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Lil’ Bacon Cheeseburger and Buffalo Fried Cauliflower Bites seen here at V Burger in Calgary on Sept. 4, 2020.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

  • V Burger
  • Cheap Eats
  • Location: 819 17 Ave S.W., Calgary
  • Phone: 587-387-7272
  • Website: heyvburger.com
  • Price: $5.50-$13
  • Cuisine: Vegan fast food
  • Atmosphere: Casual, bright and cheerful
  • Drinks on offer: Milkshakes, bottled pop, water
  • Best bets: Lil’ Cheeseburger, Buffalo Chick’n Burger, sundaes
  • Vegetarian friendly? Yes.
  • Additional information: Open seven days a week, completely vegan menu.

I never thought I’d be writing a review of a fast-food concept, but it’s the pandemic and things are a little different now. Very few new restaurants have opened since the wintertime and few of those are of note. It’s hard to tell if a fast-food restaurant could make a splash in Calgary’s food scene during “normal” times, but with not much happening there is one particular spot that has captured the city’s attention.

Located in the heart of 17th Avenue, the slick-looking V Burger opened in early July with plenty of buzz and lineups down the block. Now that the hysteria around its Dairy Queen-gone-vegan-style approach has died down, one doesn’t have to wait long to get a taste of its plant-based casual eats.

Burgers, fried “chicken” sandwiches, sundaes and shakes are the name of the game here. On the surface level, it may not sound like anything new and noteworthy, but when there is no meat or dairy involved things get a little more interesting. As well, in a city such as Calgary, which has been more reluctant to embrace the vegan-food movement than most other large cities – this is beef country, after all – V Burger is an addition to the food scene that has felt like a really long time coming.

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Co-owned by young first-time operator Ryan Wesley, there has been no expense spared in the branding and interior design of the small casual eatery. The illustrated wallpaper, white subway tile and green wood paneling make for a more modern vibe, especially when it comes to fast-food restaurants. The devil’s in the details right down to the vibrant burger wrappers, making it clear that V Burger has been built with chain aspirations in mind.

With a slogan of “Making fast food okay again,” there are plenty of fun items developed by chef Andrea Harling to sink your teeth into. After two separate visits, the Lil’ Cheeseburger has become an easy favourite. V’s recreation of a fast-food cheeseburger has all of the familiar flavours (pickles, mustard, ketchup, “cheese”) with little of the guilt. The texture of the patty itself, a mix of pulse proteins and spices, could satisfy an unsuspecting carnivore, too.

Caramel Corn and Pecan Sundae.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The Buffalo Chick’n Burger, made with a base of vital wheat gluten and lightly battered, is also impressively indistinguishable from other processed (actual) chicken patties on the market. The pillowy brioche bun is the perfect vessel for the fried patty along with lettuce, tomato and vegan aioli. To my fellow meat eaters, I feel it’s worth noting that it is borderline shocking how satisfying this sandwich is.

Other menu items don’t fare quite as well – for this omnivore, anyway – when it comes to being plant-based recreation that maintains delicious illusion. Most items offering “bac’n” will result in a pile of coconut bacon added to your burger. There is nothing bacon-y about coconut chips infused with liquid smoke. With the hard texture and small size, these kinds of chips feel more at home on a summer salad than they do in the middle of a bun.

Likewise, the CauliFritters are fairly disappointing. Soggy and hardly seasoned, there is little satiation to be found here aside from the homemade “ranch” dip, which we saved for dunking our fries into.

One of the most impressive offerings at V Burger is its soft serve. Used as a foundation for sundaes and milkshakes, the aquafaba-based ice cream is smooth and decadent. With a variety of toppings, we found a reliable summer-afternoon treat in a small sundae drizzled with caramel and topped with pecans and caramel corn.

V Burger also offers pints of ice cream. I brought home a container of “Unicorn tears” (i.e. the restaurant’s soft-serve base mixed with Nerds). It doesn’t offer the same creaminess of soft serve, but as far as vegan ice cream goes, I’ll give it a passing grade.

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Whether you’re a vegan looking for fast food or a loud and proud carnivore looking to see if V Burger can stand up to your carnal craving, I think most people strolling into this hip in-and-out eatery will walk out feeling full ... and maybe even a little bit surprised.

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