With fresh, local ingredients, an eye on sustainability, and wild flavour combinations, Nuburger turns fast food on its head.
By Joelle Kidd
Last year, the pastry chef at four-star rated New York restaurant Del Posto left his job. Weeks later, he was behind the counter in his own shop—not swirling spun sugar, or torching crème brûlées, but grilling veggie burgers, in a paper cap.
In the last decade, the popularity of fast casual spots has skyrocketed, while fine dining has embraced ‘rustic’, ‘homestyle’, and ‘comfort food’ as menu headers. Fast food has gone gourmet, and the burger has taken its place at the top of the food chain.
On our side of the 49th parallel, the story has been much the same, and in Winnipeg, a genuine passion for patties and local eating has given us the burger shack of our dreams: Nuburger.
In the five years since the opening of its first location in Osborne Village, the restaurant has redefined fast food for Winnipeg. Not only does it deliver on health and flavour, it is one of the province’s most environmentally responsible eateries, dedicated to promoting local suppliers and regional tastes. It is for this eat local philosophy that Nuburger has been awarded Ciao! Magazine’s 2016 Good Food Manitoba award for Restaurant of the Year.
Before burger frenzy had swept the dining scene, longtime friends Kyle Matheson and Marc Priestly were dreaming of dressed-up patties. “We always loved burgers, but we didn’t like the way they made us feel,” Marc explains. The friends dubbed the effect “the burger hangover”, the heavy, greasy repercussions of oh-so-delicious but oh-so-bad-for-you fast food. “We wanted to create an alternative.”
The aim was to build a better burger, one that was not only healthier, but tasted incredible. They talked about it constantly. It was the kind of idea that close friends often bat around over a beer or two—but for Kyle and Marc, it became a business.
They began a research mission, analyzing the market locally, nationally, and internationally. This included some practical fact-finding trips. “We ate burgers everywhere,” Marc laughs. “From fancy steakhouses to fast food chains.”
Missing from the city was a spot fully devoted to burgers, where the wild toppings and gourmet flavour profiles of fine dining restaurants met the accessibility and quick service of a traditional fast food joint.
With the help of friend and Red Seal chef Östen Rice, the pair developed a menu that pulled inspiration from beyond the take out tray. Burgers are loaded up with flavours inspired by a wide range of culinary cuisines and experience. As the menu has evolved, Scott Malcolmson, manager of the Osborne location, has become the chief mastermind behind new creations, though all employees are invited to contribute.
The secret ingredients that put these burgers over the top are the house made sauces, aiolis, and dressings that have replaced ubiquitous red and yellow bottles. The kitchen prepares, in total, around 40 different toppings with which to load up 23 different burger varieties.
Producing more sauces than a brigade of French chefs, the cooks behind Nuburger’s counter simmer, blend, process, and purée bright and tasty condiments that are both flavourful and healthful, with less oil and salt than commercial versions.
Many burgers celebrate the flavours Manitobans know and love—this is a place where one could order a bison patty topped with blueberry barbeque sauce. Nuburger has been committed to local sourcing since the beginning, bringing in beef, bison, pork and chicken from local farms, Peak of the Market vegetables, Bothwell cheese and Loveday mushrooms with which to top freshly baked Stella’s Bakery buns.
Sourcing locally has positive environmental impact, as ingredients travel shorter distances. Sustainability is taken seriously at the restaurant, which pays to compost, and offers only compostable and recyclable take out containers. Last year, these efforts garnered LEAF (Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice) certification—Nuburger was one of only five Manitoba restaurants to achieve the distinction, and the only business not under the umbrella of the University of Winnipeg’s Diversity Food Services brand.
Nuburger, with their apropos heart-shaped logo, is feeling the love from all sides. Foodies flock to the restaurant for its wild flavours and stay for the primal satisfaction of biting into a really good burger. It has been voted to victory in the popular Le Burger Week event in September for the past three years in a row, featured on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here! and has begun a feel-good fast food takeover of the city with a new second location on Kenaston.
With the earnest inflection of someone who truly believes in what they do, Marc sums it up simply: “We’re just happy to be here, making good food for Winnipeg.”
In an era of big culinary movements, perhaps the most influential shift is actually epitomized by the humble burger. This is what we eat when we’re in a rush, when we can’t decide where to go, when we want something simple yet satisfying—and while the burger continues to evolve with our eating habits, restaurants like Nuburger recognize its potential to help shape a greener, healthier, tastier world.
Who knew? Hamburgers just might be the ultimate superfood.