Saturday, September 14, 2013

Expensive Taste in Average Burgers & Fries Forever

There has been great consternation over the newly opened Burgers N' Fries Forever (329 Bank Street, Ottawa) about if this new burger place was a positive contribution to the local burger scene or a burger place that lacks substance.

One of the most noticeable things about the Burgers N' Fries Forever listing on Zomato is the number of reviews for a place that has, according to one employee I heard during my recent visit, only been open for 3 weeks. Currently, there are 20 diner reviews.  Noticeably there are ten reviews from Zomato users who only have that one review. There are a few more reviewers with only 2 reviews to their name as well.  Yes, it seems the Burgers N' Fries forever is asking it's employees and friends to post positive reviews about the place in order to positively market the place.  Add to this the Zomato sticker on the front glass door of the restaurant noting this place is "Liked on Zomato" on furthers the noted marketing efforts.

Of note on Zomato, once the employees' and friends' reviews have been removed is the almost equal love hate relationship between the leftover reviews.  Some noted positive encounters with dipping sauces for the fries and the fries being decent while others noted the patties were small compared to the hamburger buns and non-health department related cooking of the patties.

There was only one way to find out if Burgers N' Fries could be my forever burger place, to visit it.  With my homework done in Ottawa using previous visits to Five Guys Burgers 'N Fries, Hintonburger, Le Bac a Frites, The Works, and Manhattan's Handmade Burgers as well as the usual McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King, I was ready to go.

I visited at 11:40 on Friday for lunch.  I meant to go early before noon so that I could the usual lunch rush. Upon entering, past the aforementioned Zomato sticker on the front door, to a newly renovated modern looking establishment.  Two guys were working the open kitchen, a lady cleaning the table off and another guy hauling potato sacks up the back stairs and dropping them off at front right on the floor next to the condiment and garbage station.

Yes, the full sacks of potatoes were being brought out of storage from the nether regions of the restaurant and dropped off next to the small condiment and napkin station right on the floor. This was also the place where the small walkway to the restrooms was. In the end, there were about 6 bags of potatoes sitting on the floor and not on a skid like Five Guys Burgers & Fries, all waiting to be coated in for whatever people's shoes had tracked in that day.  Added to the awesomeness of this site, the usual package marketing of open concept side of these potato bags meant some of the potatoes can be seen and thus, coated in the same mess from whatever happened to be on Ottawa's Bank Street that day.  Where were these potatoes due to be destined?  To be fries perhaps?  I do hope the potatoes are cleaned appropriately and well cooked before being served to customers.

I approached the counter and reviewed the menu posted on the large screen televisions.  The menu is set up similar to The Works where it is a step by step process to build your burger.  First the bun, second the burger patty, third extra toppings and fourth to add fries and drink for a combo. Menu seemed easy to understand except Burgers N' Fries throws a curve ball, "Signature Burgers". Signature burgers are possible topping options with a fancy marketing name attached to them like "Hawaiian", "Greek" and "Funky".  The "Signature Burgers" seem to be similar to what The Works has on their menu, a way to positively market a bunch of toppings on a burger.

I was ready to order and patiently waited at the counter.  I eyed the two guys working in the open kitchen making another order.  Would one of these guys come forth and take my order?  After 2 minutes, the lady cleaning the tables came over and took my order.  Really, you greet me walking in the front door, past the table you were cleaning and leave me ogling the menu for two minutes before coming over?  Perhaps indicating to the customer that you would be more than happy to take my order when the customer was ready would have been better.  Instead, I was left to look lost at the front on how to give the two guys slaving away in the kitchen what exactly I wanted.  Why would these two guys want to know my order?  Because on the Burger N' Fries Forever's website they note:  "We know you want burgers n’ fries your way."  So how exactly am I supposed to get them to make my burger my way if the order can't be taken? Eventually the blonde cleaning the table figured it would be a good idea take my order.

The Order: 1 American (Carmelized Onions, Cheddar cheese, Pickles, Ketchup, Mustard) with beef patty on a white bun with regular fries (chipotle mayo dipping sauce) and a can of coke.

The blonde took my order and totaled it up. $11.50.  My eyes nearly exploded out of my head.  Really? This had really be a good quality meal with a decent amount of fries.  Not starting off on the right foot with a mere can of Coke was an issue.  Five Guys Burgers N' Fries provides unlimited refills on their fountain pop and so does many McDonald's and other fast food places.  At Burgers N' Fries, I get the privilege of being rationed to a 355 ml can per meal unless I wish to purchase another. Sure other burger places like Le Bac a Frites and even T.C.'s Fish & Burgers in Aurora only have canned or bottled pop on hand, but these restaurants do not charge $10 or more for a mere hamburger with fries and a drink.

The blonde took my money and then was dumbfounded.  The cash drawer wouldn't open.  She pressed a few buttons again and nothing.  She called the guy wielding the potato bags for help, turned out he was the manager or owner of the place.  Yes, the manager or owner was placing the open sided potato bags on the floor of the restaurant in a decently trafficked area.  He had to open the til using his official looking retail manager keys.  Good thing the receipt worked, otherwise, the blonde would have looked puzzled as to how much change to hand me back.

I patiently waited for my order to come up so I could eat in the restaurant.  I watched the pair in the kitchen work away at the now frequent orders.  The blonde had a line up and was gradually processing them.  I watched as other customers, obviously way smarter than me, take up the few seats there were at the restaurant. I kept an eye out to see if I should move over but there was always two seats on the stools at the counter in the front window.

I also watched my hamburger being made as other reviewers had noted thinness of the patties and overcooking were issues.  The hamburgers start as round balls of ground beef that are added to flat grill and pressed into size by the cook.  These are allowed to cook for about ten to fifteen minutes.  In my case, the patty was removed from the gill and brought over to the prep station.  This is where the cook from the gill noticed on the receipt that there was cheese to be added.  Back to the grill it went to have cheese added to it.  Why did this Kitchen faux pas happen?  Because the other kitchen person keeping track of the orders and topping the burgers was away preparing the fries and was not able to do quality control to let the guy at the grill know cheese was needed.

They really could have used a third person as the Friday lunch rush was gaining steam to keep up.  Right, the manager, where was he after the blonde cashier needed assistance?  Slinging the same bags of potatoes out the back and onto the floor. Organization in processing orders from the cash to serving them up seems to be an issue that hopefully will be ironed out. Not having adequate staff in the kitchen to ensure everything is perfect is essential, especially when trying to compete with Five Guys Burgers & Fries who work as a well oiled machine in turning over high volumes of customers with custom made burgers.

Fifteen minutes later, my order was ready and one of the workers called my name. I picked up my order from the kitchen and started towards the front eyeing the counter with the two stools.  No luck, two customers who had just finished with the blonde and were now waiting for their orders took the seats.  I ended up inquiring with a older businessman and a college student if there was space at their table to sit and enjoy my meal.  Sure enough there was and I sat down.

The meal quantity wise looked sad for what I paid for.  The meal was the same size I could have obtained at Le Bac a Frites for a cheaper price.  Quality wise though would it be better?

I started with fries.  The fries appeared to be the fresh cut fries and were definitely well cooked to overcome the questionable nature of leaving the unprocessed brethren on the floor at the front of the restaurant. Freshly cooked, temperature was not an issue.  The fries themselves were tasty and not overcooked.  Perfect with a little ketchup.  The Chipotle Mayonnaise dipping sauce?  An interesting concept to provide dipping sauce for your fries beyond the usual ketchup or special requested mayonnaise.  The chipotle combined with the mayo, as expected, added a little spicyness which left me reaching for rationed can of Coke a little too often.  A great concept for the fries in terms of quality and added bonus of dipping sauce.  There could have been a few more fries though to compensate in terms of price.

The American Burger was entertaining. The burger patty itself was pretty good and fresh, but nothing to write home about in comparison to other burger establishments.  The toppings though were a little bit distracting.  Too much ketchup and mustard was added causing it to leak out as I took bite after bite. The rest of the toppings were hardly noticeable in terms of freshness compared to elsewhere. The buns were not noticeably bigger than the patty.  So at least the restaurant appears to have righted the burger patty being significantly smaller than the bun as noted in other Zomato reviews. The burger overall really was nothing special especially for the price paid.

Overall, Burgers N' Fries Forever is easily experiencing some teething pains.  Issues include, as other reviewers have noted, overcooked burger patties, buns being too large and service being uncoordinated.  My visit seems to confirm some issues still remain including ensuring operations are prepared and running smoothly for busier times and orders are being taken efficiently.  But there is some credit to the workers in the kitchen and suppliers for fixing overcooked burgers and ordering too large burger buns for the burger patties.  A little more focus on ensuring the restaurant is properly prepared and customers are serviced in a timely manner will only improve things.  Pricing continues to be another issue the restaurant seems to be dealing with.  But the management seem to have taken note of this as on their website they currently note: "We have been working hard with our suppliers to lower some of our prices while maintaining the quality of our ingredients." As well, they have added a lunch special for $8.50 that comes with with a burger, fries and drink.  Hopefully this lunch special can be served in 10 minutes or less as many office workers only have an hour for lunch and still need time to get to Burgers N' Fries Forever without being late returning to work.  Burgers N' Fries is a nice place with quality food, but service and pricing still need quite a bit of work, despite what the employees and friends say on Zomato.

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