Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Your 'ol buddy on Rochester Street

There's an old house on Rochester Street between the corners of Beech and Norman that stands defiantly amidst a street of low rises and government offices. The Rochester Pub is a relaxed local watering hole with a draw much wider than just the neighbourhood. A great selection of craft brews on tap, good music not too loud and the cozy interior that makes it one of the better places in Ottawa to congregate with friends over a pint. It certainly draws in a good crowd of people across age groups on most nights, well after bureaucrats have left for the night. Warm stucco walls and dim lighting make it an inviting place to hang out for a few hours of conversation. The Rochester is not the type of place that will become a chain; it's the quiet guy in the back of the bar that takes life slowly.

We went on a Monday night, which for most places would be classified as an off-night, but the Rochester was packed with regulars for pub trivia. A woman crooned questions on the microphone as teams debated their answers over fish and chips and a beer. It was great to be a fly on the wall and take in the atmosphere. Given how busy it was, the food would probably be on.

The Rochester offers four burgers, all beef. There is a standard hamburger and cheeseburger; a "smokehouse" burger with bacon, cheese and barbeque sauce; and a "Mediterranean" burger with tzatziki, feta cheese and fried onions. The first two were a measly $7.00 and $7.25 respectively; the latter two were $7.95. Pub grub at rock-bottom prices.

I ordered the Mediterranean burger. Tzatziki is the Grand Condiment: it offers freshness, umami and garlic that is incredibly satisfying, especially paired with something crunchy like crispy fried onions. I had high expectations given my previous experiences here that the burger would be really good.

Not so much. Review after the break.

The burger

The burger was a 6oz patty cooked well-done, served on a sesame seed kaiser bun. Below the patty was a thick swathe of tzatziki; on top was crumbled feta and the fried onions. Lettuce and tomato finished off the garnishings. It was better on paper than in reality.

Charred on stale. Sigh.

First, the patty was overcooked and underseasoned. I was actually wary from the moment the plate came down because the patty looked a bit worse for wear under that cheese. It had a chewy texture, was charred on the palate, and I couldn't really taste beef. The sesame kaiser was too large for the patty and leaning towards stale. One can normally get a bit more mileage out of a bun at this age by toasting it, but alas it was left plain. It was difficult to tear into and left me irritated at the whole experience. This was compounded by the fact that the bun was so thick, as if expecting juices.

The toppings worked nicely; the fried onions were crispy without being greasy. Separating the feta cheese from the tzatziki allowed each to be tasted individually, so that the burger had a sense of cohesiveness when a full bite was taken that encompassed all layers. Overall it showed dedication to a concept that would work if the fundamentals were prepared correctly. A bit of oregano in the burger would have emphasized the Mediterranean flavours a bit more without costing the house much more. It also would have added needed flavour to the patty.

$8 was a good price for the burger; had it been of better quality, that would be fantastic value. I'm not excusing the burger because it was inexpensive, and especially not because it is a pub. High quality food can come out of any kitchen.

I recommend the Rochester for drinks and camaraderie, but skip the burger.

The sides

Amy was having fish and chips, so I poached a few of her fries. They were very good: skins on, firm, not greasy. I had a side salad with balsamic vinaigrette, which was a notch above other pub side salads in terms of variety of vegetables.


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