Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Glebe's big haunt: the Arrow and Loon Pub


The Arrow and Loon pub sits at the corner of Bank St. and Fifth Ave, in the heart of the Glebe. Since the mid-90's it has been one of the Glebe's chief watering holes for lunch, dinner, hockey games and pub trivia. The friendly service and one of Ottawa's best microbrew menus are reasons enough to go, but when I heard that they had an ambitious burger menu, the Loon moved to the top of the list.

Indeed, inspecting their website I was faced with what I call a Burgertrix (from burger and matrix, in case you're wondering). A Burgertrix offers the diner a selection of patties - in this case beef, bison, chicken or veggie - and a selection of toppings. To top it off, a "build your own burger" option was included. Wanting to test their construction skills however, I opted for menu offerings.
Silly kids, Burgertrix' are for adults.

The Burgertrix offers a challenge in that I have to taste a few different combinations to really get a sense of the chef's burger prowess. Luckily I was accompanied by my beautiful wife Amy and my dear friends Krista and Robin, organizers of the Urban Craft local craft fair. Together we selected four burger combinations, quartered them, and shared. This gave me the opportunity to get a good perspective on the menu overall. I will present one BurgerDAR representing an average score for all burgers, but will speak to each individually.

So what did we have?
  • "First Avenue" - Sautéed onions, BBQ sauce, cheese and bacon on chicken breast - Amy's pick
  • "Second Avenue" - Salsa, sour cream, hot peppers and sautéed onions on bison - Krista's pick
  • "Third Avenue" - Spinach, roasted red peppers, hummus and garlic mayo on chicken breast - Robin's pick
  • "Fifth Avenue" - Roasted red peppers, sautéed onions, goat cheese and peameal bacon on beef - My pick
Were they as good as they read? Reviews and pics after the break.

The burgers

First, the chicken burgers. These were moist and tender chicken breasts that were grilled and butterflied length-wise to make them more manageable. I definitely sensed added fat but it was not overwhelming. Meat/topping/bun proportions were acceptable. The First Avenue burger's BBQ sauce had a strong and sweet tang that was satisfying but overwhelmed the cheese. Onions were well-sauteed and the bacon had a nice crispiness. The menu said that the cheese was "antijito cheese," which in hindsight is a bit of a mystery to me. A quick Google search found no such thing; thinking it was a misspelling of antojito (Mexican version of  tapas), I Googled again and found no such cheese either.

The Third Avenue's toppings were delicious, with the garlic from the hummus and mayo certainly matching the chicken well. It hearkened shawarma in that respect. With its significant amount of moisture and texture, I would recommend that selection with a veggie burger. The only downside was that the burger felt abundantly soft, and there was nothing that provided crunch or crisp or any resistance at all to the teeth. Pickled turnips would be a good selection to add acidity and crunch to the burger to better balance it.

Krista's Second Avenue burger was hit and miss. The combination of Tex Mex-themed toppings was nice but the bison was underwhelming. Bison is challenging to kitchens because of its subtle flavour and low inherent fat content, and I found the patty slightly overcooked and underseasoned. A bit more salt and some dried herbs would have elevated the burger noticeably. The table agreed that the hot peppers tied the burger together.
The Second Avenue with bison, Krista's buffamigo.

My beef burger was a solid pub grub hit. Cooked to well done but still fairly moist and flavourful, the Fifth Avenue was a good offering. The sweetness of the peppers and onions matched the salty umami of the goat cheese to create a really savoury bite. The peameal was lost in the shuffle, unfortunately. This could be for two reasons: first, I found the slice too thin, and second, I would have cooked it longer. A bit more browning on the bacon would have brought out its smokiness more and really tie the burger together. As it stood I almost forgot about it.
My Fifth Avenue. Check out those 2x4 fries.
All the burgers had lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickles regardless if they needed to be there or not. They were all of good quality and nice to have on all the burgers except the Second Avenue, where I found pickles and red onion an odd addition to a southwest-style concept.

The buns for all the burgers were soft, fresh kaisers that were a little boring. They didn't substantially add or take away from the experience, and since the burgers were cooked to dry, did not have juice absorption challenges. Buns are an inexpensive way for a restaurant to cheaply raise the bar on their burgers, and I feel that the Loon could benefit from this choice.

Prices were on par with other major pubs in town: the beef burger was $12, the chicken burgers were $13 and the bison was $14. In this way, prices are fixed to the meat rather than the toppings and construction, which is peculiar. A $12 Fifth Avenue beef burger is good value, but a less adventurous Fourth Avenue beef burger with only peameal and BBQ sauce is also $12.

All in all, if you're in the neighbourhood chances are you won't be disappointed with the Arrow and Loon. While there is some room for improvement overall I would say that their kitchen can put together a good meal over pints and the game. I respect a desire to extend beyond traditional pub burgers and offer some interesting toppings.

The sides

I ordered half fries, half salad. The fries were fantastic; thick cut, skins on, crisp with a firm texture. I paired with Kichesippi Beer Company's Johnny Simcoe apricot pale ale, which is seriously apricot-y and seriously good.


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