On days like yesterday when it's 25 degrees and sunny, I, like millions of Canadians, enjoy sitting outside and eating a good burger. So my wife and I did just that. On Merivale Road. Romantique, n'est-ce pas?
Eight years ago, when the venerable Dunkin Donuts chain sounded its death rattle in Ontario, a family saw potential in the bones of the 1485 Merivale Road location and opened a 1950's style burger and shake shack called Dick's Drive-In and Dairy Dip. For all you locals, 1485 Merivale is located on the "diagonal" Merivale, the one north of the split, but south of Baseline.
The menu is impressive, needless to say. The Nguyen family have managed to merge classic diner grub with some more exotic meat selections, most of them locally sourced. Besides the classic beef burger in various sizes and permutations, you can grab a chicken, turkey, salmon, lamb, bison, venison, ostrich, or kangaroo burger. That last one is a notable exception to the "locally sourced" moniker, unless someone around town has decided to raise kangaroos in a bid to finally make Canada "the Up Over." I digress.
I went more exotic and ordered a venison burger with a side of their famous panko onion rings. Amy had a bison burger (her favourite) with poutine. I ate enough of Amy's to confidently BurgerDAR the bison as well.
I enter this review with a bit of trepidation. Dick's has gathered a massive following, with many foodies extolling it as Ottawa's best burger. Will I split from the herd and declare Dick's to be anything less than its reputation? Keep reading to find out.
Mine first. The venison burger was good if you enjoy venison, because the notable gamey flavour of the local red deer was front and centre. Some light herbs - I tasted basil mostly - and seasoning accented the flavour of the 6oz patty. As to be expected from venison, the patty was very lean, but the chef had grilled it just enough that while cooked through, the meat kept its natural moisture.
|Venison burger chow on an abnormally gorgeous March afternoon|
Bison burgers are curious; while very lean and usually requiring added moisture when in ground form, it carries a subtle flavour that can't be overwhelmed. Bison lends itself to a wider variety of flavours than beef does in my opinion; fruits or herbal notes really bring out its best. While I wasn't really expecting that from a diner, I was hoping for more than just mayonnaise. There was too much mayonnaise on Amy's burger, so while my venison patty was the central character in my burger, the same can't be said for hers.
Both burgers were topped with iceberg lettuce, a slice of unripened tomato, pickles, some Dijon mustard and fried onions. Pickles, mustard and onions good, the first two not so much. I plan to research this phenomenon, but I reckon that the introduction of lettuce and tomato to the venerable burger was to provide a sense of crunch and freshness to a fattier patty, as many early hamburgers were made with medium-fat meat. On lean patties like venison or bison, they don't really add anything. If I were replicating these at home, I would choose a more flavourful green such as arugula or dandelion leaves. That said, Dick's is a diner and the iceberg-tomato combo is traditional and appropriate to the venue.
|Bison, poutine and sunshine. It made for a happy Amy.|
I keep going back to the fact that Dick's is a diner, but I know they could push the envelope. The ostrich burger came with optional feta cheese, and the chicken burger is topped with homemade Portuguese-style chili sauce. It shows that adding just one key ingredient can elevate a burger above the ordinary. So they clearly know how to up their game, they just didn't with the bison.
All of Dick's buns are made with 65% whole wheat flour, which gives them lots of flavour and nutritional content. I thought that the buns could use a bit of toasting or perhaps a bit longer in the oven, because you really had to tear through them to get to the meat. They were slightly larger than the patties, but I suspect they would be perfect for some of their bigger burger offerings.
Both burgers were $8.85, which is excellent for a burger of that quality, especially using local, non-standard meats. In fact it is a perfect "dip of the toe" into the world of new meats if you are curious in expanding your horizons and don't want to jump straight to the braised ostrich at Restaurant 18 (which is excellent, by the way). A note on the value, however. Everything is à la carte, and a trip to Dick's can add up to more than you may expect for a diner. Two burgers, sides and shakes added up to a $50 bill for two after tax and tip. I feel that the value for the burgers was exceptional, but the value for the sides was not. That said, BurgerDARs only examine the burger.
Killer rings. There is an onion ring type; I know who you are and you won't be disappointed. There is so much massive crunch in that batter. The poutine was good but not wonderful; the fries were very fresh, firm and not greasy at all, but the gravy left something to be desired. Also, cheese curd coverage was a bit lacking. Amy thought next time she'd just order the fries.
It was difficult to objectively assess the milkshakes since we were still flabbergasted that we were having milkshakes on a patio in Ottawa in March, but as I recall they were good. These were traditional, whipped-cream-and-cherry-on-top milkshakes with real ice cream and the reserve cup. I had vanilla and Amy had chocolate, but they had more adventurous offerings that all looked delicious. Everything you would expect from a diner.
Overall, I recommend.