Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Sunday drive to Ashton

On top of being a big fan of burgers, I am also a big fan of driving. Amy can tell you that my opinion of a perfect holiday includes hours of open road and little traffic. We prioritize the car in our financial decisions, ensuring that we can drive something nice in exchange for a reduction in other entertainment expenses. This is why the title of this blog is Mike Likes Burgers and not, say, Mike Likes Caviar or Mike Likes Foie Gras.

Jeremy Clarkson, the irascible host of the extremely popular motoring show/ode-to-idiocy Top Gear, once said that the custom of taking weekend drives into the country was dying. As this tradition died, he worried that car culture would follow with it, because if not the gentle drive among winding lanes one would associate the car with the commute to work. But it shouldn't be. Other than a bicycle, where you need many more days to cover the same ground, you need access to a car to venture out and see the beautiful country around the cities that most of us live. Ottawa is no exception.

I'm the third generation to love extended country drives, so I took the opportunity on Father's Day to jump in the car with my dad and head west. This is serious food country, where every second farmer welcomes visitors to buy their meat or vegetables and others have large signs stating the culinary end uses of the oats you're driving by.

We drove primarily around the Mississippi Mills area, the unified municipality that covers Almonte, Pakenham and others. We stopped in Ashton Station, a little village that is actually two little villages. Ashton Station Road, which bifurcates the place, is a boundary of the City of Ottawa, so people who live east of the road actually live in the capital whereas those west of the road live in Lanark County. Getting the snow cleared in the winter must be a pain.

At the headwaters of the river Jock is an old lumber mill now converted into a brewpub. The Old Mill at Ashton, as it's called, is somewhat of a supergroup of country pubs. It is owned and operated by the venerable Hodgins family, who run Patty's Pub and Quinn's on Bank street. The brewery in the basement, which just started up last year, opened under the tutelage of Lorne Hart, former owner and brewmaster of the late Hart Brewing Company. Based in Carleton Place, Hart brewed in craft style before all the cool kids did it, but sadly had to bow out of the business in 2005.

The new publicans didn't do too much to the place when they took over two years ago; it's still a traditional English-style country pub. You fall in love with the place quickly.  Soccer scarves hang from original wooden beams. There's the warm fire place, a patio overlooking the river, and a long bar with secrets whittled into every misshapen nook. Brendan Hodgins is an affable host willing to share a story or fine details about the homemade brews on tap.

The pedigree of the joint placed high expectations on the burger, known as the King burger. It was a 1/2 pound beef monstrosity with bacon, cheddar, fried onions and mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and onion on a whole wheat bun. So was it worth a stop on the road?

Yep. Read on for the deets.

The burger

The patty was 1/2 pound of beef procured from the numerous ranchers that own land around the community. Hand-formed and with good char, it was cooked to medium well but still very juicy, and seriously seasoned with herbs, onion and garlic. It was certainly flavourful, and while the cook didn't let the beef speak for itself due to its competing flavours, I think this was actually a strength. The pub was nervous about serving beef medium because they buy the meat ground from the processors; rather than a boring grey patty with just some salt to keep it company, the chef mitigated the boring with a bit of added flavour. It tasted like something a friend would cook up in the back yard. That said, the burger was ginormous; while I know there are plenty of "big is beautiful" burgerati out there, this tipped the scales past my personal preference.

What? You have a family dinner later? Nonsense! Eat me now!

I ordered the burger with the works from an extra toonie: bacon, cheddar, onions and mushrooms. The bacon was really crispy, perhaps a bit too much but it wasn't crumbling. It really popped in each bite. The cheddar was plentiful but pretty boring; they certainly could move to something a bit sharper. Both the onions and mushrooms were just right, the onions sweet and mushrooms savoury and both in great supply tucked under the meat.

The garnishes were really good. Lettuce was romaine and it was... lettuce. The tomatoes were really fresh and juicy, and the red onion cut into thick slices. There were no condiments topped on the burger, but were granted on the side should you want any.

So big you need garnishes in triplicate.
The bun was serious. It was whole wheat, dense, and big, so it quickly contributed to how full you felt after the enormous amount of meat. The meat to bun ratio was slightly off in favour of the bun but nothing criminal. It tasted fresh and wholesome, but was too dense. A really nice touch was the degree of toasting; it afforded bites with a bit of nice crunch. Both my Dad and I found it a bit laborious to work through it but that didn't stop us from polishing it off. We both agreed that something lighter to encapsulate such a beastly patty would have worked better.

Overall, at $13+$2 for the upgraded toppings it was good value for good quality and an enormous portion. Quibbles aside, this is one of the best pub burgers I've ever had. It is a traditional offering made with great care that fits in perfectly with its surroundings and what the regulars can expect. I wholeheartedly recommend the Burger at the Old Mill at Ashton, and not just because I'm being nostalgic for my couple of years in England, but because it is a wonderful place to spend a few hours relaxing from your motoring adventure in Eastern Ontario heartland.

A shot at that hunger torpedo of a bun.
The sides

Fries were delicious but not quite hot enough; they were clearly plated well before the burger was up. Skins on, a nice golden-brown colour, no residual grease. As for beers, that's why you go there! I had the seasonal "Hopstravaganza" and while it wasn't as punch-you-in-the-face hoppy like Hoptical Illusion by Flying Monkey,  it had strong citrus and floral notes and a long but clean finish. Delicious. Incidentally, their beers are available in many places throughout Ottawa including Back Lane Cafe, the Elmdale Tavern, Must and more.

Without added toppings, complexity at 2

No comments:

Post a Comment