Burger Quest leaves no crumbs behind devouring beautifully balanced classic cheese at Donna Mac

White Gravy’s Review

The question for balance is something that many of us are familiar with. Trying to juggle roles as employees, parents, partners and friends with our own personal needs.

It is hard.

But if you can’t find balance in your life, perhaps you can find one in a burger.

A good burger is all about balance.

The right meat to bun ratio.

The perfect squirt of ketchup.

The ideal dollop of mayo.

The precise amount of cheese melt.

Hitting the exact combinations of flavours and textures is what produces great burgers.

Donna Mac’s opened in the Beltline (1002 9th St. S.W.) in late 2017.

Their approach is sound, applying many of the basic principles that so many restaurants forget or proactively choose to ignore:

  • Fresh and locally sourced ingredients (almost everything made from scratch!)
  • Smaller menu, thereby doing less things but doing them very well
  • Personal involvement from the owners

For you busy-on-the-go-I-have-a-meeting-at-1-sharp-that-I-cannot-miss-because-I’m-very-important types they offer an express lunch that includes soup of the day, choice of sandwich and a little nibble of desert (PBJ on this day).

This is another smart technique that allows them to focus the diners on a specific item thereby allowing them to move people through the busy lunch hour with ease. This place is very smartly run.

And here’s where we find their burger offering – a double cheeseburger with mustard, ketchup, onions and pickles.

This may be the most well constructed burger I’ve ever encountered.

The best testament to this is a simple before and after picture, which you can see at right.

Aesthetically that is a gorgeous burger that looks like it was posed and manicured for a photo shoot.

But the after picture is what tells the tale.

There isn’t a single shred of evidence that a burger sat there. Not a drop of topping, nor a single crumb apart from what the fries left behind.

I assure you I did not lick the plate clean (at least when I took the photo), so that barren plate is truly a sign of how carefully this burger was put together.

That balance is evident in the taste as well, where everything is perfectly measured and applied. I dare say someone even went so far as to place the perfect amount of sesame seeds on top of the bun.

This is a modest sized burger, with two thin patties – perfect for lunch. One of the reasons the balance is so spot on is that size. There is a reason why sliders are so popular, and why the best burger at Ronnie McD’s is the single cheeseburger. Balance is simply easier to achieve with these smaller burgers. But I give props to Donna Mac for realizing this and shying away from the temptation to go with a half-pound monster. Sometimes less is more.

That all being said, there is nothing spectacular about this burger. Nor is it one that I would drive an hour out of the way just to have (something I do with embarrassing frequency).

But it is a great example of beautiful balance that I continue to seek out in both my burgers, and in my life. And for today – I’ll take that.

Wonderbun’s Review

Someone posted a picture of the Donna Mac double cheeseburger on Twitter. My lightning scroll, that functions more like a corporate fidget spinner than a browser, came to a full stop and I immediately downloaded the image to my desktop. I stared for days at the gooey lumps of American cheese spilling over the edges of two thin patties. Two or three pickles lopped out from under the bun top and looked to be licking their lips, ready to cannibalize themselves by eating the burger they are a part of. I could see a few minced white onions peeking out from the bottom of the stack — teetering on the edge of the bun bottom. A gentle yellow sauce could be seen cascading down over the little juts of beef. I would come to find out that this is a mustard/mayo blend. A humble sprinkle of sesame seeds covered the top of the bun, which showed slight baking variations across its surface and can only mean: made in house.

I looked at that picture incessantly. Trying to imagine the flavour profile. Estimating the texture of the bun by the size of the bubbles that had been leavened into glutinous flour and set into place by the heat of an oven. I further found out that that the American cheese on the burger is also made in house. I was starting to feel like this burger was Catfishing me.

Things were getting a bit obsessive about the pretense I was building around this burger. In one of the transfixed moments I spent ogling this image I inadvertently and with my inside voice let out a small under-the-breath, “Damn.” A colleague, who I know also to be both burger curious and enthusiast, heard my exclamation and popped behind my shoulder to see my screen. I felt validated by those few moments of weighty silence that preceded their exclaiming, “I would love a bite of that!”

Our expressions were overseen and this statement was overheard by another colleague who in disgust blurted out, “You better not be looking at what I think you are,” and proceeded to invade and violate my monitor with a look on their face expressing how eager they were to illuminate the Human Resources equivalent to the Bat Signal. I watched disappointment form on the Kool-Aid stained lips of this ladder climbing lurch as they slithered back into the mull of the office with an “I’ll get you next time, my pretties” scowl.

With new and astonishing depth had I had wandered into an expanded understanding of the term “food porn” and its potential dangers when misunderstood by those that surround a person addicted to burger images. It was beyond time to turn the fantasy into reality and quest this burger. 

Donna Mac has zeroed in squarely on the McDonald’s double cheeseburger. I should have seen this with the minced onions under the patties and the mention of their using Heinz Ketchup on this burger. (Of course, we can have a whole discourse on the use of ketchup and only one type of ketchup to be used on burgers later.) With curiosity and a strong technical handle on ingredients and execution Donna Mac’s has gone beyond doing it the way you are supposed to. This is an haute couture homage to a ubiquitous childhood gastric memory.

You would think that if you only have one burger on your menu (yes, I saw the vegan sandwich) and you are Donna Mac nodding to McDonald’s you might make the flashier choice and create a Big Donna Mac. It may not be as flashy but I see the beauty in taking the path of recreating a less flashy workhorse of the McD’s menu.

Countless people have repurposed the wheel and then claimed to have invented it. With the double cheeseburger at Donna Mac the rework has become a reinvention to the point that they should get a patent. Donna Mac has picked the baby out of the bathwater and with hands of care turned this quality-orphaned classic into something special. As such Donna Mac is the owner of my affinity for a double cheeseburger that I have both lusted after and had a chance to love.

(Illustration by Jeff Bray, photos by Grant Farhall.)

White Gravy is an active advocate to designate hollandaise sauce as an “official condiment” and believes that it should be offered on any burger. Wonderbun reserves the right to temporarily change any and all of his opinions should you catch him in a weak moment, eating his feelings at any corporate drive-through.