by Andrew Morrison | According to a poll that’s been running on our Gastown and Commercial Drive pages (included below), Scout readers are currently tipping Campagnolo Upstairs‘ so-called “Dirty Burger” as the best burger in the city; that is to say better than the celebrated ones available at Hawksworth, Pourhouse, Cannibal Cafe, The Oakwood, and Mamie Taylor’s. It has actually garnered 25% of all votes at the time of writing, so it’s clear that they’re doing something right.
But what, exactly?
It starts with an irregularly-shaped, housemade scotch bap bun. It’s a butt-ugly thing. There are no sesame seeds or buttery topside sheen, and it looks like it’s been splayed open by palsied chimp armed only with a rusty can opener. And yet, griddled as it is with a sexy lard/butter combination (its evenly crisped nethers then seasoned with salt and pepper), it’s enough to make any British fried bread fetishist blush. And lathered with an impactfully sweet-salty house sauce (secret) and stacked with crisp iceberg lettuce, two tomato slices from Kelowna’s Stoney Paradise farms, and whisper thin coins of housemade pickles, no one will ever care that beauty was a test the bun never thought to take.
The patty is equally unprepossessing. Vaguely circular, it appears to have landed on the bun having been dropped from an enormous height. It’s also downright puny at a mere 4oz, but size considerations are a fool’s quibble; it’s the quality that counts, and in this case it’s wholly indisputable. The patties are made from 40 day dry-aged prime beef neck that’s seam butchered and ground fresh every day. And the buck stops with owner/chef Robert Belcham, who is to meat what Rob Clark is to fish, which is to say oddly – though professionally – preoccupied. I don’t think Belcham could make a bad burger if he tried.
Each visually unassuming, misshapen, diamond-in-the-rough patty is fried to order on high heat in a cast iron pan laced with lard. Diced onions are smashed into the disc as it sizzles and browns on one side, and then blanketed with bright American cheese after it’s flipped to the other side. Its orange glisten mesmerizes.
There’s also a secret menu of add-ons to the burger, but I’ve been asked not to publish these. “You can always bribe the bartender to find out what they are,” Belcham chirps.
Altogether, the thing is entirely manageable in the hand; the bun and the sauce get along well enough to postpone disintegration, and the flavours and textures of the fixings meld with the superbly delicious taste of the cheese-draped meat. I like to think of it as the Willem Dafoe of burgers. It might be a little creepy looking and small, but man…is it ever talented (and it was something of a petty crime that his dope-smoking, morally-centred Sgt. Elias in Platoon lost the Best Supporting Actor nod to Michael Caine at the Academy Awards in 1986. I mean, Hannah & Her Sisters? WTF…)
Give it a try yourself, but be sure to go early. There is a high demand for the thing among those who are aware of it, and a frustratingly meagre supply (maybe 20 a night). Indeed, the only truly dirty thing about the Dirty Burger is that you might arrive to find that there are none to be had. It’s happened to me before, and it’s an awful thing indeed.
1020 Main St. (door on the right) | Vancouver, BC | 604-484-6018 | 6pm-late, Mon-Sat