Calendars are bursting in the twenty-first century with freshly-invented events and quirky shared days of observance. Love or hate the trend, there is something for everyone. In St. Thomas, we first trained our eyes on May 28th — National Hamburger Day! Seriously though, why not celebrate this tasty touchstone of North American life?
Early in April, the team at Railway City Tourism challenged the crew at STEAM City Media to explore St. Thomas and find the best burgers in the city. They took up the task and enjoyed the opportunity to visit a few favourite local eateries, plus a couple of places that may have been noticed in the past but for some reason never visited. In their words, here is what happened …
Monday, April 16
Our first official stop in the city was at the Elgin Mall. Not long before, our team at STEAM City Media interviewed St. Thomas Mayor Heather Jackson, and she suggested that we check out Smitty’s Backyard Burgers in the mall food court. Good call, Mayor Jackson!
Maddie, Jenn, Alex, and Andrew stopped by on a Monday night. Kind of quiet overall in the food court seating area, but the burgers were excellent! According to the server, the meat is sourced from VG Meats in Simcoe, and universally we agreed that the taste hit the mark. Alex summed things up this way: “Smitty’s Backyard Burgers was a cool little experience.”
Maddie and Jenn sampled the cuisine at Smitty’s Backyard Burgers in the Elgin Mall food court. Andrew took this photo. A trend developed on this initial excursion - Maddie, Jenn, and Alex ordered whatever burgers they liked, and Andrew was left to try the veggie option! Thankfully, the veggie burger at Smitty’s is awesome and full of flavour. Highly recommended!
Saturday, April 28
Once we announced our ‘Railway City Burger Quest’ on Twitter, we started to get invitations from local restaurants, including Rail City Bistro on Talbot Street. Maddie, Jenn, and Alex decided to make this our second official stop, dropping in on a Saturday along with Jessica Moyes, Executive Director of the STEAM Centre (and Supervisor at STEAM City Media).
At this stop, Alex tried the ‘Pizza Burger’, and turned in this rave review: “So, the cool thing about Rail City Bistro is that they do a different theme every weekend. I got the pizza burger, which was something I’d never heard of. The pizza burger came with a homemade patty, marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese on a toasted bun. The burger was awesome. I would go back and have it ten times if I could!”
So, if you like pizza, maybe give the Pizza Burger a spin …
One minor quibble with this stop: the burgers took a long time to come! During our Railway City Burger Quest, we experienced waits of ten to twenty minutes, which felt about right. Things definitely took a bit longer at Rail City Bistro. No big deal, just keep that in mind if you visit.
Monday, April 30
For our third stop, we took a suggestion from Jenn, who was told about a place near Berry Hill Limited, the country living store on Burwell Road. This turned out to be a very pleasant surprise!
Maddie, Jenn, and Andrew visited Snack Wacky Foods on a sunny but cool Monday evening. The operation is run by a nice fellow named Hermann, who told us that he envisioned the operation years ago when he was a business student in college. Fast forward to 2018, and he seems very content serving up burgers to his loyal clientele. We can understand why people keep coming back! The burgers are tremendous, and the whole experience is devoid of any formalities, which is rather charming. Turns out that Snack Wacky Foods just started an Instagram account before we arrived, so we followed along and gave a few shout-outs, too!
Andrew tried the Grilled Chicken Burger, Jenn had the Backyard Burger, and somehow Maddie managed to finish off the Double Decker Burger (truly a moment of heroism during our quest!)
Here is how Jenn summed up her experience: “Snack Wacky Foods is a home-grown burger shack, a hidden gem on the outskirts of St. Thomas. All the food is prepared in front of you and you are greeted with a smile every time! The taste is off the charts! It reminds me exactly of the days when we had a backyard barbecue, and brings back many happy memories.”
All things considered, we totally enjoyed our time at Snack Wacky Foods!
While it may seem odd to feel nostalgic about eating burgers at a picnic table out in the industrial zone of St. Thomas, this was just a lovely evening. Take your family or grab a friend and go over to Snack Wacky Foods and enjoy this unique spot in St. Thomas!
Monday, May 7
We checked out Braxton’s at the east end of Talbot Street for our fourth stop. Maddie and Andrew were joined by a special guest, Maddie’s friend Kya Doolittle … as always, it is helpful to have friends join you on a quest! This gave us the opportunity to taste-test three burgers.
Kya tried the Euro Burger, Maddie had the No-Bull Burger, and Andrew selected the Dead Elephant Burger, just to tap into the ever-expanding constellation of local references to the sad demise of Jumbo the Elephant, killed by a locomotive in St. Thomas in 1885. The burger is topped with pulled pork made with Dead Elephant Ale from Railway City Brewing Company.
Everyone seemed satisfied by the experience at Braxton’s. Perhaps we made a mistake by failing to select the Jonny Burger, which features melted peanut butter with smoky bacon … once we recover from our Burger Quest, our plan is to return and let Maddie try that one!
Andrew, Maddie and Kya chickened out at Braxton’s and did not try the ‘Jonny Burger’, which is topped with melted peanut butter and smoky bacon. After eating the Dead Elephant Burger with onion rings, Andrew did some calculations on a napkin to figure out how many kilometres he would need to ride his bike to be the same as he was before dinner. Eight kilometres, apparently, but if you want to go on the Railway City Burger Quest, a few sacrifices are required!
Saturday, May 19
For our last official stop, we decided to check out Legends, the long-standing restaurant in the centre of the city next to the London and Port Stanley Terminal Railway line. The owner, Andy Lerikos, deserves warm congratulations from the community for reaching twenty years in business this year, a terrific accomplishment. Legends is a true St. Thomas landmark — just check out the walls on either side of the main doors inside, where a Joe Thornton jersey graces the wall to the left and a couple of photos of Rachel McAdams light up the other side!
Maddie, Jenn, Alex and Andrew settled into one of the familiar booths by the windows facing Princess Ave. We checked out the menu, and decided to finish our Railway City Burger Quest by going all-out! Most notably, Andrew tried the L&PS Burger, keeping up his new tradition of trying burgers named after local sites and stories. The most impressive move, however, was by Maddie, who elected to try the Grilled Cheese Burger. Check out the full description: ‘Two grilled cheese sandwiches create the bun on this delicious burger then topped with Applewood bacon and cheddar cheese.’ Maddie seemed a bit overwhelmed when her lunch arrived! We ate, though, and enjoyed the burgers. Legends is always a reliable option.
One last photo of Maddie with a burger — in this case, the Grilled Cheese Burger from Legends, a real work of lunch-art. We think there should be hammocks placed along the walking trail outside Legends, complimentary afternoon nap-spots for anyone who finishes the Grilled Cheese Burger. Let’s be the city that embraces public napping!
Before we reveal our burger joint of choice in St. Thomas, we wanted to give a quick shout-out to a few burgers that we sampled outside the Railway City limits.
We stopped at Pinecroft near Aylmer for lunch one day. Alex ordered the Pinecroft Sirloin Hamburger. Here is his description: “The burger at Pinecroft was delicious, however looked a little different than your average burger. They served the burger on a soft ciabatta bun with loads of bacon, cheese, and fresh cut fries. Not only was the food good at Pinecroft, but the setting and the surroundings provided an experience to enjoy.”
Everyone in Elgin County knows that the unofficial start of summer is when GT’s opens up for the season on the beach in Port Stanley. The sprawling bar packs in the sun-kissed crowds on the patio, serving up decent meals to compliment the awesome views. Andrew tried the ‘California Turkey Burger’ recently, which features a turkey patty, sautéed onion, cucumber and goat cheese. This is a nice, light option on the menu — others may prefer the BBQ Bacon burger or the Works Burger. The price of each is $16.50 (yeah, you pay a bit for the view).
If you want to grab lunch sometime in Port Stanley, you could try the Kettle Creek Inn and see what you get — honestly, the ‘Inn Burger’ changes every week! Alex visited recently and was happy with what he ordered, noting that “the burger had fried pear with an aioli sauce on the bottom of the bun. This was definitely one of the weirdest things I’ve ever heard of being put on a burger, but it tasted amazing and really surprised me.” So, there you go!
The Results Are In …
Well, we engaged both quantitative and qualitative methods of measurement to determine our favourite burger spot in town, and discussed the matter thoroughly in light of the data. There were graphs and charts all over the walls of our office, and endless cups of coffee consumed. Regardless of how we looked at our findings, though, the answer was always the same … we loved the burgers and the overall vibe at Snack Wacky Foods! This is the STEAM City Media burger-spot of choice for 2018, and we encourage everyone to visit!!
If the line-ups are too long at Snack Wacky Foods, definitely venture over to the Elgin Mall and bite into a burger from Smitty’s Backyard Burgers. We are excited to see the mall coming back to life, as the new owners gradually make improvements to the facilities. If you happen to be downtown, Legends is a good bet — see if you can finish the Grilled Cheese Burger! That should probably be a ‘bucket list’ item for every resident and visitor to the Railway City …
Thanks again to Railway City Tourism for sponsoring our Railway City Burger Quest. We had a great time! Now, we are wondering what our next Railway City quest should be … after all, National French Fry Day is coming up on July 13th, and National Pizza Day is February 9th!