The first time I stepped into the WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro with its kitschy construction theme, rock music and try to please them all attitude, I immediately thought of Ottawa.
I wonder if restaurants have terroir? In my university days in the nation’s capital, there was much time spent in cartoonish theme restaurants serving solid food for a decent price. Nowadays, it seems that many chains try hard to take the place out of their restaurants so that they become some liminal space like airport lounges. The WORKS seems definitely of a time and place reminding me of “You Can’t Do That on Television”. This is an unapologetic restaurant focused solely on the burger.
You don’t have to turn in your foodie hipster doofus card for liking burgers. If Wylie Dufresne, and I’m paraphrasing, says that a burger with its processing beats farm to table, then we can get a pass on glorifying American diner culture.
So, the editor asks if I want to do this piece on the WORKS’ new menu. My first thought is with seven different patties, six buns and sixty plus toppings, why the hell are they bringing out specials? Also, bacon?
Yeah, bacon is still hot. Bacon has outlived jokes about bacon being the new black and still has currency as bacon is discussed in the context of the new dress. You know the one I mean. Bacon has been instagrammed, tweeted, Facebooked, repackaged in cookbooks, romanticized, and nom-nomed to oblivion. It’s good but it is everywhere. Now, I’m not a hater… well, sometimes I am but not this time.
So, along with my eating companion, we ate through any menu item that was new. That means that we had two bad pun burgers, an appetizer and a milkshake. We decided to leave one pun burger as it was just an amped up version of a regular item. For those word play enthusiasts, that’s a “When Pigs Fly”, a “Six Degrees of K’Vin Bacon” but a pass on the “Gettin’ Piggier With It”.
Time for a spoiler alert, they have two things that merit some attention. There are these potato sticks that are like Hickory Sticks without all the extra extra sodium and flavourings. Coated in bacon dust that gives a slight smokiness and saltiness improving with each trip to the mouth. The accompanying bacon roasted garlic aioli does nothing to slow down the fluid motion and may even grease it. Unfortunately, these crunchy bits come with a side of bacon wrapped wrecking balls. Those chips need nothing else, they are the little understudy that shows up the main cast. They need to be their own menu item now.
The second item. Bacontella shake. Nutella. Ice cream. Bacon. Adjectives can be a dangerous toy in the weapons of a well meaning food scribe. If those words excite you in any way, then this shake is for you. The only ‘flaw’ in this shake are the bits of bacon at the bottom of the Pyrex Fire-King measuring cup that must be slurped noisily. Really, you are left with no choice. Maybe if they added some of that bacon dust and a little smoke, it would improve the milkshake every so slightly but probably not.
There is a really good interpretation of a baked potato skin with bacon, mayo, green onions and fries standing in for the skin. This “Piggy Your Fries” is delightfully retro in a Jetson’s way. This is smart fast food but it isn’t poutine as one of the staff suggested.
But how about the burgers? The chicken burger is marinated in beer but there is no bitterness from the beer and the bacon elements are muted. Speaking of beer, though. The joint has a tap list that has the usual suspects left out in favour of Canadian only brews. This does mean Moosehead products, the last big Canadian brewery, but there is room on the menu for Hop City brews. Of course, the majors show up on the can list. I like this attitude of representing Canada and hope they continue to work and expand in this direction.
The Six Degrees burger has six bacon elements on it – two kinds of bacon, bacon in the patty, aioli and ketchup, and the potato sticks. With all that bacon, it becomes a wash of juicy chin dribbling fatness with only the crunch of the sticks to break richness. If it was the burger alone, the meal could have gotten away without providing a break (or is that a breakon) from the onslaught of salt and fat. It was too much bacon on bacon violence that numbed me. If there was some pickles or some type of acid to cut through these items, then I wouldn’t feel embattled. By the end of the meal, I was unsure if I had been at an underground meat fight club. I should’ve ordered a beer to cut the tastes.
I will take my kids to do this up because they will love it and we can split this stuff up but next time, Daddy is gonna have a beer. They promise that Baconism II is for a limited time but I think a few of these bits and pieces will make it onto the regular menu.
If you want to join the meat fight club and try The WORKS, here are the locations across Ontario.