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Hooray for Hamburgers! Where to find Great Burgers in Waterloo Region

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Lancaster Smokehouse Pagett Burger

by Andrew Coppolino

Ah, the incredible hamburger – classic pub grub fare that also appears on both food truck menus and at upscale casual restaurants.

Here’s a collection of just a few burgers for you to check out, but the list could be so much longer. (Note: in virtually all locations where they serve hamburgers, there is some sort of vegetarian or vegan offering as well, some of which are included below.)

Waterloo 

Hemlock Street Burger Bar Banquet (Smash) Burger 
The Banquet Burger is the most popular of the smashed burgers at Hemlock. Rightly so: a 75-25 meat-to-fat ratio ensures richness. The burger is smashed flat on the flat-top and seasoned with salt and cracked pepper.  
 
“We serve it on a Martin’s potato roll with American cheese, bacon, ketchup, mayo, onion and pickles,” says owner Josh Perovic.   
Additions might include fried onions or local “Bajan Tyga” micro-batch hot sauce. “We get the beef and bacon from Forequarter Butcher Shop near downtown Kitchener,” Perovic adds. Look for their burger truck too. 

Marbles

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Marbles Burgerplex 5000 (Photo Andrew Coppolino)

Marbles has long sold burgers. Under Fat Sparrow Group ownership, the Burgerplex 5000 has, given its name, upped the ante considerably, according to chef and co-owner Nick Benninger.

The eight-ounce patty is a blend of cuts with the only seasoning being salt and pepper on the outside. “And that’s it,” Benninger says. “The blend gives us an incredibly rich and deep beefy patty to go on a pretzel bun from Grainharvest,” he adds.

Toppings such as bacon jam and a pepper relish give further flavour depth. “Every time I eat one of those hamburgers, I fall in love with it again,” Benninger says.

Morty’s Pub
Famous for their wings, the 10-ounce “Morty Burger” is notable as well – and it has a great backstory, according to co-owner Jay Taylor. “It’s a burger 80 years in the making,” says Taylor. “That’s because it is my grandmother Katie Taylor’s meatloaf recipe, which we adapted for our burger.” The pure beef gets some spices and garlic and a grilling on the flat-top. “The burger reminds me of my grandmother. She loved it and lived to be 97,” Taylor adds. (Morty Burger special is only $8.99 on Sundays.)

Cambridge

Choun Kitchen Bulgogi Burger 
The burger patty can be a blank slate for flavours, including sesame, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and scallions. The eight-ounce Bulgogi glazed beef patty is topped with kimchi slaw and served on a toasted Kaiser bun.  

Obie’s Bar and Grille “Obie Burger” 
A tower of a burger that has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in Cambridge. 
“It’s what put us on the map,” says Obie’s owner Justin O’Brien. “People would probably go nuts if I took it off.”  

VG Farms ground chuck shares sandwich real estate with their coffee-rubbed and double-smoked bacon. Then there’s aged Cheddar, crispy fried onion strings, lettuce, tomato, pickle and house-made roasted garlic aioli on a toasted sesame seed bun. “It’s our most popular item five years later,” adds O’Brien. 

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Ernie’s Roadhouse
Well, the Dirty Burger isn’t really too, too dirty. But it is big and tall and made up of brioche bun holding peameal bacon, Cheddar, a fried egg, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, jalapeño peppers, roasted garlic aioli and barbecue sauce. Yeah, so a bit dirty.

L.A. Franks
The 80/20 ground beef comes from Toronto’s The Butcher Shoppe and is shaped into a “holey burger” – yes, a burger with a hole in the middle to achieve quick, even cooking. It’s been an institution on the Grand River in Galt for over 15 years.

Kitchener

Gord’s Burgers at Public Kitchen and Bar 
In the changing times of the pandemic, Gord’s Burgers is a more-or-less permanent pop-up at popular Public. Open Wednesday to Saturday for lunch, there are a few burgers to pick from, including a double cheeseburger and a vegan burger.  

The Lancaster Smokehouse
Lancaster Smokehouse’s Pagett Burger, the creation of chef and kitchen manager Mark Pagett, is an 80/20 blend of ground chuck that’s all about simplicity, Pagett says. “It gets a little salt and no fillers. The patty is flattened pre-cooking to maximize the surface area and increase caramelization. We toast a buttered brioche and dress it up with the toppings you want. We use American cheese because it’s the king of burger cheeses and melts beautifully,” he says.

Arabella Park Beer Bar
Chef Andrew Thorpe says the meat from Simcoe-based VG Meats is marbled like Wagyu. “It’s some of the best I’ve seen,” Thorpe says. Cooked to medium-rare with onion tanglers, shredded lettuce and bread and butter pickles, the burger is a sort of nod to the classic Big Mac, including Arabella’s secret sauce and Wonder Bread bun. “There’s nothing to replace that,” Thorpe adds.

Grand Trunk Saloon
Cooking on cast iron is a southern U.S. staple: Grand Trunk’s cast iron burger is just one example at this downtown Kitchener restaurant that captures the essence of the cuisine. Head chef Rich Hodge sears two ground-brisket patties and serves them with bacon, applewood Cheddar, a soft bun, chips and slaw.

Cast Iron Burger at Grand Trunk Saloon (photo by Andrew Coppolino)

St. Jacobs

Jacob’s Grill
The Big Kraut speaks to the township, says chef and co-owner Nick Benninger. “It’s simply St. Jacobs,” Benninger says. “The proprietary blend for the patties is made at our own Stone Crock Meats and Cheese, and they sit between a toasted Kaiser from our bakery.” Then you get their home-made sauerkraut, brown mustard, bacon and Swiss cheese. “The Swiss cheese plays a key role in the burger flavour and cuts through the richness or the beef, sweetness of the mustard and the overall wickedness of the kraut. There’s a complex flavor arc that tells the story of our culinary landscape both as a region and a company,” he adds.

And now for some Vegetarian Burgers….
We can say that a hallmark of good cooking is inventiveness and simplicity. Making a good beef burger is relatively simple: there are only a few ingredients; however, with veggie burgers, the inventiveness must be increased to create the flavour and texture that makes a good “burger.” A number of chain restaurants, large and small, serve veggie or vegan burgers in Waterloo Region. Heck, even stalwart char-broiler and legend since 1965, Sonny’s Drive-In, serves a veggie burger. 

8 Vegetarian “burgers” you can find in Waterloo Region

Proof Kitchen + Lounge Smokey Whiskey Vegan Burger 
From Jeritt Raney’s Proof kitchen, this vegan burger makes the most of the very comfortable alliance between smokiness and whiskey, that “water of life.” Using the game-changing “Beyond Meat” plant-based burger, Raney concocts a beef-burger analogue with Forty Creek whisky (distilled in Grimsby, Ontario) barbecue sauce, caramelized onion and vegan “cheese” surrounded by a toasted pretzel bun.  
 
Crazy Canuck Quinoa Burger 
There is a certain craziness on the menu at Crazy Canuck, but the vegetarian selections are straight-up good and solid, though not staid. The Canucks refer to their quinoa burger as “vegetarian perfection.” The quinoa, a super-healthy seed, is topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and jalapeño mayo on a multi grain bun, served with choice of side. 
 
“The quinoa burger is our own creation and recipe,” says Freddy Hayes of Crazy Canuck. “It’s been on the menu since the beginning. It’s gluten-free and vegan.” 
 
 TWH Social Bar  |  Bistro Black Bean and Beet Burger 
An artisanal bun holds smooth avocado to contrast with crispy onion, a smoke poblano aioli, butter lettuce and Elmiras Own tomato.  

“The burger is a mushroom duxelles and roasted beets folded into cooked black beans, to which we add pickled mustard seed and shallot jam. To adjust the texture of the patty, we add corn flour,” according to TWH executive chef Grant Holdbrook. 

Bistro Black Bean and Beet Burger at TWH Social (Photo: Andrew Coppolino)

Café Pyrus The Burger 
The straightforward moniker sums it up but betrays the wide range of burger that each make a contribution: The Burger starts with a gem of a local company, Henry’s Organic Tempeh, which is intensified with Pyrus’s spice blend.  
The Burger is served on a Kaiser roll with Romaine, tomato, avocado, grainy mustard, ketchup and roasted garlic aioli. There’s lots of organic going on in there, and you can add Daiya or aged organic Cheddar. Comes with chips, kaleslaw or soup.  
 
The Black Badger Grilled Portobello 
Likely the definitive first-gen plant-based burger that came along, the grilled mushroom at the Badger, a classic British-inspired pub, is marinated in olive oil and red wine vinegar, char-broiled and stuffed with Feta cheese and earthy roasted red peppers.   
The bun is a “toasty” potato-scallion affair with horseradish mayo adding yet another layer of flavour. Served with fries. Pubs are places that go for meatier dishes, but the Grilled Portobello gets its fair share of duty at the Badger, according to staff. 
 
Jane Bond Café Black Bean Cajun Burger 
Tempus fugit: Lest one forget, the Bond has been serving plant-based food for a quarter of a century in its location tucked in just off King Street in Uptown Waterloo. The kitchen was something of a trailblazer in the genre – at a time when eating plant-based was on the periphery and before it acquired its current de rigueur status.    
Onions and garlic are sautéed and cooked white rice and blended red beans are combined with Cajun spices to act as a binder (and in the absence of egg).  Chef Anya Steffler says the ingredients are formed into a patty and pan-fried.  
 
“We make a creamy vegan Cajun sauce and serve it dressed with tomato, red onion, pickles and spinach on a sesame vegan bun,” says Steffler.  

Graffiti Market “Beets By Brian” 
An urban- and music-inspired restaurant near Belmont Village, there’s interactive tables and an in-house brewery. Graffiti’s “Beets By Brian,” with both its alliteration and paranomasia, captures the fun chef Brian McCourt has with cooking.  
 
“It’s a black bean, quinoa and beet patty. The beans are smashed and seasoned with cumin, ancho chile powder and salt. We then add grated red beets, cooked quinoa and roasted poblano peppers,” McCourt says.   
The patty sits on a house-made brioche bun, along with pickled onion, mixed sprouts cucumber, smoked chipotle-pepper aioli and Elmira’s Own tomatoes. 

Wildcraft VW/Burger

Photo credit/Todd Clarmo, Wildcraft

When you’re looking for a loaded “burger,” the VW (“Vegan Wildcraft”) fits the bill. The complex layering of flavours and ingredients puts to shame many beef burgers. The plant-based patty is black beans, mushrooms, textured-vegetable protein, chia seeds, gluten-free oats and herbs.  

The layering on top is Cheddar “sheeze,” avocado, sprouts, sundried tomato tapenade (for an almost umami taste) and Dijon tarragon mayo. The nicely crafted artisanal condiments nestle together on a house-made vegan burger bun with the obligatory lettuce and tomato.  

Find these Burgers in Waterloo Region

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