Metro: Bonaventure, Peel
Train: Gare Centrale, Lucien L’Allier
Bus: STM 15, 24, 36, 74, 75, 107, 150, 178, 410, 420, 427, 430, 435, 715, 747, AMT Terminus Centre-ville
Visit: May 24, 2012
Ask anyone who has been around for a long time, it’s not easy. To gain any kind of longevity, you have to be doing something right. In Montreal, there are those iconic places that you can easily rattle off the top of your head. For the last 20 years, one of those places was McLean’s Pub.
Located in the heart of the downtown core, McLean’s is in the center of the action. This pub is a prominent player. Why else would a well-known Montrealer such as Mitch Melnick from TSN 990 mention it and even bring his broadcast there? McLean’s is one of those places that has that
The location of a place like this doesn’t hurt. Five burgers ago, in a post I did on McLean’s close neighbour, Peel Pub, I outlined what the potential problems are with locations like this. Without rehashing all those details, I’m going to say that anyone trying to sell a burger in this area is in for a long, difficult haul. I was hoping that McLean’s had something that made it stand out from the rest of the pack. Since they just celebrated their 20th year anniversary, I figured that there wasn’t a better time to finally show up.
When you walk into the pub, you’ll notice that there are no lights on, during the day of course. What you have is a large window which provides plenty of natural lighting. What I found odd was each time a white-colored vehicle passed by, the room got insanely brighter. There was a point where I was getting ready to pull out my sunglasses to finish off my visit.
Nothing says sports bar like the seeing a number of big screens. McLean’s has their bottom floor covered in every angle when it comes to that respect. A location in the downtown core has to be able to cover the sports fan in order to be successful. Most of those sports fans are normally walk-ins, looking for that last minute place to catch the big game.
The tables caught my eyes as well. I really enjoy places that have the wooden tables that you have a hard time moving. It gives that nice, homey touch that you can’t get at any of those modern-type restaurants. What’s more interesting than that was the fact that you’ll notice branding on the table. The first one I saw was that of a Nova Scotia brewery. Since I don’t hang around in bars, this is new to me and therefore worthy enough of a paragraph.
The second picture of the table shows you one of the smartest things you can ever do when you own a drinking establishment. Picture this, a customer had a tad too much to drink. They get a phone call from their significant other asking them where they are. Being smart, the customer lies about where they really are, when in reality, since they’re drunk, they have no clue. The significant other threatens the customer into coming home rapidly. In a panic, that customer calls his best, non-drinking buddy to come pick them up, since they at least care enough to not drive in this case. (Kids, please do not, ever drive when under the influence. Better yet, don’t drink.) Well, the customer, having no idea where he is, looks down and with great luck, realizes where he actually was. The buddy comes to pick him up and we avoid another messy divorce.
If you didn’t get the point of the last story, we’re talking about branding. These days, I’m starting to notice restaurants putting their names on everything. There are many pros and cons to that approach. For one, it’s too in your face. For another, it’s great because it shows that the restaurant has value and status. I’ll let you decide how you feel about seeing your restaurants name on the table.
So, I’m entering the restaurant and the server seats me. What stuck with me is how far into the pub I had to go to get a table when there were better ones closer to the door. Who am I to complain? This led me to have the bartender as a server. This individuals first question to me, in English, for those keeping score at home, was whether or not I wanted beer. My order was taken and then I was asked if I wanted anything to drink. I can’t blame the bartender, it must be a reflex.
Right now, I’m feeling bad. The service provided by this individual is in no way deserving of much criticism. During my burger outings, I get a lot of time to observe the happenings around me. This person did their job above any standards I would set for a bartender. My feeling of guilt stems from an error on my part at the end of the visit, when it came to tipping. I was, in a way, rushed and couldn’t do the proper math, leading to me shortchanging on the tip. Normally, I tip generously and today I fumbled big time. My conscience being the way it is, that one will be with me for a while.
This burger contains lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cream cheese, and bacon.
This choice of burger should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly follows my burger exploits. The item that sealed the deal was the cream cheese. Bacon is starting to become an afterthought to me. Though, on a non-related side-note, wouldn’t it be interesting if the crew from Epic Meal Time were to challenge an Iron Chef in a bacon battle? Oh, and yes, for those of you wondering, not those sham American Iron Chefs, the ones from Japan, who are the only reasons I ever watched the Food Network in 1999.
Normally, I don’t take this type of close-up picture of the bottom bun before building. The reason for that is that I was intrigued by the placement of the cream cheese. The last time I had a cream cheese burger was at Hawgs Deli. If you take a look at a picture of that one, you’ll notice that the cream cheese is also placed rather uniquely. The reason I bring this up this time is because I started wondering how it would impact the eating. Cream cheese being what it is, will go anywhere it wants to go. Much like at Hawgs, the cream cheese came out of the burger liberally.
The first glance of the burger gave me a feeling that in 145 burgers, I never had before. That feeling was one of angst. In the hopes of being completely honest, I wasn’t too thrilled at looking at this burger. For me, it’s getting to the point where I can tell how good a burger is going to be without even taking a bite. What gave me that angst was the darkness of the meat. The outer rim of the meat patty was overdone.
That last point will most likely bring up a question or concern. When I go into a location, if the server doesn’t ask me how I want the meat, I don’t push or go out of my way to demand a certain temperature. I know some of you might think I’m weird, but I do it for a reason, just like why I don’t add condiments to a burger. If a restaurant is confident about their burger, I want it the way they deem it ready to be presented. If they feel it should have ketchup, they’ll send out their burger with ketchup already in it. So, I take them as I get them. After all, isn’t it their business to know how to cook?
To get back on topic and the burger at hand, the outer rim of the meat was heavy on my mind. What probably lead to that char was the fact that the patty was thin, which is a little odd for a half-pound burger. The overall diameter of the patty was a little larger than normal to compensate for the thickness. What relieved me a bit was me being able to see that the inner patty was still pink. I personally dislike seeing half-eaten burger pictures, so you’ll have to take my word on it.
Getting past the outer rim wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I know that I was reluctant in taking that first bite. But when I got started, the combination of cream cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes made the experience more palatable. While I’m going to say that the cream cheese saved this burger, it wasn’t enough to make me forget about that outer rim. The center part of the beef patty was fine, though not a juicy to leave you with that lasting impression.
In the end, I really wanted to like the burger, but it fell short. The cream cheese was good. The bacon did its job the best it could. The complimentary lettuce and tomatoes were not as annoying as they used to be. But when your main star of your attraction doesn’t deliver during a prime-time performance, the spectators can’t leave happy. In my humble opinion, if that meat was given a little more care, there’s no reason why this burger, with the pub’s name on it, couldn’t be a top burger in Montreal.
I’m not going to sit here and judge a place solely on one burger. There are a lot of redeeming qualities for McLean’s Pub. For that, there’s no question why it’s been around for now over 20 years. Why else would it still have customers after most of the lunch rush disappeared? Why else would people go out of their way to catch up with the bartender? Finally, why else would suits come in and have their lunch here if they didn’t deliver?
My visit was on one given day where anything could’ve been a factor. You can’t truly judge a place until you know more about it and experience more of it. What I do know is that McLean’s pub is a go-to place when it comes to sports bars, a busy place at lunch, and one worthy enough to be regularly mentioned on local radio. It’s no small feat to complete 20 years and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised when they celebrate their 50th year.