Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mark vs. Free Hamburger Day

On the last Sunday of May each year (since 2007), Harvey's holds a Free Original Hamburger Day at all locations across Ontario and Quebec. The event runs from store open to 3:00 p.m. The purpose of this event is to "celebrate Canada's best tasting burger" and to bring in new customers who might not otherwise go into Harvey's. --- Wikipedia

Let's do this.

1. Google Maps told me there were two Harvey's outlets almost on a kitty-corner to each other at the corner of Keele and St. Clair. Riding up Keele, I found the first one easily and managed to get in line just in time to officially be standing indoors, though technically I was straddling the edge of the doorway. There is always a line on Free Burger Day. It's best to be prepared and not be put off like one guy who walked to the front of the restaurant, saw the line, said 'Nuts to this!' in a theatrical, Jimmy Stewart-esque manner and stalked off. This man is weak. If you want to earn a free hamburger, you have to be willing to sacrifice at least a little something. In my case, my time would've been spent sitting at home watching the baseball game, so I might as well convert that into driving around, listening to the baseball game as narrated thru the dulcet tones of Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby, and indulging in some burger madness. Or, if you will, I turned my leisure time into burger time.

Jimmy Stewart jumped on the gun on the line, since the Keele/St. Clair Harvey's outlet did an exemplary job of keeping things moving. There were no less than six people at the counter making burgers at any given time, and the cashier took orders with the efficiency of a German nun. The vast majority of customers were just looking for their free burger and nothing else, so the assembly line wasn't gummed up by too many orders of, say, onion rings. Or fries. Or Frings, a Harvey's specialty. From the time I got in line to the moment that sweet, sweet burger hit my lips, no more than 10 minutes had elapsed. Harvey's makes your time in line....a beautiful thing.

2. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I just drove right by the other Harvey's in the Keele/St. Clair area. I drove by a big Home Depot, so it's possible that the outlet was located within the larger store, akin to how McDonald's restaurants are found in Wal-Mart locations. I'll be honest, I probably could've stopped and done a more thorough search of the Home Depot plaza, but time was a'wastin.'

Since I have no burger-eating exploits to share in this entry, I might as well provide a bit of background on Harvey's for any American readers who may not be familiar with this outstanding restaurant aside from its name-drop on a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother. Harvey's is a fast food chain that, by coincidence, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Its signature item is, what else, the flame-broiled hamburger. What also makes Harvey's unique is that not only is the burger cooked right in front of you (unlike other fast food chains that cook it and do god knows what to the processed meat in the back of the store) and then add the toppings based on your personal preference. So you also avoid the awkwardness of biting into a hamburger that has, say, mayonnaise when you specifically requested that your burger be free of mayo, WENDY'S. (Er, I mean, generic hypothetical burger outlet.)

Harvey's burgers are, for my money, the best fast-food hamburgers going today. I'll leave it to others to comment on such delicacies as the Frings or Angus Burger since the original classic burger is basically the only Harvey's menu item that I really enjoy. Harvey's used to have outstanding fries, before the Great Fry Change-Over Of 2000, when suddenly a bunch of fast-food places switched to a crispier, grittier, shittier brand of french fry. It was a sad day. I swore off Harvey's fries altogether. Now, this switch came during a time when I often bought a box of fries from the Harvey's outlet at the Western student center and brought them to history class, so in hindsight, Harvey's change probably saved me about 25 pounds and pushed my inevitable heart attack back at least a couple of years. See how cool this restaurant is? They're even looking out for me! Thanks, Harvey's! (thumbs up)

3. The Dundas West Harvey's. There are certain areas of Toronto that make me feel as if I'm in a California film noir, and Dundas Street past the Bloor/Kipling junction is one of them. The boulevard gets wider, the area is strewn with fast-food joints and vaguely shabby long-time businesses, and I just feel as if J.J. Gittes is about to start washing my windshield at every intersection. (I'd give him a quarter. For a new nose bandage.)

I wish I could just write off my stresses about the Dundas West Harvey's with a simple, "Forget it Mark, it's Chinatown," but man, this was just a gong show from the word go. Everything that the Keele/St. Clair Harvey's did right, this location did wrong. The line was filled with old people and kids, which is just death to any sort of efficient operation. Nearly everyone was ordering their free burgers as a part of a combo. While these were customer-related problems, the restaurant itself wasn't doing itself any favors by putting a mere three people on burger-preparation duty. It was as if the franchise manager was too busy focusing on a crystal meth deal with Walter White to adequately prepare his staff for the rush they'd be facing on Free Hamburger Day.

The most glaring error was, by far, the lack of regard for the one free burger-per-customer rule. This was obviously the most critical rule of the day, since otherwise, some yokel could just stroll up to the counter, ask for 50 burgers and be on his merry way while the Harvey's CEO (Harvey H. Harverson, ESQ) choked to death on a disaster of a quarterly earnings report. But at the pit of anarchy known as the Dundas West Harvey's, at least two or three individuals made orders of three or four burgers when it was just them standing there at the register. Nuh-uh! What a load. I don't blame the customer...actually, it only occurred to me later that I could've just ordered three burgers right there and saved myself some driving, but...uh....never mind. Anyway, it was the fault of the dullard cashier for allowing such chicanery to take place under her very nose. For shame. For. Shame.

If the Keele/St. Clair Harvey's was the line of pathetic single men who paid cash with no chit-chat, the Dundas West Harvey's was the line held up by Grandpa Simpson telling stories about his nickel. It was close to 30 minutes before I got out of the restaurant, and with two more Harvey's left to hit and the 3 PM deadline approaching, it was going to be a race for the prize.

4. ...or not, since the fourth Harvey's on my list (across the road from Sherway Gardens, off of the Queensway past the 427) was part of a Home Depot. On the bright side, my theory about Location #2 was proven correct. On the downside, the line was by far the longest of the bunch, stretching deep into the actual Home Depot itself. It was a predictable state of affairs. If you've ever eaten at any department store food outlet, you'll notice that they aren't exactly the gold standard when it comes to staffing, cleanliness or overall quality. If your tray has less than one stain on it, you can consider yourself blessed. So it was clear that this Harvey's had just a skeleton crew on hand that was as prepared for Free Hamburger Day as your average seal is prepared for Canada's head of state. (Politics aside, how fucking bad-ass is this? Our governor-general thinks she's the villain from the Temple Of Doom.)

So once again, the Home Depot Harvey's thwarts my efforts. To fill space, I might as well describe what I've been eating all day. I've been avoiding any fries or drinks since I want to avoid being totally gluttonous, though since I'm driving around the city in a search for free burgers, the train may have already left the glutton station. I've just had a home-brought bottle of Coke in the car and feasting away at, in the parlance of Harvey's recent ad campaigns, the 'Mark Burger.' The Mark Burger has ketchup, mustard, pickles (two), tomatoes (two) and relish. This is all that's necessary to really launch the burger into the stratosphere, though at other fast food places, I wouldn't turn my nose up if onions came included. But since I'm given the choice, I don't need the onions at Harvey's, nor do I need the hot peppers or the mayo. Not to pass judgement, but if you like mayonnaise, well, the government should stop you from procreating.

5. My day concluded at the Queensway/Royal York Harvey's, which was where my journey really began over a year ago. It was on Free Hamburger Day 2008 when I was driving by this very location around 2:30 in the afternoon and almost swerved my car off the road at the banner advertising the promotion. It was on that day that I vowed to go hog-wild on FHD '09, and hog-wild indeed I have gone. The line was fairly long, but thankfully this franchise took its lessons from the Keele/St. Clair restaurant and had a system in place that would've given Henry Ford a stiffy. The only downside was the fact that the woman behind me in line was, by all appearances, a cartoon witch. She had the long wart-infested nose and everything. For a moment, a part of me wondered if Free Hamburger Day was made possible by witches such as this, who lured children into their candy houses and then cooked them in their ovens, before selling the meat to Harvey's at a discount price. I'll admit, the theory has a few holes, but honestly, Harvey's burgers are so good that even if you told me I was gnawing down on a small child, I'd really have to hesitate before putting it down. By the way, a hamburger made of child meat and covered with mayonnaise and relish is known as The Michael Jackson Burger. (Is Jacko still the go-to reference for pedophile jokes? Yes? Cool.)

So that was it for Free Hamburger Day 2009. Three burgers to my name, some fun times standing in line in a near-carnival atmosphere (there were balloons, that's sort of like a carnival....) and a nice scenic drive around west Toronto. Even better, I managed to keep those burgers down in spite of the fact that the damned Blue Jays ended up losing 10-2 that afternoon. All in all, it was a fine Sunday afternoon, and even better, it was all done for free. Well, unless you count the gas. And if you factor in what my time was worth. And the wear-and-tear on my vehicle. But really, Tertiary Costs Hamburger Day doesn't have the same ring to it.


Chad Nevett said...

Must I point out the irony of you complaining about/observing others' non-adherence of the "one per customer" rule as you raced around town to take advantage of the promotion at as many restaurants as possible?

And, yes, Harvey's is the best fast food burger place there is. Fast food burgers that taste restaurant-quality good.

Hal Incandenza said...

You don't like mayo on your hamburgers? I feel like I barely know you...

Unknown said...

"...Henry Ford a stiffy." Man I was rollin'!

I live on the west coast, U.S., and sadly have not had the pleasure of a Harvey's burger, but the prep method sounds very similar to a successful west coast operation we have out here: In-n-Out burger. They have the best burgers I have tested at a fast food chain. Even the fries are prepared from scratch in front of your very eyes. They plop the whole, unpealed potatoes right into the cutterizer and fry em up in vegetable oil - good stuff

I think a Harveys/In-n-Out taste-off is in order.