Friday, April 22, 2011

STAMPEDE BISON GRILL: 5 Brock Avenue - (416) 534-4999

Aristea and Reena outside
Stampede Bison Grill
Anyone who knows me, or who regularly reads this blog, knows very well that I have a kryptonite-esque weakness for hamburgers.  When I was a kid, burgers took on almost mythic significance as the highest form of food.  Of course, as a kid, all I really wanted on my hamburger was ketchup so it may have been less about the burger itself and more of a condiment delivery system.

I still to this day remember the moment when I was at the hooker Harveys by Ryerson University and, responding to the woman behind the sneeze glass, saying a phrase that, to me, always represented the ultimate form of adulthood. 

"I'll have everything on it.  Well except hot peppers.  Oh fuck it, just a few hot peppers."

My bar mitzvah did nothing for me.  Losing my virginity was just downright awkward.  Earning my first pay cheque from Loeb grocery stores when I was fourteen was entirely anticlimactic.  That moment in the hooker Harvey's was the day I became a man.  Lucky for me it didn't also involve a hooker.

Fast forward many years and I find myself approaching Stampede Bison Grill with my good friends Aristea Rizakos and Reena Newman with the giddy exuberance of twelve year old girl at a shopping mall autograph signing.  I had heard mixed reviews about Stampede from various sources.  Elizabeth Brandt from Underline Studio once told me it was her neighbourhood weakness.  Like after a shitty day, Stampede Bison Grill makes it all better.  However my local hamburger expert Justin Broadbent, also one of the best designers in Canada, told me that it was very overrated and he wouldn't go back.  Finally I would know the truth for myself.  Hallelujah!

Our dinner guests Reena Newman and Aristea Rizakos
But first a word or two about our guests for the evening.  Aristea Rizakos is a brilliant interiors photographers, producer, incredibly gorgeous, and the reason I didn't starve when I was first out of school.  We met when she hired me to assist on photo shoots, even though I was a pretty terrible assistant, and kept me employed semi-regularly for a year.  She is also a big reason why I became a relatively successful photographer.  My very first advertising photo shoot was for Applied Arts Magazine with the ad agency Bos.  The shoot involved 3 executions, 3 locations, 40 extras, lots of permits, and 1 day.  She worked as my producer on that shoot and made it happen flawlessly.  If it wasn't for that shoot, I doubt I would be where I am today.

Food photographer Reena Newman and I also met on that shoot.  Aristea hired her as an assistant that day and we've been friends and colleagues ever since.  She has just finished putting together a ridiculously nice portfolio of food photography which is already attracting much attention.  She also might not notice but boys fall in love with her constantly.  She is addictively cute!  (Fyi, she is also married)

This is what we ordered...
and what we could have ordered.
So, along with these two sirens of the photo world, I enter the Stampede Bison Grill.  The atmosphere is fairly light and relaxed.  There is single seating along the perimeter of the joint with three or four 4-person tables in the middle.  It's pretty full when we arrive but we score a table in the middle of the room.  I order a bison burger with a side of sweet potato fries.  Reena orders a beef burger with a side of poutine.  We also decide to split the dark-rum chocolate milkshake which catches our interest.  Aristea orders the veggie burger and a side of onion rings. 

The food arrives promptly and its already looking promising.  The burgers are a good size and smothered nicely with fresh-looking toppings and condiments.  The poutine is topped with cheese curds the size of eyeballs and the onion rings and sweet potato fries look damn yummy too.  We each take a bite of our burgers at around the same time.  A hush comes over the room.  It takes a few seconds for our palates to negotiate the flavours and come to any decisions.  But when they do, its unanimous.

The Veggie Burger
MMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!  OH FUCK YEAH!!!!  That's awesome!!!!!!

These were very very very yummy burgers.  Lets start with mine.  Often bison burgers can come out dry because they aren't nearly as fatty as beef but this burger was moist and plump, it held together nicely, and was chock full of delicious gamy flavour.  Sure the condiments were dominating my palate, as is the case with any burger, but you could still taste a gaminess to the bison that just made me weak at the knees!

Reenas burger was just as delicious but she did say it was a little overcooked.  However she also said that she likes her beef as rare as possible and, since they probably aren't grinding up the beef right before it hits the grill, a rare burger might be ill-advised.  She later admitted that she likes eating things that are as close to being "still alive" as possible.  God love her!

Poutine, onion rings, and sweet potato fries
Aristeas order was the wildcard.  Often burger places will treat their veggie options as an annoying afterthought.  They will throw together a haphazard veggie burger recipe because they know its not their principal clientele.  It's basically on the menu to appease that one vegetarian who chagriningly goes along with the rest of the family to the burger joint.  But, according to Aristea it was freakin delicious!  It was moist, held together well, had a bit of a nutty flavour and a very hearty texture.  She said it was one of the best veggie burgers she had eaten in a very long while.

And now, to the sides.  The onion rings were perfect!  Seriously.  These were exactly as onion rings should be.  Anyone who regularly eats onion rings knows that a low-quality onion ring will crawl out of its deep-fried bready shell like a scalding hot earthworm if it isn't bitten down upon with the force of a guillotine.  These ones seemed to have partially melted into the breading and separated without any real force or conviction.  And they tasted delicious to boot.

Our dark-rum chocolate milkshake
(and proof to our spouses that
we used two straws)
The sweet potato fries were great however I thought they were a bit over-salted.  The girls disagreed.  Aristea and Reena described them as "highly addictive".

However the two big highlights of the night were the poutine and the dark-rum chocolate milkshake.  Sorry to dwell but the cheese curds in the poutine were just fucking huge.  And yes a lot of factors go into making a good poutine (the flavour of the gravy, the quality of the french fry, etc.),  but if you start out with huge cheese curds, you're already like 60% there!  Lucky for us the fries were great and the gravy was pretty good.  It wasn't the most flavourful gravy but still pretty good.  Perhaps we were just so focused on those cheese curds that it overshadowed the gravy.  Regardless, the poutine was fantastic.

The bison burger with cheese!
And the dark-rum chocolate milkshake was a revelation!  Sure it was expensive (like almost 8 bucks) but man was it tasty.  Reena and I were a bit nervous about this one but we were very happy to have followed our curiosities.  We were also glad that we split it because, had we not, we would have probably arrived home in a wheelbarrow. 

Ok, at this point I feel like I'm gushing!  Needless to say we were all relatively smitten with Stampede Bison Grill.  Go check it out friends!  And be sure to order the dark-rum milkshake.  Sure its an indulgence but c'mon, we only live once, right?

Rating:  4.25


  1. Daniel

    You're totally rocking these reviews. Keep them up


  2. the gravy in the poutine is vegetarian as well

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.