By Bryn Skibo-Birney
Canada has a problem. Somewhere in the history of legislating Canadian food safety laws, it was decided that ground beef burgers had to be cooked until the inside of the burger reached 71°C. This means the burger is well-cooked throughout and there is little juice left. In other words, the burger is uniformly grey and relatively dry. I’m not the first person to remark on this: see here, here, here, here, here, and here. The point is, people have noticed that their Canadian burgers lack panache, texture, and the spice of life.
True, one diner’s “panache” is another diner’s E.coli. The risk with serving and eating a medium-rare burger is that bacteria on the outside of whatever part of the flesh that was ground up to make your burger (and it could be anything, scraps and “trimmings” as well as muscle and fat) is pulled into the interior of the burger. There, the lower temperature does not fully kill off bacteria, which could make you sick (or die).
But we can make the same bacteria-based argument for cookie dough and tartare. If most restaurants won’t serve cookie dough (not yet, anyway), why can we still order beef tartare in the same restaurant that serves us a grey disk where a juicy burger patty should be? Typically, the meat used to make tartare is of higher quality, comes from a single source, and is ground in-house every day (or, at least, it should be). This, as opposed to a frozen, factory-ground patty, which can contain genetic material from a dozen or more cows and cuts of meat which may have been contaminated with fecal matter during the slaughtering process. The difference isn’t just the taste or the preparation: tartare is, as expected, generally much more expensive than your average hamburger.
So, how do we rectify a society’s demand for reasonably priced burgers that aren’t an utter waste of our culinary time? Arguably, by rejecting bad burgers all-together. The late, great, food writer and chef, Anthony Bourdain, had characteristically strong feelings about over-cooked (or safely cooked) burgers, asking “Is it too much to feel that it should be a basic right that one can cook and eat a hamburger without fear?” His answer to an industry that drives the price of meat down while ignoring poor production quality (for the consumed and the consumer) is simple: eat less meat. (Yes, the Anthony Bourdain – who, in Kitchen Confidential, lambasted vegetarians as fools easily parted with their money – suggested eating less meat. It’s all in his chapter, “Meat,” in Medium Rare. It’s worth a read.)
Put simply, Bourdain advocates for the prioritization of quality over quantity. If you need to pay a higher price for a burger of tartare quality in order to be relatively assured that said burger won’t kill you if it’s pink inside, so be it. You may not be able to eat them frequently (and frankly, you probably shouldn’t), but such is the price to have something that doesn’t need to be treated with ammonia and grilled until it resembles a greasy hacky-sack of gristle. Basically, if it’s not good, don’t eat it.
What does this all have to do with Kitsilano’s latest food destination?
Hundy is, for all intents and purposes, a very pleasant addition to the West 4th Street strip. Its white-tiled, retro-chic, hip-hopped vibe – where vintage video games and street art rub shoulders with Victorian wallpaper and dried flowers – is the perfect mix of funky fresh, old-is-new-againism. It’s bright, with pops of color and neon, and has great people-watching windows for the bustle of West 4th. The playlist is contemporary and very Shazam-able (think Drake and Kanye), but not played so loudly that you should just give up conversation. The dark leatherette booths may seem a little out of place, as they harken a shade too closely to the old-school diner that Hundy aims to be, but the oak accents and white-washed concrete keep Hundy looking as fresh as your Stan Smiths.
Beyond the décor, the wine list is fantastic; it tends towards organic and biodynamic wineries and features pleasant surprises like the Medici Lambrusco sparkling red. A light, floral number the color of rust, the Lambrusco has enough oomph (the technical term is “tannin structure”) to stand up to the protein and the cheddar on the burgers. If bubbles in your red aren’t your style, I recommend the Lock & Worth Merlot; its flavor profile of leather, herbs, and blackberries is a rich, aromatic complement to the burger’s creamy aioli mayo. If you’re more into white wines, the Sea Star Ortega is minerally and floral, with a hint of orange peel: the perfect accompaniment to a warm, cherry-blossomed day.
Some might consider even the most robust, unfiltered wine anathema to a burger (they’re wrong) because what’s a burger without beer? As with the wines, Hundy features a well-curated collection of craft brews: from trusted favorites like 33 Acres (Hazy Pale Ale), Twin Sails (“Would Crush” Raspberry Wheat), and Parallel 49 (East Van Lager) to the lesser-spotted Luppolo (Wild Tart with Pineapple and Guava) and Collective Arts Brewing (Gose, with guava, Himalayan pink salt, and coriander). There’s even a Pale Ale available from Backcountry Brewing, saving you the trip to Squamish. Get your friends together over poutine and the arcade game and you’re set for a chill Sunday evening.
The drinks menu hints at Hundy’s overall modus operandi: keep it minimal, but thoughtful. Such is the way of the food menu, which features a few variations on the burger itself (hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, and double), as well as a towering fried chicken sandwich, an unexpected cabbage salad, poutine, and fries. Of these, the cabbage salad is light and crisp, with a peanut and chili sauce topped with sesames. It’s a crunchy and spicy accompaniment to the heavier burgers and the sesames alone make it entirely worth your while to order a salad at a burger joint. The fried chicken offers an initial crunch, which seals in the juice, but it remains a little bland. The fries are, in a word, exceptional: double-cooked and suitably crispy, with a liberal coating of big salt crystals.
So far, so good (by and large). But let’s leave behind the neon, the sneakers, the flowered wallpaper, the cocktails, everything, and address what I’ve been avoiding. Hundy has developed a substantial buzz on social media, resulting in lines of patient patrons stretching up West 4th. (Go early to beat the crowds.) Are the burgers worth the wait that you may face on any given Thursday, Friday, Saturday and now Sunday evening? This reviewer says no.
I want to like Hundy’s burgers. I do. As a recovering vegetarian, a B12 deficiency will really make you amped up about hamburgers. So, it saddens me to say that Hundy’s cheeseburger was, on two separate occasions, boring. Some of this is not their fault. It’s difficult to make an appetizing patty when the frisson of dancing with E.coli has been cooked out of it, taking with it all the tenderness and flavor. That can’t be helped, due to Canada’s curmudgeonly food safety laws.
But leaving aside the tough and gristly patty, the bun is rubbery and bland, reminiscent of an over-cooked soft pretzel. A self-affirmed pro-glutenist, I found myself getting tired of chewing it. Inside, the burger tectonics didn’t hold up: perhaps as a result of the oddly substantial mattress of julienned lettuce, perhaps because the whole thing is served vertically. Regardless, the burger failed several of Bourdain’s “tips for a perfect burger”: it’s not easy to eat, it’s messy (looking at you, aioli mayo), and the meat-to-bun ratio was off. I found myself, twice, with a naked, inch-long tail of a patty, unsure if I missed my roll or was relieved to be free of it. Overall, the cheeseburger was an exercise in blasé disappointment.
Could all of this be fixed with a new roll, less lettuce, and a different sauce? Perhaps. Though you’d still be left with the problem of the over-cooked, gristly patty. Clearly, considering Hundy’s popularity, not many people are as bothered about this as I am. Or have we gotten so used to overcooked burgers, we no longer remember the glory of a medium-rare patty? Regardless, until Canada reconsiders the food safety legislation and meat providers start using ground meat that doesn’t require a scorched-earth preparation policy, I don’t see the point in eating meat-based burgers in Vancouver.
To return to Bourdain’s argument from Medium Rare, if we can’t buy a better, high quality burger that can be served pinkish, maybe it’s time to revisit the alternatives. Because, quite honestly, the Beyond Meat burger at Heirloom is the best burger I’ve had in Vancouver. Maybe Beyond Meat is all a Soylent-Green based lie. But the fact remains that the tenderness and the flavor reside where you don’t have to cook the shit out of it (literally).
In the meantime, go to Hundy. It’s fun: the music’s fresh; the video games are retro favorites; and the people are a broad, neighborhood-y swath of families, friends, and couples. At the very least, you can wash down your B12 tablets with a great organic wine or craft brew.
- Keep an eye on Hundy’s Instagram (@hundyyvr) for information on wine tasting evenings; proceeds go to charity.
What to try:
- The wine list offers a lot of fun wines you’ll want to taste, but for sheer novelty, try the salty, herbal Gose (pronounced Go-zah) or the über fresh Berliner Weisse with Pineapple, both by Collective Arts Brewing.
- Salads might not be high on one’s priority list at a burger joint, but the cabbage salad provides a crisp, nutty side to the rich flavors of the burger and chicken sandwich.
Hundy, 2042 West 4th Avenue, 604-736-8828, hundy.ca
Photos: Bryn Skibo-Birney
Last modified: April 13, 2019