Clay “Dog” Dowling would be the first to tell you he can be prone to hyperbole. So when he made the bold declaration that Caramba’s signature burger was not only the best burger Whistler had to offer, but the best he ever had in his life, his friends were predictably skeptical.
“Clay likes to shoot his mouth off,” said “Big Rich” Poehlmann, long-time Roland’s bartender and one third of the crew that has met nearly every week for lunch going on 20 years, along with Jeremy “Stinky” Peterson (these guys love nicknames, if you couldn’t tell), owner-operator of village sports bar Stinky’s On the Stroll.
‘This whole thing started with us wanting to prove Clay wrong.”
This set the boys on a mission to sample every local burger they could get their hands on, scoring each one out of 50. The guys even consulted their chef pals for help coming up with the judging criteria, which, based on the reams of notes they compiled, was taken very seriously. They looked at the all-important burger-to-bun ratio, the quality of the bun itself, toppings and sauces, the patty, uniqueness, and the overall burger experience.
“Uniqueness was very important,” Big Rich said. “Caramba didn’t do lettuce, they did arugula … That was part of the uniqueness. We enjoyed the Cinnamon Bear [burger]. We were surprised they serve theirs with a steak knife in the middle with an onion ring on the very top of it. That’s the uniqueness, stuff like that.”
Needless to say, for the trio of buds Big Rich described as “Seinfeldian” (“We argue about nothing and everything,” he explained), arriving at a consensus was almost impossible. Although there was one particularly awful burger they did agree on, and no, it wasn’t from McDonald’s. (“When you’re in Paris and the [public] washrooms are disgusting, I go to McDonald’s, get a small fry and go to the washroom,” Big Rich revealed. “I really like McDonald’s. I really do.”)
So, armed with the wisdom (and pounds) gained from tasting what the resort had to offer, did the guys notice any particular trends to Whistler’s burger scene?
“Yeah, the buns,” Big Rich said. “Everybody wants to do a 12-grain or a whole wheat bun, but you want a bun that stays with you until the end.”
They also picked up on the rarity of fresh-made burgers here, a trend that has only been made worse by the pandemic as restaurants have turned to frozen patties as a way to cut costs.
Their reputations already preceding them, word of the boys’ epic burger quest got around town, to the point where they had to wonder if they were getting the same burger from the menu, or some elevated version for their sake. Big Rich and RD Stewart, chef at Roland’s and the Red Door Bistro, even got invited by a friend to sample one of his favourite burgers from the Sky High Diner in Vernon—via plane.
“We had the burger and then flew back and I closed [the bar] that night. It was a riot,” Big Rich said.
So, at last, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Which two-hander can rightfully claim its throne as Whistler’s unofficial Burger King? Well, it’s a little bit anti-climactic.
After trying close to 40 burgers over a nearly two-year span, it turned out the one that started it all remains their favourite: Caramba’s signature burger, made with two AAA beef patties, topped with bacon, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and house-made sweet pickle sauce.
“This burger is transcendent. It scored a near perfect 49/50,” wrote Clay in a lengthy rundown of the top six burgers that, for history’s sake, I hope gets published someday.
Rounding out the list was the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club’s Chip Out Cheeseburger in the second spot, with a very respectable score of 48.5; followed by Southside Diner’s burger (they actually serve four different burgers; but the boys didn’t single one out), with a score of 47; the Roland’s Burger at Roland’s Creekside Pub in fourth, with a score of 46.5; and Alpine Café’s Canuck Burger in fifth, with a score of 46. Honourable mention went to Riverside Café’s signature burger, which earned a score of 47, enough for third, but, alas, was disqualified since the café sadly closed its doors this winter.
As for Clay, he stands by his original statement that started this whole journey.
“The Caramba Burger is the best burger I’ve ever eaten,” he wrote. “You may choose to disagree. You have every right to be wrong.”