with Pat Reddick.
As we walk into the building located on the southeast corner of Simcoe and Water Street our intention is not to get sweaty, loaded, or lucky; today we’re here to eat burgers. Located at the former site of the Trasheteria nightclub, The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro now offers patrons an abounding selection of unique menu items from banana splits to burgers (duh).
Upon entering, we are met by a vestibule of modern décor which leads to the restaurant proper. A distinct industrial flavour is added, with copper pipes, pressure gauges and circuit breakers having been worked into the walls and furniture. The setting also incorporates aspects of local culture: a painting of the Peterborough Lift Locks, a vintage Adam Scott letterman jacket, and a telephone pole (pictured) that commemorates the demise of the Trash. But the restaurant also pays homage to the former nightclub—the topography and layout have been largely preserved, as has the architecture, which itself predates even the nightclub.
Friendly wait staff pre-empt our nearly-hour-and-a-half early arrival and show us to our seats within seconds, leaving us with two densely packed menus. The overwhelming size of the menu is made less befuddling by the servers’ helpful suggestions. We get the sense that the staff have an excellent working knowledge of the menu’s contents, an admirable demonstration given that it spans across four pages. Various dietary options are available; burger patties can be made from beef, chicken, turkey, or elk (for an extra $3.39). Two vegetarian options are also present: a veggie patty and Portobello mushroom cap. Buns come in white, whole wheat and even gluten-free (for an extra $0.97). The burgers are conveniently listed in alphabetical order. Additionally, every ingredient (aside from the avocados) is grown or produced in Canada, and many come from Ontario.
While many of the burgers are given names by the company’s higher-ups, some have been named in reference to local history by local personalities. One burger, “The Raider,” is named in honour of PCVS by a city councillor. Others are deeply personal, such as “Twisted Sista,” which commemorates co-owner Heidi Marshall’s late sister. Heidi also tells us that “every menu has a joke burger.” The Peterborough location features the “Oshawa Generals Burger,” topped with “bitter cheese, wilted lettuce and back check bacon grilled over a fresh layer of garbage.” Unfortunately, there is no wilted lettuce or garbage grill on hand so no comment can be made about that particular burger. That said, after a few minutes of intense perusal we come to decide on which items we will consume.
Pat here. My order consisted of a caramel chocolate milkshake, a “Tower-O-Rings” (split with Jesse), and the “Kamikaze” burger. The milkshake (somehow only a medium) was a generous 16oz. served in a measuring cup. The milkshake menu is nearly as comprehensive as the burger menu, with thirty-four different choices. I really appreciate the homage this makes to the old 1950s “Burgers ‘n Shakes” aesthetic, that so many burger restaurants seem to ignore, without forcing the more negative aspects of the decade upon you (i.e. everything else about the 1950’s). The shake itself was fantastic. I find that when you start playing around with caramel it’s incredibly easy to go overboard and ruin the whole thing, but this shake expertly avoided any such disaster.
I know you only care about the burger though. I’m a huge fan of spicy food which is why I chose the Kamikaze. The burger comes topped with lettuce, cheddar cheese, three types of peppers (banana peppers, jalapeños, and chipotles), and “hotter than hell” sauce. I find that I am routinely disappointed by the actual spiciness of food that calls itself spicy; it seems that it is either not spicy at all or its flavour is non-existent aside from the bits which burn your mouth. The Kamikaze avoids falling into either of these traps and provides a delicious burger that also happens to be pretty damn spicy. This is made even more impressive, to me, by the fact that the day on which we ate was the first day that kitchen staff worked without the guidance of professionals from other Works restaurants.
However, I do have one complaint: there was almost too much food. When first ordering I found it strange that the appetizers were not much cheaper than the main dishes ($9-$11 relative to $11-$14), but this was easier to understand when our Tower-O-Rings arrived—it was massive. The rings themselves are quite easily some of, if not the, best in Peterborough, but I would recommend either splitting them between a group or getting them as an upgraded side to your burger rather than ordering them additionally. Jesse and I were both struggling to complete our meals by then end of it and we split the tower! Not much of the food at The Works is conducive to reheating so it is a shame to see it go to waste.
Here be Jesse’s order. My milkshake, chocolate mint featuring Oreos, could easily bring the total number of boys to the yard. The two flavours were perfectly balanced, the Oreo chunks adding a nice element of texture, and all without any scary artificial green colour. The Tower-O-Rings (split with Pat) is quite aptly named; an approximately foot-long metal stick supports some of the most delightfully crispy onion rings I’ve ever eaten, and also holds two dipping sauces of the patron’s choosing.
My burger choice was economical; what was the most expensive burger I could have that didn’t include pork? The answer: Three Ring Binder. This behemoth was topped with a plentiful amount of sautéed mushrooms, a delicious chipotle mayo, a thick melted slide of gouda cheese and three more onion rings. It probably stood at nearly half a foot before I removed two of the rings in order for me to actually eat the thing. A serene harmony of both flavour and texture is achieved herein: the patty is cooked well-done, but just so in order to retain its tenderness. The mayo adds a quintessential sauciness yet doesn’t overpower. The taste of the unique choice of cheese is savoury and ever-present. And the mushrooms, well…as a person who generally dislikes fungus, I found them to be completely tolerable. Oh, and there were also sweet potato fries which, while completely sidelined by the burger banquet, were plenty tasty. I did not eat for ten hours after this meal.
On the whole, we enjoy and endorse the Works as an upscale place to get burgers. It’s not a grab-and-go sort of place (although Heidi indicates they will soon be doing takeout), but we don’t think that’s a bad thing by any means. In fact, in that regard the Works stands out from the restaurants in the downtown core of Peterborough. The restaurant also stands out because of its excellent customer service and friendly atmosphere. That said, if you go you better be hungry or else you might find yourself throwing out some of that delicious food.