Quick Downtown News: New Digs for Publican House, Naked Chocolate; Community Butcher Opens on George St.

nakedThe Farm to Table blog doesn’t get updated very often during the winter months, but I thought I would throw out some news that will excite shoppers in downtown Peterborough.

After moving to a new location at 142  Hunter Street, Naked Chocolate has opened their doors just in time for Valentine’s Day.  Get on in to buy that special something for your Valentine.

Don’t have a Valentine?  Chocolate and wine go perfectly together — what better way to drown your sorrows!

The Publican House has opened a brand new tasting room and retail store — right beside the publican brewery.  The tasting room has expanded seating for those who want to hang out for a while.  The new store, which features a large cooler, brewery merchandise and seating area, is now open to customers daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. It opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Finallycommunity, there is a new butcher in town.  And downtown carnivores are rejoicing!  The Community Butcher Shop caries all local beef, pork, and chicken.  Owner, Scott Walsworth, prides himself on sourcing local product and supporting the community.  I took the time to sample a number of his products — some thick-cut smoked bacon, tandoori chicken wings, and lamb merguez — and they all scored high on the Farm to Table taste-o-metre.

The exciting part?  All three venues are on board for next year’s culinary tours!  Look for this year’s schedule to be released in April.

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Spread the word: Farm to Table is hiring!  We’re going to be taking on a young entrepreneur to help organize and run the tours — and to help expand them into new markets.  Deadline to apply is March 2nd.

Burger Wars: Round 3. Reggie’s Hot Grill

Awhile back, I started a blog mini-series on the “burger wars” of Peterborough.  Here at Farm to Table, we take our burgers pretty darned seriously and feel that it is our responsibility to report on the state of burgerdom in this here Peterburger town.

The first part of the series gave a bit of recent burger history.  You can find it here.

The second part was a review of the new burger kid on the block: The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro.  You can find that review here.  The conclusion:  A quite pricey (though definitely large) franchise burger with an impressive array of tasty condiments.  Hand cut (and somewhat crisp) fries.  Excellent customer service.  7/10.

Next up in the better burger battle is Reggie’s Hot Grill.  Reggie’s has a soft spot in the hearts of many local burger aficionados.  While this soft spot is most likely made up of a combination of cheese and french fry grease, it exists nonetheless.  In short, Reggie’s is definitely a favourite in this town.  It became so as a result of a combination of innovative burger options and a pretty darned good product.  It didn’t hurt that they ran the best darned burger/chip truck in town (sadly, now closed).  For a good long while, Reggie’s could do no wrong.

Of late, however, Reggie’s grill-flamed halo has begun to sputter.  There have been reports that the once-keen eye for detail has begun to wander. After all, owners Cameron Green and Rejean Maranda have opened a few other restaurant properties over the past few years, including El Camino’s, Kettle Drums, and the newly purchased McThirsty’s.

In fact, whenever I have posted about the restaurant over the past year or so (on Facebook and Twitter) I’ve heard fairly equal measures of praise and regret.

The Reggie burgers that Krista and I have bought over the past two years have ranged from pretty good to disastrous.  I mean, ingredient-wise, they are better than fast food franchises, but sometimes burned, other times missing condiments.  On one occasion, both.

For the sake of this review, I decided to give the Reggie’s kitchen the best opportunity they could to knock it out of the park.

I popped in midweek, at 11:15am.  Knowing I would likely be the only customer, I wanted to check out what a fully-attentive staff could do with a burger.

The woman working behind the counter was fresh-faced and keen.  Say what you will about Reggie’s, those kids that they hire are always a chipper bunch.

Having had a few very well-done burgers from the restaurant before, I decided to try to mitigate the over-grilling.

“I know you folks have to cook your burgers to 71 degrees,” I told her.  “But if you could keep it as rare as you can, that would be great.”

She nodded.

I took off for 10 minutes and returned to find my burger still on the grill and the waitress talking to her co-worker.  The conversation quickly ended and the cook hightailed it back to attend to my food.

The result?

My Pepper Jack Burger was blackened on one side and definitely a very, very well-done puck of beef.  The cheese, I have to believe, was thrown on when I came in the door and quickly wrapped up with the burger — definitely without any time to even slightly melt.  While the other condiments, including their quite delicious Creamy Jalapeno sauce, were bang on, the burger itself was a bit of a grilling disaster.  And this was with me being the first and only customer of the day.

The fries, on the other hand, were excellent.  Piping hot and golden brown, they almost made up for the burger.  Almost.

Before assigning a score on this one, I’m going to factor in my previous visits to Reggie’s — and the fact that I have had some great burgers there in the past, and likely will again.  That bump, however, is not enough to put it into the above average realm of burger mastery.

As with the Works, I’m pretty certain that we’re not dealing with local ingredients.  Other than the generic “6oz Ontario Beef Burger,” I’ve seen and heard no mention of local sourcing.

The verdict: Reggie’s has the history and potential of a great burger shack.  They have good, fresh condiments (even if they are sometimes mislaid), notable fries, and great customer service.  They also have some consistency issues and a seemingly growing list of disgruntled patrons.  Their burger is quite a bit smaller than the Works, but comes in at a lower price.  I got away with just around $15 for a burger, fries, drink, tax and tip — still pretty pricey for a overly-charred chunk of cow.  While they remain my burger go-to, they need to return to the level of detail that made them so good in the first place if they are going to keep my business. 7/10.

It’s your turn, folks.  Chime in with your Reggie’s experience.  Let us know what you think of the Works.  Or tell us where you think the best Peterburger is served.

Burger Wars: Round 2. The WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro Review

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For Round 1, and the introduction to this feature, please click here.

OK, I’m going to cut the WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro a bit of slack here.

I sprung a take-out order on them, you see… While the entire Peterborough Petes team was standing in line to be seated.

I’m also going to totally praise the staff who went out of their way to help me out.

“I usually don’t mind doing take out,” explained a burly fellow who appeared to be a manager of some sort.  “But we’re expecting a big group of guys to come walking in at any second.”

Cue the army of 6-foot-plus hockey players that came streaming through the doors.

“Let me see what I can do for you,” he said.

Meanwhile a waitress swooped by and shouted out, “Don’t worry, I’ll grab his order!”  She was back in seconds to see what I wanted.  And she was darned chipper about it too.

So, yes, I was ordering take-out from a primarily sit-down burger bar.  And I was doing so while they were trying to attend to a hoard of very hungry — and very large — hockey players.  Several waitresses popped by during my wait to let me know how long my order was going to take.  They didn’t treat me like the pain in the ass that I was.

For that I say thank you, WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro!  Your customer service knocked one out of the park.

But, really, we’re not here to talk customer service — though if your restaurant doesn’t have it, your patrons aren’t coming back.  We’re here to talk burgers.

And how were the burgers?

Not bad.  Good, but not great.

The particulars: I ordered the Smokey Mountain (and added a “Gourmet O-Ring) for myself, and a Downtowner (with an upgrade to double smoked bacon) for Krista.  See here for the menu and for our burgers.  We split an order of fries.  The damage?  30 dollars.  A very pricey burger outing, and definitely more than we usually pay at Reggie’s.

Was it worth the money?  Good question.  Those are some expensive franchise burgers.

I’d probably swallow the price a bit more if the beef were local, and if I had any clue as to where it came from.  As it is, they are made from a half-pound (you read that right, a half-pound) of “fresh 100% Canadian Beef.”

So, yes.  They’re big.  According to Krista, perhaps a bit too big for her needs — though I’d be hard pressed to ever say such a thing myself.

Now, here’s the surprise: I was all set to write off the Peterborough WORKS as all style and no substance.  My previous few WORKS experiences featured dry, dry over-cooked burgers, with generous (and sometimes ingenious) toppings.  Again, don’t look for local or seasonal in the toppings, but do look for diversity.

This time around?  Bizaro-WORKS.  The total opposite.  OK, not completely total, but…

We know that the WORKS has to cook their burgers to 71 degrees.  It is a sin against beef, but it’s the way they do it.  And my previous forays led me to believe that our burgers would be cooked well past that.

Maybe it was the fact that they were trying to serve 23 Peterborough Petes, but my burger was a lot less dry than my previous WORKS samplings.  They were by no means juicy.  But they weren’t pucks.  I would have to say they were pretty good — but, again, not great — burgers.  Now, roughly 3/4 of the feedback I’ve received about Peterborough’s WORKS has been about the fact that they have been far too dry.  Perhaps the secret is going in when they are absolutely slammed.

The beef itself is fairly generic tasting.  It definitely lacks the flavour of some of the local, pasture-fed cow that I’m used to.  It is somewhat bland and really calls for a heavy hand with the condiments.

Of course, the flip side to ordering when busy is the condiments.  Both Krista and I found half our burgers to be utterly lacking in taste and the other half to be vastly improved.  The reason?  Both or our burgers had the cheese dripping off one side, the bacon crammed into a corner (yes, I know the bun is round, but cut me slack), and our respective sauces to be concentrated in off-side goops.  The kitchen staff definitely needs to work on its aim.

Krista was quick to point out the lettuce on the burgers.  Wilted, weak, and probably past its life expectancy, it is something that just didn’t belong on a burger.  I agreed whole-heartedly.  I’m hoping this is an anomaly for this condiment-first restaurant.

Other than that, the toppings were tasty.  It is the WORKS’ claim to fame, and they definitely don’t let you down.

But you don’t pay $30 for toppings.

The verdict?  A quite pricey (though definitely large) franchise burger with an impressive array of tasty condiments.  Hand cut (and somewhat crisp) fries.  Excellent customer service.  7/10.

 

Burger Wars: Round 1. Introduction

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There’s a burger war heating up in Peterborough. And it’s a hot, juicy, grill-fired mess.

With Reggie’s Hot Grill, the new Canteen of Kawartha “Cabins,” and the recently-opened Works Burger Emporium all looking to attract the Burgertelle of Peterborough, the question has to be asked: Is our local food economy big enough to support this kind of beef? Or will our Peterburger scene sog and mush like a poorly made hamburger bun?

Some backstory here:

There was quite a bit of ink spilled earlier this year when the City announced that both Reggie’s Hot Grill and the Hippy Chippy had lost their bids to operate at their respective popular locations.

Actually, only a moderate amount of ink was spilled. In this digital age, much of the anger, dismay, and protest occurred online. It is safe to say that many bytes were taken in this burger incident. Many people have pledged boycott.

Many of the people who Tweeted, Facebooked, blogged, and commented were duly concerned that two respected small business-based entrepreneurs were being tossed unceremoniously from locations in which they had built very impressive client bases.

In the end, it seemed to come down to money. In the case of Reggie’s, for instance, the competition, Canteen of Kawartha, scored a perfect 25 out of 25 in its financial bid. Reggie’s scored 18. The highest bid won.

Curiously, the City also awarded Canteen of Kawartha a higher score in the “Experiences and References” section. Apparently, they believed that a new operator would have better experience at a new (to them) location than an extremely popular one did at a location they held for five years.

As a food writer, I did not once – in the past five years – hear a negative peep about Reggie’s Trent University operation.

Makes you wonder what they were basing their scores on.

The story with the Hippy Chippy seems remarkably similar. This time, though, it was a much more humble chip stand being bumped. Canteen of Kawartha successfully won that bid too, though they at least had the advantage of offering a fuller menu than the existing Chippy.

While all this was going down, a new challenger quietly entered the fray — and has since started making a burger ruckus. The WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro has begun pumping out burgers in the former Trasheteria building at Water and Simcoe Streets. For those not in the know, the WORKS is an extremely popular franchise that began in Ottawa and has since spread across much of Southern Ontario. Now 14-franchises strong, the Works has begun to show some growing pains, with some burger connoisseurs questioning whether this franchise-based (semi)fast food is worth the hefty price you pay for it.  They are also big enough to have a PR firm, who scolded me earlier this year when I mistakenly gave the incorrect number of franchises in a blog posting.

When to comes to regular burger locales, fan-favourite Reggie’s is certainly not without its detractors. A few commentors on my previous burger musings have pointed out that Reggie’s East City location isn’t quite as dependable as it once was. Talk of dry burgers, missing toppings, substandard condiments… Well, let’s just say that things ain’t perfect in our home-grown burger shack.

I’ll fess up here. I’ve had some great burgers from both the WORKS (in Ottawa) and Reggie’s. I’ve also had a fairly mediocre one at the WORK’s Glebe flagship location. And, sad to say, I’ve also seen some sub-standard product from the Reggie’s kitchen – the last two my wife, Krista, got were burnt and dry. For the most part, though, both hit more than they miss. But will they both continue to do so?

As for The Cabin of Canteen of Kawartha?

I had my first sample earlier this summer – it was a free lunch, bought for me by one of my very generous clients. I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag on this one, because that review is coming…  Along with reviews for the WORKS and Reggie’s.

That’s right, readers, over the next week, I’ll be reviewing what many are seeing as the Big 3 in Peterborough Burgers.

I think it is only right that we prepare ourselves for this burger war. With so many options, it is important that we find out, truly, who serves the best in town. As a result, I’m girding myself for battle – one that I hope doesn’t turn into a Battle of the Bulge.

Look for my review of The Cabin’s “Trail Burger” later this week. Please note, this review might not be for the burger-squeamish. There was a griddle involved, and some heavy squeezing out of juice with a spatula.

My Reggie’s review will appear, hopefully, on the weekend.

Now, I don’t want to be the only one judging these burgers. I want to hear what Peterborough has to say as well. I want to hear your thoughts and reviews on the Cabin (both Trent and Beavermeade), Reggie’s Hot Grill, the Gazebo, and (when it opens) The WORKS.

Let me know, Peterborough, which one of these is the best burger in town?

Or are any of them truly the best burger in town? Let me know who you think is currently “topping” these Big Three.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Burger eating is a tough job, but someone has to do it.  And I’m looking at you Peterborough!

May the best burger win!

NOTE: I’ll be writing about some other great burgers in the future, including the Holiday Inn, Brio Gusto, and Rare Grill House.  These establishments, while they make great burgers, are not really burger restaurants the way that these ones are — they’re more full-menued, with burgers appearing beside other main entrées.  I’ll include them in a separate category, and perhaps compare them to the three in this series.

Also, please let me know if there are any other places to consider, either in the full menu category or in the mainly burger one.

EDIT:  Find my review of the WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro here.

Primal Cuts Carves Out a Niche in Gourmet “Local” Meats

Look out Peterborough butchers, there’s a new kid in town.

And he is slicing up some fine, fine looking meats.

Truth be told, George Madill, butcher and owner of Primal Cuts, the new boutique meatery on Lansdowne Street, isn’t new to Peterborough.  He’s just been away for awhile.  Seven years to be precise.

He’s been honing his craft in Toronto, starring in stints at Cumbrae’s and Olliffe’s — two of the most celebrated meat shops in the City.  His time as Head Butcher at Olliffe’s secured him a reputation as one of the best young butchers in town — not bad for a Peterborough kid.

Having gained both success and a name for himself, Madill has returned to his hometown, ready to treat Peterborough to some of the best sourced and immaculately prepared foods in the area.

Judging by the crowd gathered for his invite-only grand opening, Peterborough is more than ready to welcome him back.

“It’s quite a reintroduction,” he smiled, gazing across a makeshift sidewalk patio, specially cordoned off for the event.  “It’s good to be home.”

Madill’s shop is a meat-lover’s paradise.  3-inch thick rib steaks share a display with elegantly prepared racks of lamb.  Exquisitely marbled striploins line up against perfectly pink cuts of Tamshire pork.  It is easily the best looking butcher display in the area.   The shelves of Primal Cuts are also something to behold, with local honey stacked up besides scrumptious-looking local preserves.

It didn’t take long for me to find that the shop was as pleasing to the palate as it was to the eye.  Board after board of different cuts of steak circled the soirée — I was quick to try as many cuts as possible.  The beef was melt-in-the mouth spectacular.

In between bites, I managed to track Madill down.  He was busy keeping an eye on the party and welcoming well-wishers, but he took the time to chat.

One of my first questions, after congratulating him on the new business, was to ask after the sourcing policies put in place.  I wanted to know just how local, this “local” butcher was.

“First of all, I can tell you that, for me, the closer the farm, the better,” he replied.  “I am always looking for great farms close to Peterborough. And all of my meats are from Ontario.  But while I do look for farms as close as possible, I also look for farms that are producing the kind of animals that I want to work with.  And I look for farms that are producing animals in a way that I can appreciate and believe in.  I like to spend quite a bit of time at a farm before I decide to purchase from it.   I like to spend a lot of time talking to the farmer.  And I do quite a bit of research beforehand.  So, yes, some is very locally produced, and some is more regional in nature.”

He pointed to some beautifully rosy chops in the display case.

“Here’s an example,” he said.  “I heard about this great farm, where they were doing some unique things with [heritage variety] Hampshire pork.  So I went to visit, had a look around, and spent an afternoon on the farm.  I was impressed.  Very impressed.  The result?  I’m now the exclusive seller of this gorgeous whey-fed pork.”

Whey fed?

“Yes,” he grinned.  “They get whey produced from Empire Cheese in Campbellford and feed it to the Hampshire pigs –an otherwise very lean animal.  The result is an incredibly tender, absolutely delicious pork.”

And with that, I was sold.

Primal Cuts goes out of its way to source meat that has not been fed hormones or antibiotics — and that are GMO (genetically modified organism) free.  The animals they source are pasture fed and treated ethically.

“We take great care in maintaining an environmentally responsible carbon footprint,” says Madill.

I next asked him what his goals were for the store.

“Really, the one goal I have is to bring great food to Peterborough and the surrounding area,” he replied.  “Other than that, it’s just good to be home.  Seven years feels like a long time.  I miss this place like crazy.”

While Madill has plenty of friends in his hometown, he appears to be on the verge of gaining quite a few more.  At least once word of his shop filters through the City and County.

Quite simply, his store is just that good.  And his meats just that impressive.

I definitely know that I’ll be back.

You can find Primal Cuts at 550 Lansdowne Street West. Check out their website at http://primalcuts.ca. And follow them on Twitter at @primalcuts101