In our latest Grilled we interview Chris "Zeke" Hand and Ed "Blork" Hawco, the duo behind Montreal Burger Report, a weekly podcast on burgers in Montreal. You can listen to the episodes on their website or, if you live in Montreal, on Wednesday mornings on CKUT, 90.3 FM.
Name: Chris "Zeke" Hand and Ed "Blork" Hawco
Location: Montreal, Canada
Occupation: Zeke: Serial Entrepreneur. Previously owned an Art Gallery, was in the music business when it was cool, and am now working on a new project while volunteering at CKUT, a community radio station in Montréal. Blork: Technical Writer
How often do you eat burgers?
Z: Once, maybe twice a week. When we're recording, more.
B: It varies, but probably about three times per month on average.
Where did you eat your most recent one?
Z: At home, last night and it was delicious.
B: At Upstairs, a local jazz bar with a decent kitchen.
Cheese: American, cheddar, other?
B: There is only one purpose on earth for American cheese, and that's to go on burgers. Cheddar and Swiss are good too, and smoked Gouda, when combined with bacon, is transcendental.
Ketchup or mustard?
Z: Mustard, but not too much. Ketchup will be the death of me.
B: Mustard on the burger, ketchup on the fries. The mustard should be French's brand. I absolutely love Dijon mustard, but not on burgers—burgers call for French's. Ketchup must be Heinz, and I swear it has nothing to do with those ads I saw as a kid.
Sesame-seed or plain?
Z: Both are fine. A hamburger is about the meat, not about the bun.
B: Plain, although I don't dislike sesame-seed. The main thing is that the bun be fresh, soft, and not disproportional to the burger.
Grilled, griddled, or broiled?
Z: Broiled, please and thank you. Although grills and griddles have their place.
B: Grilled or griddled. They each bring a different kind of joy to a burger. Griddled can impart a heavenly crust when done right, while grilled ups the smokiness.
And how would you like that done?
Z: Blue, or as they say up here, "bleu."
B: Medium-well. I know that's sacrilege to some folks, but the process of evacuating an E. coli infection is not fun, and I don't fully trust ground meat unless I've ground it myself (in which case I'd go medium). The main thing is that it be juicy, and I've had plenty of tasty and juicy burgers that only show a hint of pink. (I prefer a bit more than a hint, but not much more.)
Would you do us the favor of describing your perfect burger?
Z: I'm torn here. I regularly ask friends to drive me 30 minutes so I can enjoy a Dic Ann's burger (I don't drive), while on the other hand I am on record as saying, "Just about raw, with a crust on top. Red, dripping and cold in the centre. I prefer it on a grill rather than a griddle... that's the way my mom cooks them."
B: This is easy, because they aren't elaborate. I say "they" because I have two "perfect burgers" in mind. (Hey, I'm a Gemini so I do everything in pairs.)
Perfect Burger #1: 1/3 pound of 20% fat coarsely ground chuck, seasoned only with salt and pepper, and grilled over a hot wood fire until medium (the "hot" is to ensure a nice caramelized crust). Served on a fresh soft white bun that is lightly toasted on the crumb side and lightly buttered, with a swirl of French's mustard on the bottom. The meat is topped with melted smoked Gouda cheese and two slices of crispy smoked bacon. The top bun is buttered.
Perfect Burger #2: 1/3 pound of 20% fat coarsely ground chuck, seasoned only with salt and pepper, and grilled over a hot wood fire until medium. Served on a fresh soft white bun that is lightly toasted on the crumb side and lightly buttered, with a swirl of French's mustard on the bottom. A single long slice of garlic dill pickle goes under the meat (on the mustard side). The meat is topped with two melting slices of American cheese and a single slice of vine-ripened, locally grown tomato at the peak of ripeness and sliced between 5 and 7mm thick. The tomato is dressed with freshly ground pepper and a pinch of kosher salt. Add two small leaves of crisp Boston lettuce. The top bun is dressed with 1 teaspoon of top quality mayonnaise.
The hamburger is a food item with which most Americans have strong childhood associations. Do you remember your earliest encounter with this delicious dish?
Z: Not my earliest, but the majority of the lunches that I would bring to school were cold hamburgers on brown bread. (Accompanied by a green pepper and a Granny Smith apple)
B: Not really. Food was a utilitarian necessity when I was growing up, so there's not much to remember.
What's your favorite fast-food burger?
Z: Dic Ann's (although Dilallo is very good as well).
B: "Fast food" is ambiguous. If you mean chain store factory burgers (franchises like McD, Burger King, etc.) then It's hard to say because I eat so few of them. On the other hand, some of my favorite burgers come from one-shop joints that are "fast" but not factory-like. My current fave is Restaurant Philippe on Amherst Street in Montreal. Very fast, but definitely not junk.
What topping or condiment, in your opinion, should never grace a burger?
B: Even though mayo is an ingredient in one of my perfect burgers, I'll say mayo. That's because one hardly ever gets good tomatoes, and without good tomatoes there should be no lettuce, and thus no mayo. Also, people who put mayo on their burgers tend to use way too much. Otherwise, pesto. Or anything that you'd normally put on pasta. If you want pesto, order spaghetti! If you want a burger, pass on the pesto.
What's the most unusual burger you've ever eaten?
Z: What? Eating them cold for lunch four days a week while in elementary school wasn't enough? Dic Ann's might be the most unusual burger, although because I go there regularly it is no longer unusual—it is the norm. Their ad campaign used to be, "So thin you can slide them under a door."
B: I can't answer that. I have no recollection of really unusual burgers because I try to avoid unusual burgers. I seek purity and classicism in burgers!
What's the most overrated burger you've tried? Most underrated?
Z: A local restaurant here called Méchant Boeuf used to advertise that they had the best burgers in town. It is to this day the only time in my life I have not finished a burger. Most underrated would have to be Restaurant Philippe, although Blork and myself are doing are darnedest to change that.
B: Most overrated is from Méchant Boeuf, a burger that is billed (by the restaurant itself) as "the best burger in Montreal." I couldn't eat more than half, as I was so overwhelmed by the huge pile of bleu cheese on it. (I declare unequivocally: bleu cheese does not belong on a burger!)
What are your top five burgers in Montreal?
Z: Patati Patata, Restaurant Philippe, Dilallo, Dic Ann's, Mr. Steer, La Paryse, and Restaurant Grégoire. (I eat hamburgers, I don't count. :-))
B: Haven't decided yet.
Imagine that for some crazy reason, you're going vegetarian. Where do you go for your final burger?
Z: My place.
B: Restaurant Phillipe on Amherst Street, or Dilallo's on Notre-Dame.
How did you decide to start reporting about burgers?
Z: I honestly don't remember where the idea came from. Blork remembers the when and the where—and the closest I can get is that Montreal has an awful lot of unique burgers and I was pondering some method of eating them all, and Blork seemed happy to help me.
B: Zeke said, "If you don't do this with me, I'll go public with the videotape." :-)