Max’s Burgers puts ’50s-style rebellion on the menu in Vancouver

You’d think that with Romer’s Burger Bar, Splitz Grill, Stackhouse Burger Bar, et cetera, the gourmet, unapologetically beefy burger scene would be sewn up in Vancouver. Astonishingly, Max’s Burgers has found yet another meaty niche: the American-style full-fat shake shack.

Max’s Burgers

521 West 8th Avenue, 604-873-6297. Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, later on game nights.

Since Soda’s Diners closed many years ago, Vancouver has been short on ’50s-style fare. But when chef Connor Butler opened Max’s Burgers in January, he introduced a fryer full of beef tallow and a globe-sized Behemoth burger, made with a 24-ounce patty. Max’s décor is inspired by the ’50s, with the big, open flat-top grill behind the counter, a roll-up garage-style door in front, and simple booths. Perhaps the organic, vegan movement has sparked a nostalgic rebellion?

Beef tallow is Butler’s sabre rattle. Back in 1990, McDonald’s removed the rendered fat from its fryers, following public pressure. It was the first major, mainstream concession to the healthy-eating movement. The offense: cholesterol. Now, 22 years later, Max’s celebrates tallow.

“Beef tallow just tastes so darn good,” said Butler in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight. “When we were doing Max’s menu, the intention wasn’t for people to be eating here five times a week. The burger patty is, like, 20 percent fat. I hope you get a milkshake with it. This is real, retro fun food.”

Butler, 34, is a ballsy guy. At 26, the Malaspina University-College grad opened Restaurant Connor Butler, a high-end bistro on Granville. He closed it four years later citing youthful errors and the expense-account-damning recession. In the years since then, he’s made wine in the Similkameen Valley and designed menus for the Morgan Creek Golf & Country Club in South Surrey. Max’s Burgers was conceived by himself and the owners of Redpath Foods, the local company behind Max’s Deli and Catering, and Stuart’s Bakery.

“At 26, I was invincible. Now, I’m mortal,” he explained. He switched from fine dining to burgers because Vancouver’s appetite for multi-course tasting menus is limited. “The audience is so much wider with burgers.”

To test whether Max’s is a satisfactory retro rebellion, I took three hungry friends for the Behemoth. The meal combo, which feeds four for $55, comes with the 24-ounce burger and a pound of toppings, fries, yam fries, and onion rings, and a pitcher of beer (or pop). Four other tables had ordered the Man v. Food–style meal that night. If you can eat the whole thing by yourself, you win a T-shirt. No single person managed it while I was there.

Although the huge burger is a gimmick, it’s surprisingly good. Butler starts with fougasse dough that’s baked with bacon, onions, garlic, and cheese to make the loaf-sized bun. It sandwiches a freshly grilled patty. Then he gives his cooks the freedom to add toppings, based on what they think the table would like. (The kitchen is completely open, so they can see you.) Evidently, we looked like pickle-eaters, because ours came with about a pound of them on the top, plus ham and Max’s sauce: a mix of ketchup, mayo, relish, grainy mustard, maple syrup, and secret seasonings. What captured me, though, were the onions; they’re sautéed down to that succulent, brown, PNE-scented nectar. Very satisfying.

A word about Max’s meat: it’s not free-range or organic. Instead, Butler is interested in traceability—the ability to find out where the cow was raised, and the conditions under which it lived and died. To him, this trumps the more politically correct labels. It’s all bought from Granville Island’s Tenderland Meats. Sausages come from Falconetti’s East Side Grill, where they’re housemade.

Alas, we weren’t quite full. So we ordered the British Columbia burger, which comes with bacon marmalade. We also ordered a poached pear salad. Neither of these extra dishes had much flavour. There needed to be about three times as much bacon marmalade on the burger, and the dressing on the salad was tasteless.

With tax and tip, but no dessert, the bill came to $95.

Late on Valentine’s Day, I returned. Just three other tables were occupied, and the staff had cranked the music to a deafening, conversation-stunting pitch. For $23, my companion and I shared the “Anna and the King” crab po-boy with a salad, and a caramel milkshake. Again, the foundations were solid, but the sauces were weak. Evidently, the po-boy contained a Thai green curry mayo, but this lacked any spice. The broccoli salad seemed little more than florets in a pasty dressing. However, the milkshake brimmed with ’50s bonhomie, hand-blended and rich.

Overall, if this is where I escape for indulgence, I want more. More sauce. More flavor. More spice. When the burger is done, I want smears of ketchup and mayo on my shirt. I want translucent napkins. And I want to have that craving so satisfied that I don’t want another burger for a while. American diners can deliver this stuff. So can Max’s. When I visited, it had only been open for a couple of weeks, but Butler has already fine-tuned some of the menu items and is committed to serving great food. Just give him time.

Comments (19) Add New Comment
R2
Allrighty then I'll put Max's on my to do list for my cheat day.....mmmmm
Rating: +182
Just another human
This food is absolute poison for you. From one human to another, please be wise and thoughtful about your own health, take care of the only body and mind you have for this short life.

This is complete ignorance by a 'chef', Chef Connor, I do not know your culinary background or education but I beseech you to put your skills to help better your fellow humans health instead of poisoning them. Dedicate your food passions positively. Engage yourself, engage your customers to proper nutrition.

I understand you want to offer people an escape, an evil day of indulgence, be naughty. We get you, we really do, but even that one meal does enough damage a person's body, their Immune system, their chemical and bacterial balance to last several days. This is not just a 'quick burger, fries and shake' and laugh about it later, it is poison.

Please list the nutrition guide for your menu here.

Yes, undoutedly the flurry of furious replies will follow this post, but that's ok. Get it out of your system. Argue that you can do anything you want, after all, it is your body. Let loose, be emotional and angry, flow with the endorphin rush. And after you do, take a few minutes of rest, daydream, then ponder health and well being. Yours.

Chef, you can do better to help us all out. Please try, we need as much help as we can get.

For the rest of us, find out about good nutrition if you are not up to speed, we have google, we have unlimited knowledge at our fingertips. It does not take much time to learn healthy, tasty quick recipes. Read up on some nutritional science.

There are reasons we are an obese nation, we are not quite as bad as the USA, but heart disease is THE killer of men AND women. Please take a step back, learn a little bit, indulge your only body with goodness, share what you have learned with others.

Recent news: a man has a heart attack at The Heart Attack Grill in Vegas. Los Angeles passes a ban on fast food restaurants because of health issues.

Please take care of yourselves and fellow humans.
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Rating: -3
R2
Ummmm you split the burger with 4 or 5 people and have it once in a while, this is just 1 of many items on the menu most are probably nowhere near as decadent.
Live an active lifestlye and you'll be fine.
Anyways a few more fatsos dying from heartattacks ain't such a bad thing we've got far too many people in the world living too late already.
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Rating: +1
Pat
Nothing wrong with the occasional burger, but this is definitely a food to eat in moderation.
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Rating: +3
RF
The comments here have been very educational as I was under the impression that eating a giant burger every day was all right.
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Gentleman Jack
"We get you, we really do, but even that one meal does enough damage a person's body, their Immune system, their chemical and bacterial balance to last several days."

wtf.
What is this "damage"?
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Rating: +2
R2
Eating a giant burger everyday is fine as long as you pass on the bun.
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Rating: -2
John from Main and Broadway
"This is real, retro fun food."

Enormous burgers are not "retro." Anyone old enough to remember REAL burger joints would know that "retro" burgers are simple, small portions with good healthy ingredients. The "let's eat bacon with everything" and "more meat" trend is over. It was lame to begin with, but I understood it for like a week, maybe a month. Get over it. Health is way cooler than fat American food.
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Rating: +3
Anton
I do like the idea of sharing a meal. As for the health related comments, as many people have said, the occasional burger will not kill you, and I have a lot of doubt about the severely flawed 'Lipid Hypothesis'. I fondly remember my grandmother and I sharing a bucket of KFC about 15 years ago, and she lived to be 104.
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Rating: -2
$95 for burgers for 4?!?

With tax and tip, but no dessert, the bill came to $95.


Wow. Nothing retro about the price. Ok, it did include a pitcher of beer, but seems quite pricey.

Also agree with poster who stated that there's nothing retro about over-sized food with bacon on everything. That's a modern (and disgusting IMHO) trend.

Indeed, trendy, not retro.

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Rating: -6
Darcy McGee
I was wildly disappointed in Max's. The reviewer doesn't seem too thrilled either, but the comments above suggest that no one actually finished reading the review.

The burger is well done. There's nothing wrong there, but it's basically an above average well done burger. That's not hard. The bun is generic and the fries were just bad.

The decor has nothing 50s about it. The big screen TVs are everywhere and the music was annoyingly loud when we were there too. Wait staff wear low cut t-shirts which does nothing for the food.

There's about three tables that sit right beside the badly designed entranceway which basically means you get a blast of cold air every time the door opens.

$33 for two of us (including tip and I had a pop but she didn't.) Thanks. I can do better down Broadway at Moderne Burger. Hell, I can do better at Vera's and that's a damn generic and mediocre chain now.
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Rating: +5
Jangus
If it's anything like max's deli the portions will shrink and the prices will rise
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Rating: +3
Travis Redpath
My name is Travis Redpath, and I have recently taken over as General Manager of Max's Burgers. I am replacing my good friend Connor Butler, who has taken his long-awaited leap to life in paradise on the big island of Hawaii. I feel it’s appropriate to take the time to respond to a few of the points raised in the recent Georgia Strait article.

Firstly, thank you so much for the write-up Pieta. As a new business, our first month has involved ironing out a lot of kinks, and fine-tuning everything else to provide the best possible dining experience. That said, I think you and the readers will find we are taking a pro-active approach to improving our great fundamentals on a daily basis.

We have removed the Pear Salad that from our menu, and it has been replaced with our take on a classic Wedge Salad. We think you’ll find our house-made blue cheese dressing full of flavour! Bart’s Broccoli Salad is a recipe that has been popular at Max’s on Oak Street for many years. We make the dressing in-house with mayo, apple cider, and seasonings. I will be sampling the dressing with my Chef de Cuisine and we will be ensuring that all of our house-made ingredients always taste the way they are supposed to taste.

Music volume is an issue that was addressed with our staff immediately following Valentines Day, which was the first time we received any feedback from customers about it. Since that date, only managers may access the volume controls and we are happy to oblige any guests if they find the music too loud during their visit.

I’d like to apologize for your experience with our King Crab Po’Boy. We initially conceived the dish as having a green curry mayo, which is why it is still mistakenly shown on our website as such. But before we opened to public, the decision was made to change it to another locally sourced product, our tartar sauce that we make in-house with Hunky Bill’s Dill Pickles. We have also upped the amount of house-made bacon marmalade on our BC Burger to ensure our guests can fully enjoy this awesome burger. I myself have a tattoo of our BC Burger on my forearm, I love it that much! We seem to have a lot of messy faces and fingers around here, so people like you who want lots of sauce are getting just that.

We know we can satisfy that deep craving you’re talking about, and I firmly believe that we’re the place to get ‘er done!
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Rating: +1
Travis Redpath
Travis Redpath again. I also felt it was appropriate to respond to 'Just Another Human' and their comments on your article about Max’s Burgers.

We have never portrayed ourselves as a health food restaurant. But we are by no means ‘fast food’ by the standard definition, as we bring in only high-quality raw ingredients to use in our food. The vast majority of our products are prepared in-house entirely from scratch using methods that are much healthier than our ‘fast-food’ competitors. My background as a Chef has made me very aware of nutritional science and general health. We here at Max’s Burgers believe there is room for all types of cuisine in Vancouver and in peoples lives, and that moderation is a personal responsibility. What you might feel is “poison”, is seen as an incredible meal to the overwhelming majority of our customers. We’re just doing our best to make the humble hamburger a work of art.
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Rating: +5
Respect
Great to see you addressing the feedback you've received Travis.

I haven't visited but I am willing to give it a try sometime. From the outside I would chip in that perhaps the yam fries/fries/onion rings which come with the 4 person combo could have their serving size increased, as they are low cost and I wouldn't want my guests feeling they need to order another burger entree. (I find the majority of patrons interested in dessert will save room during the meal or find an extra stomach compartment, so I don't believe it would adversely affect those sales) An alternative is to offer a free refill for one of the above side dishes, which prevents people getting food they won't eat, and satisfies those other customers with a slightly larger appetite.

I also think that the novelty of the kitchen deciding which toppings the table would like might wear off quickly. I know I would much rather have the ability to customize my own toppings than roll the dice and end up unsatisfied.

Looking forward to visiting.
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Rating: +4
Travis Redpath
Thanks for the input Respect, that's definitely an angle of approach I'm looking at. That being said, I'm amazed and impressed people still have room after splitting the Behemoth. It ends up being equivalent to one of our normal burgers and a quarter per person with massive toppings, a hefty helping of fried sides, and a sleeve of beer for $13.75 per person, props!

As far as the kitchen deciding which toppings go onto a Behemoth, I agree with you completely and that's why I instituted an immediate change when I took over as General Manager. The Behemoth is now served with the 'kitchen sink', a little bit of ALL our toppings, as a standard. However, if any guests have preferences as to what comes on their Behemoth, they need simply talk to their server and we'll make that happen!
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Rating: +3
Miss Kathy
What did poor Hawaii do to deserve Connor Butler?
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Alby
Hey Just another human......your fear of death is....uh.....unhealthy. I am sure you're super fit, skinny, athletic....and just as destined to croak as the rest of us. Life is for living, not worrying about dying. I hope your kids (if you have any) have you set to "ignore".
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Tonybaloney
alby....Excellent response to ''just another human''.....people need to use their own brains and be wise. You can be helpful and dispense advice but it comes down to the individual person to read up and research what is healthy and to be avoided and what is a treat now and then. Just my two cents (plus taxes =$567.99) ....:)
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Rating: +8
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