Thursday, May 17, 2012

Deliciously hip: the Hintonburg Public House

A few weeks ago, the esteemed rag New York Magazine published a thought-provoking and often hilarious review of Brooklyn's artisan food producing community. As centre of the hipster universe, Brooklyn's artisans tirelessly labour at making foods in their respective "old-fashioned" ways, producing delicious products the most inefficient means possible. It is based on the credence that hard work is to be respected, and gives the product a je ne sais quoi that exists beyond what can be sensed.

This is an ideological position, not really a rational one because the act of tasting and enjoying is a biochemical process; you can't taste "work," you can only smell and taste its product in the form of molecules. And yet so many insist that simple, fresh and earnestly constructed food tastes better than its lab-designed, processed competition despite the latter having millions of dollars and brilliant minds designing it to blow your socks off. Is it actually true, or do we just want it to be true? Weren't the Top Chef judges fooled by Connie's blueberry pie crust in Season 1? Where does molecular gastronomy fit in that continuum? It's an interesting debate in the food world that I don't believe is completely resolved.

The Hintonburg Public House burger is an embodiment of the hard work, painfully-wrought school of thought, a northern outpost of Brooklyn mastercraft. Everything is house made. Everything took a long time to do.

The HPH is a flagship for the encoolification of the district for which its named. It embodies the neighbourhood in every way: the furniture is reclaimed, plates and cutlery are scrounged antiques, and the menu is casual with a twist. Its cool vibe, good food, local brews on tap and forgiving pricing has made it an instant hit, such that the wife and I have tried three times to eat there to no avail. Rather than eat with the cool kids, we decided to go early bird to beat the rush so I could finally sink my teeth into their famous burger.

What is this cool cat? It's a beef patty with Russian dressing, thick-cut smoky bacon, grilled onions and pickles on a white bun. This is a new burger, recently added to the menu and replacing previous incarnations that were somewhat more controversial. There are lots of bits and bytes on the Internet debating the merits and drawbacks of the former burger with pickled vegetables on them.

Is this new offering any good? Read more to find out.

The burger

The patty is around five-six ounces of beef, well seasoned with a moderate crust. I'm not sure where they procure their meat and the server - staffed alone with eight tables and more bar patrons - was too busy for me to be comfortable asking. The grind is medium - definitely a firmly-formed patty but not uniform in texture. It was very gourmet tasting and remained together as one burrowed into it. The chef cooked medium well, so there were still traces of pink in there waiting for me. Juice levels were enjoyable without leaving grease on the palate.
A nice, thick patty with beautiful imperfections.

I sincerely enjoyed the bacon when it actually stayed put. Each slab was a good two millimeters thick and it was cooked until it was quite firm, so it often tried to escape my grasp (foolish bacon! get in my mouth!). The issue would probably be resolved if the pieces were a bit longer so as to offer more grasping opportunity. Nonetheless it gave an excellent dose of salt and smokiness that lent itself well to the burger. I particularly enjoyed its firm, protein-forward texture with such a juicy patty.

"Russian dressing" is an American peculiarity of mayo, ketchup and creamed horseradish with some optional spices. They make the first two in house and I didn't detect the sinus-punching piquancy of horseradish, instead it was both peppery and a bit sweet in taste and creamy in texture. It was nice but I would have preferred a bit more kapow! It worked very well with the bacon in its current form however, and I found the house-made condiment a nice departure from the ordinary.
Old-fashioned burger on an old-fashioned plate.

The burger was rounded out by thin slices of pickles and fried onions. They were the scarf of the outfit. What I appreciated was how precious few tricks there were with the burger, no attempts to be clever that would stretch it conceptually away from the style of the resto and the other menu items. I also really appreciated the lack of cheese.

The bun was baked in-house with a soft crumb and mysteriously fluffy crust as well. It was quite voluminous but squished to nothingness without much effort. While it was sufficiently toasted, I feel that it needed another minute or two in the oven, or at least more steam during baking to crisp up the crust. Bun:meat:topping ratio was prudent and it did a good job of keeping juices and the dressing in check.

$14 is a good price for this burger, situating it firmly in the mid-end offerings with the likes of Petit Bill's Bistro, and represents good value for money in my opinion.
The bun would overwhelm the patty were it not so big.

The sides

Amazing fries! Crisp out, soft in, salted precisely, good quantity. Homemade ketchup is on the sweet side and not spicy enough for my tastes; it resembles more of a glaze than a hearty ketchup. Also they don't bring enough of it.


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