New Brunswick, the province that feels like a small town, is not widely known for its gourmet food. Fortunately for me, I spent many childhood summer vacations there visiting aged relatives, who introduced me to regional peculiarities like Sussex Golden Ginger Ale with its startling peppery burn; Grape Nut ice cream, which is kind of like vanilla but studded with soggy nuggets of the eponymous cereal (which is itself named for its physical resemblance to grape pits); and dulse, the anti-chewing gum comprising whole dried leaves of purple seaweed that I refuse to believe are meant to be swallowed and indeed taste like something from the ocean floor.
New Brunswick can now add reLiSH Gourmet Burgers to its list of gastronomic contributions. The plucky would-be national chain, launched in Fredericton, has set up shop in Edmonton so that we might enjoy the kind of premium fare I had never previously associated with Canada’s other bilingual province.
Indeed, reLiSH—random typography theirs—seems fully formed as a dining experience as only a franchise can be, from the clean, shiny dining room with self-deprecating chandeliers to the branded flatscreen menus to the array of logo-franked wristbands, baseball hats and travel mugs behind the large service counter, which are blessedly equipped with taps for Alley Kat and Wild Rose beers. They also do that thing where they shout a greeting at you when you walk in. And since gourmet burger predecessors have gotten us accustomed to the idea of a $9-plus burger, sides extra, reLiSH is all set to burst onto the market in a prime location on the ever up-and-coming 124 Street.
The menu is all burgers, nine standing creations plus a monthly novelty burger, all available as either Angus beef, ground turkey or veggie, plus the sides you would expect (fries, onion rings, slaw, Caesar salad and, intriguingly, green peppercorn poutine). They all have faintly ridiculous names you’ll undoubtedly feel silly uttering to your server—but you’ll get over it. Though you can certainly get a standard-issue bacon cheeseburger, you can also get a burger with blue cheese, Havarti and walnut pesto, or one with fried mushrooms, pickled peppers, pancetta and provolone.
On our first visit, co-diner and I opted for Le Nordique ($9.06) and Big Texas ($9.26) respectively, along with an order of the piping hot “Atlantic” fries ($3)—a misnomer actually, as they contained slightly less salt than the ocean. Co-diner’s ample burger featured brie, back bacon, caramelized onions and grainy mustard; mine was slathered with smoky BBQ sauce, plied with perfectly crisp-yet-lubricious bacon and pepper jack cheese, and heaped with fried onion straws on a sesame-poppy seed bun. Both burgers had housemade garlic mayonnaise and relish with beets, but these were a bit superfluous beneath the more ostentatious toppings. What really struck me was how much the flavour of the beef came through the elaborate fixins—that juicy patty was a tasty burger unto itself.
Fearing I may have missed some nuance, I returned to reLiSH for a solo reconnaissance trip. This time, I ordered the Cabo Diablo ($8.96) and a side of “cool” slaw. The Cabo Diablo boasted tomato-jalapeño salsa, guacamole, sour cream and hot sauce. I could see the guac, but mostly I could taste the vinegary sting of the hot sauce. Still, not a fearsomely spicy burger. Once again, the beef was an outstanding part of the flavour of the burger—which took a lot of napkins to get through. The slaw was no afterthought: sweet and vinegary rather than creamy, with red and green cabbage, sunflower seeds, grated apple and fresh herbs that a reLiSH employee had actually chopped and added to my slaw. Not to set the bar too low, but that may have been the best burger-joint slaw I’ve ever eaten.
Congratulations, New Brunswick: I feel like you have a winner on your hands with reLiSH. But if a dulse burger crops up on the monthly menu, you’ve lost me as a customer.