Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cheese Curds Dartmouth: Long wait, big burger

In one week, the new restaurant Cheese Curds Gourmet Burgers + Poutinerie has created a bigger buzz than I've ever seen for a new food outlet in the Halifax area. Twitter lit up with talk about the large and interesting burgers, and news editor Ruth said great things. As a cynical reporter, I was hoping to believe the hype.

A movement grew in the newsroom to make a pilgrimage to the Woodside part of Dartmouth to put Cheese Curds to the test. We set out with a Saturday 5pm meet-up time, knowing we'd probably be waiting a while.

On arrival, the lineup was out the door and the people leaving said they'd waited 70 minutes from entry to exit.

Cheese Curds lined up out the door
News95.7 alumnus Bill Dicks joins the newsroom keeners to fill up on gourmet beef delights at Cheese Curds.

True enough, that proved true enough. There was a line to order and pay, a line to line up for food, and a line for food. We waited in line, observing the cooks grilling up the beef patties on the flat-top. At the end of the line is a station to get your burger topped with what I'm told is an impressive array of garnishes, including three types of onions, bruschetta and guacamole. I missed this part, as I was filling up the fountain drinks.

Cheese Curds Dartmouth legendary porker
My "Legendary CC Porker" combo moments before I gobbled it up.

After about 70 minutes, I received my Legendary CC Porker combo ($10.75). (See Cheese Curds Menu in PDF.) The menu calls this a "Double burger topped with cheese curds, 2 strips of bacon, fried onion rings, lettuce, tomato and topped with our CC Sauce.

As you can see, this is a large burger.

Half-eaten Cheese Curds Porker
Demolition in progress: Half-way through my Porker at Cheese Curds

It's a big, big bite. The patties are very tasty with a strong garlic flavour. Not that you've eaten my wife's burgers, but they're kind of like that -- obviously not lean ground beef, as they're very juicy. They have an honest, home-made taste that you don't get at even the good chain restaurants. I wasn't able to distinguish what the CC Sauce is, but I think it was good. The toppings seemed fresh.

As burgers go, it was above average. I was disappointed not to taste any bacon -- I'm not saying it wasn't there (I didn't check), but I didn't taste it at all. The onion ring was probably a nice touch, but the whole thing came off as a little mushy. I thought the same thing about the Baconator when I first tried it: Great flavour, but needed a bit more crunch and a bit less squish. I'm not calling it a flaw, because it's a necessary consequence of the ingredients in this particular burger. Taste beat texture on the CC Porker.

My visit to Cheese Curds reminded me of Licks Homeburgers in Toronto. Similar process: Order, move down the line for toppings, get your burger. Licks burgers are (were?) thick and garlic-heavy with good, soft but substantial buns. Licks fine-tuned the process to result in much shorter waits, and the burgers were never mushy. The burgers at Cheese Curds bear a "chef-inspired" label, showing much more craft and thought than anything ever served at Licks.

The meal came with fries, and I was really looking forward to them. I was disappointed. They're fries like you'd find in a pub, that is, fresh-cut with skin on. Just how I like them. But the ones I got were cooked more than I like. As a side, it was a bit of a downer, but considering Cheese Curds' partial claim to fame is its poutine, the extra crispiness may be a tactical choice to keep the fries from becoming soggy under the weight of curds and gravy. Just be aware of that -- consider a poutine rather than the fries.

The overall impression from the crew that arrived on time -- me, wife Amanda, producers Jennifer Casey and Meghan Groff, former Maritime Morning producer Bill Dicks, and talk show host (and soon RTNDA Lifetime Achievement Award winner) Rick Howe -- was that the food was good! Portions were good for the price, and the price was good. Reporter Amy Arts was about 15 minutes behind us in line, and reports via Twitter that she had the same burger I did, and was "not overly impressed. The onion rings and fries were bland." Well, the place is only a week old. Maybe they'll do some fine tuning on the fries and rings.

One may wonder, though: is it worth the wait? I think it is, once. Waiting more than an hour for a hamburger is patently ridiculous unless it's the greatest burger ever. Though not the greatest ever, these burgers are commendable, so I think the hour-plus wait is something worth enduring now, during the early, heady days of the restaurant's youth. You can say you were there in the beginning.

I expect that the buzz will eventually cool down and the lineups will become more navigable. At that time, I look forward to returning to Cheese Curds in Dartmouth to try more of their offerings, including the Triple Bacon Burger, with three kinds of bacon.

Check it out if you have the time, or wait until the dust settles and swing by for a burger worth buzzing over.

Visit Cheese Curds on the web at http://cheesecurdsburgers.com/ and find them on Twitter @CheeseCurdsHRM.

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