Monday, April 23, 2012

Afixed with a condiment called "Teen Sauce": A&W's Mama Burger


Professionalism is important when critiquing anything, and part of that professionalism is the desire to try any and all subjects of critique even if they are perceived by others to be substandard. Film critics must watch Steven Seagall movies. Book critics must read the odd airport procedural thriller. I must eat A&W's Mama Burger. We bear these burdens so that you understand the risks before trying yourself.

A&W is the first fast food restaurant that I'm visiting since donning my mantle as Ottawa's most analytical one-man judge and jury of burgers. Rather than starting at the top, I'm starting at the middle child of Canadian fast food burgers. A&W first opened its doors in 1921 in California, but entered Canada through Winnipeg in 1956 as a drive-up diner. It quickly expanded across Canada quickly so that by the 1970's, hundreds of thousands of Canadians were guzzling the (admittedly delicious) root beer and munching on onion rings. It might be strange for youngin's these days to think that there was a time when A&W was a more valuable brand name than McDonald's, but this was the case.

And then came the great fork of North American A&W history. Amidst a franchisee revolt and quality problems, consumer product behemoth Unilever bought the Canadian rights to A&W from the A&W parent company in 1972, essentially severing A&W Canada from the rest of the chain. In 1995 A&W management bought the company from Unilever and now it's a private, independently owned operation in no way affiliated with A&W global, owned by A Great American Brand corporation. The menu, suppliers and branding are different; the only thing that is the same is the root beer.

Amy and I decided to go on a lark as we passed by the 1830 Merivale Road location (near West Hunt Club) doing errands. I was completely unfamiliar with their menu and decided to order what everywhere else is just referred to as a "hamburger" - the Mama Burger with a side of onion rings and diet root beer. Amy had a Baby Burger with fries and a diet root beer.

Millions of these platters will be served every year.

I want to take a moment and reiterate that I do not review restaurants or chains, just specific burgers. My views on the Mama Burger should in no way reflect the rest of the menu, which I may get to in the coming years. I will try three burger offerings from each major fast food chain in Canada, although for health reasons I want to keep my consumption of fast food at a trickle.

Pics and pain after the break.

The burger

The Mama Burger is essentially the standard beef burger offered by A&W; all other burgers are improved upon this entry-level offering. This mother is a beef patty topped with two slices of onion and three slices of pickle, ketchup, mustard and some substance disastrously named "Teen Sauce." The ingredients of Teen Sauce are listed as: water, soybean oil, sugar, vinegar, modified corn starch, egg yolk, salt, mustard, spices, calcium disodium EDTA. It's mayonnaise encased in fakery, about as real as Slurm. I discovered the name of this sauce on their website, under the nutritional section. I didn't know that this substance was so named when ordering the burger, else we would have told them to hold it.

A burger so cynical that Rogers Waters wrote a song about it.

A&W doesn't give the weight before cooking of the Mama Burger but it is probably between two and three ounces/60-80g. It is a dry, mealy, chewy puck heavily seasoned in salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders, and a small chemistry set of flavour enhancers. If not completely smothered in Teen Sauce (grossed out yet?) you can spot flecks of seasoning mix on the burger. I was taken aback by how contrary to my expectations the Mama Burger was; whereas I was expecting something greasy, this burger instead was pressed very flat so that the grease cooked out very quickly. The only moisture left as a result was the abundance of condiments and pickles. Despite the lack of moisture, the meat was by far the most prominent flavour of the burger, much to its detriment.

Hush my baby baby, don't you cry...
The toppings included two thin onion slices and pickles, also standard for the entry level fast food burger, although amusingly the onion slices were larger than the patty and almost larger than the bun. The pickles gave a much-needed pungency.

The burger was served on a plain white kaiser with sesame seeds that was lightly toasted and soft. The bun's sweetness was immediately evident. Standard fast food fare.

Amy had a Baby burger, which is not a real burger per se. It's one-two ounces of the same bedraggled, mealy, old beef similarly seasoned and topped with ketchup. She was spared the Teen Sauce. That's it. I graciously sacrificed one of my three pickle slices and an onion ring to give her burger any character whatsoever.

Teen sauce. I feel violated.
I mourn the wretched cow that died to give me this. The only thing that gave me comfort was that no one else in the restaurant was eating a Mama Burger. To the marketing intern that will read this: please take two things to your masters. First, calling your entry-level burger "Mama Burger" is counter intuitive. When one thinks "this is the mother of all burgers," they expect something larger than average, not smaller. Second, Teen Sauce?!

The sides

I had onion rings, which they are "famous for" but are actually poor. Their crunch is insufficient and the cornmeal coating falls off too easily. They were greasy; maybe share with the burger? I think the rings are fried for too little under too low a temperature. Better as toppings than sides.


(apologies for the BurgerDAR's appearance - having technical difficulties)


  1. Pas mal d'accord avec ta critique.

    A&W's "budget" burgers always were lacking. I also agree about their general "dryness" and the Oncle burger isn't much better (there just more meat in it). The Teen Burger is worth considering because of the better bun and better seasonings (plus the optional bacon), but I still think the chain too seriously outgunned for the present "burger war".

  2. I really liked the mama burger it was part of my teen years

  3. I think part of your bad experience was due to the location. I've found A&W quality to vary widely between locations. I'm in Vancouver and I love A&W but I will only go to specific locations because some are just horrible while others are amazing. I've found, somewhat counterintuitively, that mall food-court locations are vastly superior to standalone shops. The food tastes fresher and seems to be made to a higher level of quality.

  4. You're crazy. The mama burger is by far the best fast food burger out there. It is delicious, it is not dry at all. Terrible review.

  5. Was always a Teen burger guy, right back to the days of the headlights and the girls on roller skates. But lately I'm finding I prefer the Buddy burger

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. My comment became mostly void when I reread the beginning of the review lol. I love a&w's quality of ingredients compared to any fast food place tbh, especially compared to americas a&w. i havent been to any in ottawa, but in bc and alberta i have always been happy with my food :) Teen is my favourite, but have been going for the buddy a lot lately because it is pretty much just as good for a way better price imo. I would never say a&w pattys are ever dry though I feel like you may have had a miss on a specific location. Their beef is so delicious a mama being so simple would be just as good as any other burger.