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I’m Dining Out Here

by Andrew Sprague

PEI Burger Love is the most successful restaurant and local food promotion in the history of the Island if not the Maritimes. It’s generated millions of dollars for the local economy in April; a month that was traditionally slow for a vibrant but still very seasonal restaurant industry. Eateries from one end of the Island to the other have been flooded with customers for the whole of the month for eight years now, and I expect many of them had to hire on a few extra staff to handle the volume.

Stockyards, on the other hand, have taken some kind of beating. 184,000 burgers went out the door in 2017. I did the math about three years ago and I couldn’t fathom how there was enough available ground beef on the Island to satisfy demand during April. “What would be left,” I thought, “some very worried and overworked dairy cattle?”

Inconvenient math aside Burger Love has been great. It’s anticipated by its legions of fans, it’s a big boost to local entrepreneurs, and it brings people out when our economy could use them the most.

It’s also overwhelmingly huge. I expect the most common conversation about Burger Love this year went something like this:

“Hey man, you ready for Burger Love?”
“Oh ya, I love Burger Love.”
“So, there’s like, 85 burgers this year.”
“Holy crap! Which ones are you gonna have?”
“I dunno, man. The map is too big to read.”
“I hear ya, man. I heard there’s a deep fried tarantula on one of them.”

Eighty-five burgers. How can anyone contemplate a winner when the average Joe realistically maxes out at ten percent of the entrants? I know votes determine the winner to a degree but there’s a dilution when there are that many competitors. It makes it hard to pick a place or two that look interesting because it takes an hour and a half to review all the burgers and locations. You just end up buying a burger wherever you go.

Another comment I heard often was about the simplicity of a burger, the purity of it, being lost on a competition like Burger Love. I used to really enjoy the novel ingredients and flavour combinations, but now I find too many of them gaudy. Either that or the burger’s sheer size borders on offensive. Not every burger is overdone or absurdly large, but way too many of them are. In this day and age we should know better. Just give me a tasty burger that I can eat without using a backhoe.

Despite my mildly cynical attitude toward the 2018 edition of Burger Love, I did manage to try four entries by press time. The best of the bunch was the Small Town Smoke at Water’s Edge at the Delta Prince Edward. I split it with my son and he liked it so much he ate the tomatoes on it and that’s no small thing. The website describes it as a six ounce red pepper gouda-infused Island beef patty with garlic and shallots, herbed gouda, candied bacon, house-smoked tomato aioli, arugula, and the aforementioned tomato, on a toasted pretzel bun, topped with a pickled pepperoncini pepper. Had I not read that I would have described it as a delicious, smoky bacon cheeseburger with a zesty mayonnaise, and some other stuff. It wasn’t a bit sloppy, and it was compact; two very important qualities. It was a solid nine out of ten and a pleasure to eat.

It will be interesting to see where Burger Love goes from here. Will more restaurants be added in 2019? Will it sustain it’s already overwhelming size? I hope it continues on for years. But I’d also really love to see some chefs dial it way back. Make a simple burger with basic ingredients that doesn’t make a mess. It’s the easiest recipe in the world.

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