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In 2010, the gourmet burger was one of the top trends sweeping the Canadian restaurant scene.

Many restaurants would have monthly burger features, with which you could find a unique creation. Ground bison, blue cheese, red wine glazed shallots, wilted spinach, tomato jam and the like ... I’m not saying a combination as such can’t be delicious, but ...

Let’s be honest here. Burgers have never gone out of vogue. Continuous drive-through lineups at McDonald’s or In-N-Out Burger (for Americans) can tell you that. But what lineups at places such as that can also tell you is that people love consistency.

On a Sunday morning when I wake up a tad groggy from staying out a tad too late, I don’t want a gamey-smelling, ground-lamb patty topped with smoked gouda, blueberry aioli and frisée.

What I want is an unfussy, well-constructed cheeseburger. Extra pickles, but that’s personal preference.

Thankfully, there has been a return to simplicity in recent years and many restaurant owners in Western Canada are finding their stride because of it.

A 'smash burger' is a thin, flat burger that requires high heat and a quick grill so that the burger maintains its juiciness while developing a crust around its edges.Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

Already with a booming Calgary charcuterie shop and deli called Empire Provisions, co-owners Karen Kho and Dave Sturies recently opened up Lil’ Empire inside the new soda shop addition to Annex Ale Project on Calgary’s Barley Belt. Ms. Kho says that the bricks-and-mortar burger shop came to life because of equal parts nostalgia and demand after their weekly burger specials at Provisions developed a cult following.

“[When we became] a weekend destination because of our weekly features, we saw it as an opportunity to really hone in on what we were doing and make it something special,” Ms. Kho explains. “Lil’ Empire is very much rooted in our philosophy towards casual food: Use the best ingredients, cook it with love.”

After opening in August, their humble burger stand proved busy straight out of the gates. Mr. Sturies and Ms. Kho work in tandem as he works the flat-top grill and she runs eager customers through the till. The succinct menu offers no more than burgers, fries and hot dogs. All burger patties and hot dogs are made with Alberta-raised meats and ground in-house.

How a “smash burger” differs from a standard-formed burger patty is its thin, flat shape (i.e. the smashing or flattening to make it so). There’s no room for a medium-done here. Rather, the slender nature requires high heat and quick grill so that the burger maintains its juiciness while developing a crust around its edges.

Lil’ Empire does this well. Similar to most other smash-burger-focused concepts, its ‘secret’ burger sauce adds a bit of tang and brings it all together in a squishy Alforno Bakery bun. There is a high likelihood that I will return for a cheeseburger ... or two.

Chefs Onaje Sereda, right, and Erin Pickering, at L'il Empire make a smash burger in Calgary on Sept. 26, 2019.Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

Saskatoon’s Ace Burger Co. is a similar example of recognizing demand for a more approachable burger. A bit of a Cinderella story as well, the now standalone burger shop on Broadway Avenue started in 2014 as a food truck. After slinging burgers in their teeny mobile kitchen for five years, co-owners Blair Voth-Miller, Brad Miller and Cole Dobransky (who also own Congress Beer Hall) had the opportunity to set up a permanent shop.

Ace differs from Lil’ Empire in the sense that their burgers do come in a myriad of variations, but with the smash-burger approach at its foundation, there isn’t anything that can’t easily be devoured and held in one hand. Here, the team uses soft potato buns to hold things such as their quality spin on a big mac with crisp shredded iceberg, house pickles and sliced cheddar cheese.

Another smash-burger hot spot in Western Canada belongs to Winnipeg-born, but Vancouver-based restaurateur, Doug Stephen who launched his latest eatery Downlow Burgers a few weeks ago to immense buzz. Similar to Ms. Kho and Mr. Sturies, Mr. Stephen’s burger joint came to be following a year of burger pop-ups at its sister concept, the Downlow Chicken Shack.

A smash burger and dirty fries at L'il Empire.Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

“People may be wowed by different meats or fancy incredients, but at the end of the day, we all crave that cheeseburger from our youth," Mr. Stephen says.

One can’t help but wonder if the restaurateur’s love of a no-frills, appropriately greasy cheeseburger stems from an institution in the city where he was born, Winnipeg’s VJ’s Drive-in. The take-out only establishment has been flipping burgers since 1958 and is touted as one of the best spots in the city to grab a burger.

I’m inclined to agree.

“The power of nostalgia is palpable when it comes to food,” Ms. Kho says. “We taste our childhood in simple, well-prepared dishes, but I think it’s more than just back to basics for a lot of new burger joints. We’re showing a commitment to high quality ingredients that don’t need to disguised with aggressive toppings.”

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