Monday, December 17, 2012

Damn you, Moxie.


When you visit the website for Moxie's and you click on "About Us," the following schtick literally starts off the description: "Moxie's Grill & Bar operates 63 premium casual restaurants in seven provinces with yearly system sales over $200 million." If you're a construction worker, oncologist, folk museologist, executive coach, etc., you probably have no idea how "system sales" differs from just sales.

Moxie's mantra? Starts off: "What makes Moxie's unique and different from others? At Moxie's we believe our most strategic competitive advantage is the company's culture." That's pretty cool. It's straight out of a marketing textbook and completely alienates the diner, but I get it. This is an attractive statement for hooking potential franchisees who will take this Calgary-based premium casual chain eatery across Canada. If anyone from Moxie's reads this blog post, please check out Milestone's or McDonald's website to learn how to design for a good first impression. Pro tip: tuck the corporate stuff behind the diner's site.

The point I'm trying to make is that Moxie's is a restaurant run by those who spin and count beans, and unabashedly so. These are not food people running the show, but most Canadians are not likely to care. The urban surfer of the blogosphere might shake their heads in bewilderment, but the growth of so-called premium casual eateries makes sense. I lived in England for a couple of years and these eateries are everywhere; hell, even most pubs are chains. You have chain tapas joints and chain Parisian-style bistros and chains that are called "Pizza Express" which are surprisingly more upmarket than the name suggests.

It wasn't much to look at.
Sometimes it is about convenience - many outlets are located in suburbs. Suburban couples may want a quick date night without the kids and without a $200 babysitter bill. Sometimes it is because the food is unchallenging and consistent. There are lots of people who don't care for, or have not been introduced to, good cuisine and just want menu items that they understand. So in this light, Moxie's fits well into the evolution of Canada. The Moxie's location that I visited for this review (Riverside and Hunt Club) was only a ~5 minute drive from my office. They do brisk business lunch because the consistent, unchallenging food leaves the kitchen at good pace.

So I'm an urban yupster that likes to meet the cattle rancher providing the stuff that goes in my meat grinder. By definition I'm not supposed to go to a place like Moxie's. And I'm certainly not supposed to like the burger they serve me.

But dammit, I did. I don't know if this was the real deal, a fluke, or a set-up but the burger was actually good. I chose the Mediterranean burger, which included basil pesto, feta, and goat cheese.

Read on after the jump.

The burger

The patty was a ~5oz roundel of beef with a medium grind. There was minimal char. The inside was served a good pink, bordering between medium and medium well. That's right. See, you expected me to say that it was a hockey puck or full of filler, but it wasn't. This was a properly-seasoned burger cooked to medium doneness with good juice and a pleasing chew. In a word, it was good.

When the top bun was removed a mountain of fluffy white cheese was revealed. The poor bastards probably needed an Imperial gallon of milk to produce this amount of cheese. I also question the need for both feta and soft chevre. Feta's salty crumbliness will melt right into chevre's creamy texture into one unfortunate goat/sheep marriage. It was peculiar, but the cheeses were mild and gave a nice texture to the beef. My misgivings aside, the cheeses certainly did not overwhelm the meat and while I would have preferred a bit less, there was no fatal error here. Perfectly acceptable jar pesto was slipped beneath it in enough quantity to add a good rush herbaciousness to the cheeses.

When feta and chevre are mixed together, the result looks kind of gross.
Up this point it's all umami. The burger relies on garnishes for crunch and astringency (that's English for "zest"). It comes with a lettuce leaf, slice of tomato, a few red onion rings and a slice of half-sour pickle. They were all fine and did the job. Packing this many garnishes means that they tend to elbow their way into the picture, and I feel these were selected simply because that's what is expected by most people to be on a burger. I thought the pickle could be skipped as it interfered with the basil.

The bun was a funny sight. It certainly tasted fine and was ample enough to absorb juices, it dwarfed the patty so it looked a bit absurd in presentation. The picture below explains what I'm talking about. It was a soft white bun with a nicely browned crust, but I felt a bit too much resistance in the crust. I'm not nitpicking here - you felt a tug when you tried to bite through it, meaning that this bun was on the express train to stale, but hadn't arrived there yet.
The most extreme bun:patty I've ever reviewed.

Finally, the burger came speared with a sweet pickle as a flourish. Seriously. You know what? I know what's going on here. There is a line cook stuck in the back kitchen dying to move up in the world and learn how to be a proper chef. Locked in a swamp of template food is an orchid waiting to bloom, who is desperate to flex his or her creativity in the slightest way possible. I wonder how many there are back there in the premium casual eateries of the world, to whom the bean counters demand consistency and lack of challenge but inside, contain a zeal for more. A few probably.

Anyway, now we get to price. It's $15, and now's where things start to fall apart at this. We're in Burgers on Main or Petit Bill's territory. So if you have to go there because it's convenient or your colleagues are dragging you, eat the burger. If you have the choice, I'm afraid to say that there are better places.

The sides

If in a million years spinach were to evolve to a point where it gains sentience, it will look back and curse at these days where its spinachy ancestors were subjected to such a terrifying side salad. In fact, I bet they'll be able to trace their million-year struggle for self-expression to the day that the Moxie's "spring mix" side salad was developed. I guess because it was served next to an okay burger that the side salad was rendered all that worse. It was covered in goopy, sweet, cornstarchy raspberry vinaigrette. Dried cranberries and cherry tomatoes rounded out the excessively acidic mess.

Fries are from a bag.



  1. Have you eaten all the burgers?

  2. Thank you for your great post. Your post is really valuable and help me a lot. Waiting for your next similar post.
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  3. We're a chill Carribean ban and eatery only 20 feet from the sea with cool mixed drinks, custom made pizza and wonderful barkeeps. Here are possibilities for taste the nourishment, pizza, fun, nightlife, drinks, bar, late night, late sustenance, cool lager and burgers.

  4. Ahhh those burgers look so perfect! Hugely satisfying and extremely delicious burgers in karachi.

  5. Great...the way you explained the yummy burger through your blog is quite Impressive. My mouth is watering.
    I tried Dunkin Donut's burger too it also has a good taste and whenever i
    feel hungry i go for that but i would also like to try your idea too and suggest you to try Dunkin:)

  6. Ahhh those burgers look so perfect!...