burger in the Cent Pourcent parking lot. Bringing in beef from another casse-croute would be the ultimate insult to a proud burger joint like this place. 

It was an 11 minute trip to 100% Boeuf, and the parking lot is full when we arrive. And apparently... I’m with a VIP. Ric chit chatted with the staff and introduced me to the proprietor, who offered us a complimentary home made fried dough / “beaver tail” with the toppings of our choice in celebration of Ric bringing the miss'. The place looks like a no frills log cabin on the inside and is much brighter and more vibrant than Benvenue - which feels more like the Seventies inside (or so I’m told). In terms of decor and ambiance, 100% is superior. The kitchen is again open, spotless and staffed with 5 friendly people in all whites and hairnets. Definitely a more professional looking ("looking") operation. Here, you order at the cash, give them your name, and sit down. When the food’s ready, one of the kitchen staff walks out with your tray in hand, and shouts out the name associated with the order. You raise your hand to claim your meal. 

The burger arrived in a tight wax paper package - dressed the same as Benvenu’s (for the sake of science). It’s slightly larger (a 4oz patty - they also offer an 8oz version) then the Benvenu burger. The patty is a bit thicker and I found it slightly less juicy/greasy, even spongy. The cheese is a basic square of processed cheddar, not put on the griddle and left for enough time to melt. Two thumbs down in the cheese department. The vegetables on the burger are the same standard stuff, but with an entire slice of onion, which requires some work to separate, unless you really like raw onion (which I do, but not everyone does). The bun is toasted - they fry both sides on a separate griddle top in the kitchen only they don't get enough surface area of the bun actually toasted and crispy (only the very top gets a spot on crispiness due to the curvature of the bun), and not soft and fresh enough to make up for the lack of toasted-ness. As for the fries, there’s no question. 100% Boeuf has the advantage. Crispy, hot, not greasy, but not dry - excellent. Even though I was asked not to mention it, 100% got our burger topping order wrong, after having written it down, while Mr. Potato Head at the Benvenue counter listened to my order, just once, and got it bang on. Just sayin'.

A female employee came by to ask what we decided on for desert - this is very unorthodox at 100% as orders are never taken at the table, but like I said... VIP treatment. My man really knows how to impress a lady. We opted to share a chocolate covered “delice d’anna” named after the owner’s mother. The boys loved it but I was too stuffed after 2 cheeseburgers and fries, and thought it was just OK (no disrespect to the man's mother).

I was warned about the food coma that sets in after you eat 100%, and sure enough, an hour later I was in bed fast asleep... tough sunday of burgers and fries.

The verdict: The burger at 100% had a distinct flavor, and I enjoyed the few bites I had, but it was a little too dry and not as tasty as Benvenue’s. For the post ski experience, maybe 100% is a touch cosier, and delivers service with a special smile. It certainly does the trick & then some (they have chicken nuggets and Benvenue does not) but Benvenue slams it out of the park in the burger category. No competition. Mmmmmm... now that's a tasty burger!

I give Benvenue a huge, hearty gold medal. But hey - if you live for 100% burgers and have never tried the heavenly goodness of the Benvenue burger, I'll bet 100% Boeuf seems pretty awesome. So rock on Eric & friends, rock on.
Here's some other burgers I tried recently and loved:

Burger Joint at  the Parker Meridian (NYC)
Step into the lavish lobby of the parker meridian, and just behind the velvet red curtain awaits a lineup to a burger to behold in the hole in the wall right there in what seems to be the crawl space of the luxury hotel's lobby. Best. fries. ever. (Please note I have also had some of the best fries of my life at Fred's in Barney's)

Taverne on the square
Big, juicy, delicious burger cooked medium and served rightfully without all the fancy accoutrements. Famous Tavern fries on the side. Bite into this sucker too aggressively and watch the burger juice spray all over your friends like a slasher movie kill scene.  
Patati Patata
A little perfect package. Excellent fries. Everyone I know loves this place, it's no secret how incredible it is.

Amazing burger, and amazing to see such an amazing burger in an restaurant where so many other menu items rank at the top of their categories. If you've never tried it, as Hymie says, "you're always welcome". 

La Paryse
It's different, and delicious- but may not be worth the long lines- I find recently there's a slight decline in quality. A montreal classic.

**Also to note, I think Mr. Steer Burger smells like dirty mop water (a major, red,  hygiene siren should now be ringing in your brain), and eating a burger in the shape of a tennis ball is not cool, anywhere, anytime.


  1. You're a riot Danielle. Crazy funny and true. I never did get religion from 100%. But I will definitely try out the Benny V after reading about the crispy bun and velveta blob. Ok, never mind the cheese. My mouth is watering for a tasy burger. I think I'll head up north immediately.

  2. ur funny sister! have you tried Burger de Village? or the burger at Med? please add these to your to-do lists if you haven't already.
    From one burger eating woman to another.
    Lauren Bultz

  3. Burger Joint is a great call!!
    There's also Shake Shack on the Upper West Side and J.G. Melon on the Upper East Side which are both equally amazing! :)


  4. I loved this post. You just got me very hungry for a burger.
    And I may completely disagree with your note about Mr Steer, but it made me laugh out loud nonetheless! :)

  5. You are too funny!
    So in the mood for a burger now! We are on the same page because MBrger didn't even make the list! Completely agree with you about In-N-Out and Burger Joint. I have also always been a fan of Bistro on the Avenue's burger/fries. If you are ever in Vegas stop by Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay (Hubert Keller who is currently on Top Chef masters owns and runs it), they make a burger that is delish.

  6. Great entry. I enjoy a raw onion on my burger and there is nothing worse than spongy burger meat. Somebody commented on JG Melon. You have to go there next time you are in nyc, its the best since In and Out. Almost.

  7. OK, so I read your full review and I conclude:
    - If you're looking for a grilled velveeta sammy with a hint of greasy beef and a side of OK fries, go Benvenue
    - If you enjoy the taste of perfectly char-grilled 100% beef & perfect fries, go "Cent Percent" (I strongly encourage you add on their tasty bacon... frankly I am surprised that bacon was part of the standard order for your taste test... because I know you know that everything is better with bacon, and I know you know that 100% beats Benvenue bacon out of the gates!)

    No catching this guy at Benvenue!

    P.S. watch your shots at Mr Steer... BenD eats about 1-3 of those per week, and think little Z eats 2-4!