This post should be read while listening to The Lords of the New Church’s “Tale Of Two Cities” if at all possible (should you be feeling whimsical).
Victoria has seen the launch of several new burger joints in recent months – a fitting reaction to the ongoing sluggish economy, I suppose, to come in with lower-priced offerings – but with little population growth, I can’t help but muse that new traffic in these spots simply means fewer patrons in existing locales, who are scrambling for traffic as it is. With all the competitors vying for ever smaller pieces of the same pie, one hopes that only the truly deserving will survive. There’s little that frustrates me more than spending hard-earned dollars on bad food or bad dining experiences. But I digress…
I’ve visited the Pink Bicyle a few times over the last couple of years. Nice place for a quick sit-down burger and beer if you can get in, but it never struck me as any kind of special experience. Burgers were bigger than I liked, and they can never seem to serve up a decent plate of onion rings, though I’ve given them several chances to do so. So without them having earned my fervent loyalty, I decided to check out two of the new entries into this market: Big Wheel Burgers and Bin 4 Burger Lounge.
Big Wheel got three chances to do their thing for me. For what they purport to be – a return to an old fashioned burger experience with a limited but authentic menu – I think they’ve achieved this really well. I made the nostalgia connection easily. The soft brioche buns, the thin patties, the yummy salty fries, the real milkshakes – all worked well together to bring to mind being a kid in Alberta when the only thing I would ever eat when dining out (including at the fancy-schmancy Corkscrew, much to the embarassment of my poor parents) was a hamburger with mustard and relish and no cheese. In my own way, I became a 1970s mini burger expert, and the Big Wheel offering definitely brought back those memories for me.
Service – limited as it is, with an order-at-the-till-and-pick-up-at-the-window approach – was terrific on each of my three visits. I kept thinking I knew the young woman who was at the till during two of my three visits, but we tried to do the math and came up short (I have so many circles in this town it’s crazy – RRU community? UVic community? Opera community? Tourism community? Wine education community? Wine store community?) What was cool was that she remembered me my second time in. And the dudes in the kitchen were affable characters who seemed to be happy doing what they’re doing. Very positive energy all around – you know it when you feel it.
Food was REALLY good on 2 of my 3 visits. Visit #3 happened in a major rush hour, when we needed to scramble for seating and endure the order coming out wrong to boot. The errors were acknowledged and addressed with a refund, but the food really suffered on this visit – burger grimly soggy with pickle juice, unsalted fries… I was glad to have had the experienceof the prior two visits to balance out this one. When the place wasn’t crazy busy, they were able to do it right. And I can’t forget to mention that I love love love the choice of tunes – 60’s hits that I know all too well – which sets the fun mood even better. I’ll definitely be going back there whenever I’m starving in the cool Village ‘hood and looking for a quick bite.
Bin 4 Burger Lounge is a rather different experience. As the name suggests, it’s meant to be a place to hang out and linger in, but for me, I just couldn’t shake the feeling of being in a strip mall, in spite of the dim lighting, the deep booths and the modern tuneage. This place seems to have made a real connection with the 20-something crowd… after all, who wouldn’t want to save a few bucks while having a night out with friends? The menu is extensive, maybe even overwhelming. Does anyone really order a bean burger? Really? Each to their own, I suppose. And for a place tagging itself as a lounge, the wine list could use some serious help. But we made do and easily found appealing choices to nibble, chow down on, and imbibe.
I had two main disappointments with our experience there. First, the service. Our waitress was one of those CYTs* who appeared visibly disppointed when saddled with a table of regular old 40-somethings rather than a hipper group of peers whom she could better flirt with. There was an edge of impatience when serving us… up until a second bottle of wine was ordered, at which point she warmed up to us considerably and actually started to engage in conversation in a warm and friendly manner. A bigger bill should not equate better service.
Second glitch was with the food. The oil was definitely old and in need of changing. The potato chips served upon arrival were stinky with that used grease funk, and unfortunately, so too were the panko-crusted onion rings that probably would have otherwise been divine. That said, the burgers were fine – all that they were promised to be – and the roasted garlic Ceasar salad was outstanding.
I probably wouldn’t choose to go there again, but wouldn’t wheedle too loudly in protest if someone else made it their choice on an evening out. But I’ll call ahead and make sure they changed their oil recently.
*Cool Young Things