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.
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.
Feb 29, 2012 at 10:59am
Allrighty then I'll put Max's on my to do list for my cheat day.....mmmmm
Just another human
Feb 29, 2012 at 11:56am
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.
Feb 29, 2012 at 1:06pm
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.
Feb 29, 2012 at 2:10pm
Nothing wrong with the occasional burger, but this is definitely a food to eat in moderation.
Feb 29, 2012 at 2:45pm
The comments here have been very educational as I was under the impression that eating a giant burger every day was all right.
Feb 29, 2012 at 5:23pm
"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."
What is this "damage"?
Feb 29, 2012 at 7:51pm
Eating a giant burger everyday is fine as long as you pass on the bun.
John from Main and Broadway
Mar 1, 2012 at 2:42pm
"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.
Mar 1, 2012 at 8:00pm
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.
$95 for burgers for 4?!?
Mar 1, 2012 at 9:59pm
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, <b>not</b> retro.