Cooking with Alison

Review of Harper’s Burger Bar

In Reviews on October 20, 2010 at pm

Harper’s Burger Bar (website here) is one of three new burger places that opened in Kingston, ON this fall (2010).  (See my reviews of Poutine Place and Five Guys (includes a comparison of Harper’s and Five Guys).)  It is owned by the same people that run the restaurants, Chien Noir and Atomica.  I strongly dislike Chien Noir but I frequent Atomica, so I was curious to see how Harper’s would fare.  (If you’d like more details of my experiences at Chien Noir or Atomica, please post a comment and I will gladly share.)

Three weeks after Harper’s opened, I went for lunch on a weekday with two friends to try it.  The service was absolutely terrible.  I never would have even considered giving this place a second chance, but the owner apologized and comped our meals.  So out of appreciation for that, and to be fair to his restaurant (and to take some photos), I gave Harper’s a second chance.  I went back one and a half months later on a weekday for lunch in a group of 5.  The updated review has been added in italics below.

Harper’s Burger Bar Review (Kingston, ON)

Restaurant info: Harper’s Burger Bar is admirably supporting local producers and sustainable food.  Their burgers are made from AAA grade Angus beef that has been raised naturally, sustainably, and locally.  Also, they offer a selection of cheeses from local cheese makers.  I really like the decor and would describe it as industrial chic.  There are exposed brick walls and pipes, and silver painted chairs contrasting warm dark wooden benches and a fun black board wall menu.  I really like the details:  fantastic industrial lamps, hanging light bulbs, and even an industrial kitchen sink in the ladies’ washroom.  Be warned though that the washrooms don’t appear to be heated.  The flat screen televisions are a nice touch too, showing the sports and Food Network channels simultaneously.

Menu: The best thing about Harper’s is the selection.  They have an excellent selection of beverages (including wine, beer, “girlie” alcoholic drinks, shakes, and a beer float), of buns, of toppings, of dips (including white truffle aioli), and of burgers (vegan [chickpea patty], vegetarian [flash fried panko crusted, 3 cheese stuffed portobello mushroom], turkey, chicken [breast], and, of course, beef).  They have a list of 8 set burgers for you to choose from, including the classic, blue, banh-mi, and umami burgers.  One of their burgers is even topped with a fried egg (bull’s eye).  I particularly liked the sound of the deluxe burger which is topped with brie, avocado, bacon, and rosemary aioli.  You could order the 3 slider burgers plate and try three different varieties of toppings in one sitting.

Price: The price of their burgers ranges from $7.50 to $11.50 each before tax.  The 3 slider burgers plate is $12.50.  Additional toppings range from $1 to $1.50 each.  At first glance, this seems reasonable considering the beef is top quality and naturally raised.  However, this price does not include a side.  A small side of fries or onion rings costs an extra $2 or $3 with burger purchase.  Otherwise, fries, sweet potato fries, and onion rings cost $6 to $7.  When you factor in tax and tip, this becomes significantly more expensive than the standard burger meal from a restaurant or pub.  Although the burger patties are of a good size and thickness, the portion size of the side salad, fries and onion rings is adequate.  See below for a review of the quality of the food.

Food:

Buns and Toppings: The bun was very very good.  It was perhaps the best burger bun I’ve ever had, anywhere.  But I would have much preferred a toasted bun.  Also, our waitress never asked us what type of bun we wanted.  I didn’t realize until it was too late that there were 4 different options.  The sliders buns are standard and not soft enough for my taste.  In fact, mine were badly burnt.

Their standard cheese is nothing to rave about, but the other toppings are fresh, gourmet, and very good.  The second time I went, I ordered the sliders sampler and I ordered the umami, deluxe and delicious.  The umami (brie, carmelized onions, white truffle aioli) was good because the caramelized onions were nice.  The deluxe was good but pretty standard (monterey jack, bacon, avocado).  But the delicious was surprisingly disappointing and bland (onion ring, avocado spread).  Of special note, the grilled jalapenos are very good.

Beef burger: In terms of the meat patty, I could tell, from the flavour and texture of the beef burgers, that they had used a higher quality of meat than the average burger place.  Personally, I liked how they kept the meat simple by barely seasoning it.  This way, you can really taste the subtle, natural flavour of the meat.  However, I would have preferred a coarser grind and a higher ratio of fat to protein as the patty was slightly dry.  It appears that they’ve used leaner (cheaper) cuts of meat.  I would not attribute the dryness to the cooking process, because the middle was still slightly pink.  (I was so hungry from the long wait, that I just ate it, risking food poisoning.)  So, although the quality of the meat is good, I did not like the burger patty because it was too finely ground and crumbly for my taste.  The two people that were with me didn’t think that the burgers were anything to rave about either.  For my second visit, I ordered the sliders sampler.  The smaller beef patties had a chewier texture that I liked, but they were overly charred.  They were so overcooked that the surface was tough and almost leathery.  I much prefer President’s Choice Angus sliders – mini Angus beef burgers (frozen from a box).  The three other people in our group that ordered the beef burgers agreed that the patties themselves were bland and nothing special.

Photo below:  Sliders sampler (beef) with umami, deluxe, and delicious.  Also shown, the onion rings and white truffle aioli.


Vegan burger: The vegan burgers are made with chickpea patties.  I must admit that this was likely the first vegan burger that I’ve ever had, so I don’t have anything to compare it to.  Having said that, I didn’t like it.  Texturally, it was mushy and too soft aside from the embedded whole chickpeas.  Also, it was very bland.  On a positive note, it tasted freshly made (not from frozen), but I didn’t confirm this.  During our second visit, our vegan friend tried this burger and agreed that it was too soft in texture and too bland.

Photo below:  Vegan burger with grilled jalapenos.  Also shown, the potato fries.


Sides: Although the fries were thin cut, they were not crispy.  In fact, they were limp and soggy.  (This was likely due to the kitchen staff hanging the fries in the deep fryer baskets above the hot oil for a period of time before deep frying them.  A mistake commonly made by fast food places.)  Their onion rings, however, were good and very crispy.  I tried their sweet potato fries and white truffle aioli.  Although the sweet potato fries were not as limp as the potato fries from my first visit, they were bland, lacking in natural sweetness, and not crispy enough.  Also, the white truffle aioli was disappointing.  I could not smell or taste the white truffle oil and it needed more garlic.  (I have a small bottle of white truffle oil in my pantry that has been waiting for inspiration.  When I try making white truffle aioli myself, I will post the recipe.)

See the sweet potato fries in the photo below and the regular fries and onion rings in the two photos above.


Service: Having good service in a restaurant is just as important as having good food (in my opinion).  Since the burgers are on the pricey side and since they’re only decently good, the service needs to be flawless.  Unfortunately, the service that we experienced at Harper’s Burger Bar was awful.  We had to speak to 2 servers before our waitress finally came to take our order.  She explained that someone else was actually supposed to be taking care of us.  Clearly, there was confusion among the staff about their table assignments.  Then, it took the kitchen 45 minutes to make our burgers.  Needless to say, we were late getting back to work.  Considering the restaurant was full, I would have forgiven them for the delay, except for the fact that 2 of our 3 orders had mistakes.  I ordered a burger and onion rings.  I received fries instead of the onion rings.  That wasn’t a big deal.  But my friend ordered the deluxe beef burger and sweet potato fries, and received a vegan burger with a caesar salad.  I suggested that they might have been meant for another table, but our waitress insisted they were ours.  She informed us that the kitchen would make our corrections immediately.  But it took another 20 minutes before we received the deluxe burger and onion rings which we had to box up.  When the owner realized that there had been a problem and a long wait, he apologized and waived the charge of our meals.  To be fair to Harper’s, I gave them another chance one and a half months later.  The service and efficiency had improved significantly from the first time.  However, we still had to wait 23 minutes to receive our meals, making us late returning to work.

Overall: Now that I have been to Harper’s Burger Bar twice, I will conclude that I love the ambiance, the drinks menu, and the televisions that show sports and The Food Network simultaneously.  I do not like the burger patties as they are dry and standard, nor do I like their sides.  However, the buns and toppings are good enough that they make for good burgers overall.  Basically, I think that the food is highly overrated and moderately overpriced.

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  1. Too bad about the service, but hopefully they’ll improve with practice. At those prices (extra for fries??) they’d better! Then again, how big are the portion sizes? Could you split a side order of fries with a friend?

    • The burgers were a good size, which is probably why they can get away with serving such small sides, because the average person would be full with a burger and one side. You could split a side of fries with a friend, because they’re cut so thin. But you wouldn’t have enough onion rings to share. If you go, let me know what you think 🙂

    • Actually, a side of fries is 2 dollars with a burger purchase. The FULL size of fries, which is a meal in itself, is 5 dollars. Not sure where you got those prices…

  2. Thank you for your valuable information.

  3. Dear Allison,
    Please stop reviewing restaurants. Your reviews are so full of contradictions that it is embarassing for you. In one part of a review you will like something only to ‘diss it later. And you really seem to have it out for Harper’s, you like so many aspects of the restaurant yet, in the end, your review comes off as extremeley neagtive. ie ‘you can tell that the local sustainably raiesed beef patties are of a higher quality that most’ but you then later say ‘standard patties’ For Five Guys (Chain) you complain about the overly greasy patties then claim that you love them. You praise Smoke’s (Chain) sauces – which are all made from powder (a friend works there) and gush over industrial factory beef ‘President’s Choice’ sliders. You then claim in your 5 Guys review that it takes hours to get a burger at Harper’s (in your Harper’s review it’s 20 minutes). Too me it sounds like you truly prefer mega chain mass produced factory food over local and sustainable. Your recipies and blog are great but restaurant reviews are not your stength.

    • Hi there,

      Thank you for reading my reviews! I appreciate your comments as well! Perhaps I didn’t organize the Harper’s review clearly enough, so I apologize for the confusion. I went to Harper’s on two separate occasions so the review was based on two different experiences. The first visit took almost an hour for service. The second visit was rated more highly than the first.

      I can see why you would see “contradiction” in my reviews. I try to be as objective and as fair as possible, so I point out the good as well as the bad. Although Harper’s has many good qualities and I appreciate what they stand for, the toppings and atmosphere aren’t good enough (in my opinion) to overcome their dry (and burnt on my second visit) burger patties. Most people probably wouldn’t notice or mind the texture or leanness of the patties. My reviews are based only on my personal opinions, experiences, and knowledge of food and customer service.

      Also, as evident by the majority of my personal recipes, I much prefer naturally prepared food over mass produced food. However, to be fair, I compare processed foods and fast food restaurants in a separate category than higher-end restaurants like Harper’s. So although I think Five Guys and PC’s angus beef sliders are great products compared to other factory produced products and fast food restaurants, it was not my intention to give the impression that I prefer those over local or sustainable food. Once again, thank you for sharing your comments!

      NOTE TO THE READERS: The person that posted the comment (to which I am responding to) happens to be the owner of Harper’s Burger Bar, Chien Noir, and Atomica.

      • How do you know or why would you publish(“your email address will not be published” i.e. name)thier identity? I guess you don’t take critism well either. Reader’s I urge you to form your own opinions of all of these restaurants rather than relying on someone else’s reviews. Just my personal opinion.

        • There isn’t anything that I can do about the wordpress.com system, because I’m simply using one of their templates. Peoples’ email addresses don’t get published, but they are visible to the blog owner. Actually, I take criticism very well (any of my family, friends or co-workers will vouch for that), but I believe in full disclosure. Thank you again for stopping by.

  4. After reviewing the comments above, I have to agree with ‘anonymous’, as the statement “Your email address will not be published” indirectly suggests that the identity of your commentors will not be shared. In any case, you’ve clearly taken liberty with the spirit of that advisory, and in my opinion, lost a great deal of credibility. The remainder is zapped by your failure to take responsibility for your faux pas, by blaming the text within your WordPress template. If your editorial policy is truly full disclosure, then I strongly recommend that you hire someone to edit the template to accurately reflect your stance on privacy, etc…

    I regret to inform you that the comments you submitted to Kingstonist.com were not approved as they merely drew attention to this embarrassing situation, rather than contributed to the conversation/review of Harper’s.

    Harvey Kirkpatrick

    • I am disappointed that these comments have taken a direction away from the intent and purpose of this website – to share recipes and discuss food-related topics. Nevertheless, I respect your right to your opinions and I appreciate you taking the time to share them. I interpret the conditions of privacy mentioned above differently, but I can understand your concerns. Neither his name nor email address will ever be published.

      In the future, prior to posting comments, I would appreciate it if people would consider the following: Conflicts of interest should be disclosed when opinions are voiced through such a medium. Thanks very much!

  5. I agree that it is disappointing that this conversation has strayed away from Harper’s, but in the end that’s your doing. The liberty you’ve taken regarding privacy, by revealing someone’s supposed business ties is unethical, but it could also be misleading. Consider the fact that names/Email addresses submitted as a part the commenting process are not verified. In that respect, I could comment with a name such as Ronald McDonald with an Email address such as burgerking@somelocalrestaurant.com. You have no way of confirming whether or not that information is correct, and by revealing my stated affiliation you run the risk of broadcasting inaccurate information. While you’ve committed to never sharing his name/Email, that really is beside the point if you’ve damaged the good name of an involuntary person/business.

    Again, if your stance is to disclose ‘conflicts of interest’ then at the very least I would encourage you to make said changes to your WordPress template. It’s a very easy fix that would likely save you headaches in the future.

    Harvey Kirkpatrick

  6. Well, it’s certainly apparent that ‘anonymous’ can’t deal with a poor review. ‘Anonymous’, since you didn’t know where you were initially, let me welcome you to the world of professional restaurant ownership. Customer service is your business. By the way, Harvey, your cronyism couldn’t be more obvious. Way to go!

    Alison, keep up the reviews, your influence seems to be growing….

  7. Obviously there is a difference in disclosing a comment was made by the actual restaurant owner who clearly has a conflict of interest, and posting information of a random contributor.

    Thanks for the review, it and the owner’s comment has saved me a trip to Harper’s

  8. Hi Alison,

    First of all, in the interests of “full disclosure” and “transparency” which, as I understand, are qualities you would like your blog to represent, I should tell you and your readers that I have visited Harper’s many times and thoroughly enjoyed each and every visit. Also, I may be biased as I know someone who is Harper’s staff.

    First of all, don’t feel bad for calling out mr. anonymous – I’ll just pretend it was a mistake.

    Your review is awful.

    As was raised by your attempted-anonymous commenter as well as the eloquent Harvey Kirkpatrick, your reviews are full of holes and contradictions. After completing the convoluted read that was your Harper’s review, I couldn’t help but BEG asking the question, what on earth is your experience base? Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Front of house? Back of house? Do you have any basis for condemning restaurants ranging from Kingston’s upper-middle burger joints to NY’s high-end on the quality of their food or service? I feel like the majority of your complaints speak not to restaurant quality but circumstance.

    Your first review took place mere weeks after the opening of a brand new restaurant. A restaurant which, positively, in my opinion, hired many inexperienced staff. As I’m sure you noticed – some of these staff were a great fit, and others, not. Have you ever considered the complexities of opening a brand new restaurant?

    Please, if you have extensive experience and credentials to support your epicurean opinions, let us know. If you do not, I suggest you temper your reviews with a little humility, as they come across as inexperienced and un-researched. In fact, I have a hard time picturing you as anything but some 20-something know-nothing and I would love to be corrected.

    Sincerely,
    Cam

    • Hi Cam,

      Even though I don’t personally enjoy Harper’s Burger Bar, many people seem to, and I’m happy for you for having found a new restaurant that you like. I often acknowledge, both in my posts and in my comment replies, that everyone has different tastes. So I neither take offense to critiques of my recipes nor do I attack people that share opinions differing from my own. You’ve accused me of being “some 20 something know-nothing” with no work experience in the food industry. Say I was any or all of those things… Are you implying that peoples’ opinions should be discredited based on their age? Or that Only formal experts can possess a high level of knowledge or contribute anything of value to a discussion?

      I visited Harper’s twice to give them a fair review. The first time was at least 1 month after their grand opening. Given that the owner has extensive experience opening and maintaining successful restaurants in the city, I expected the kitchen and service staff to be running smoothly by then. I agree that opening a new restaurant is extremely challenging, however, if I’m going to spend my hard earned money to pay someone else to prepare something that I could have easily made myself at a lower cost, then I expect to receive top-notch food and service, not excuses or attitude. Surely, I’m not alone.

      Thank you for taking the time to check out my review.
      Alison

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