Rocky’s Burger Bus
1120 46th Ave. SE
(403) 243 0405
When people talk about restaurants as institutions, it usually refers to a place that has maintained their longevity, and quality. In Calgary, people usually talk Peter’s, or Caesar’s, or Chicken on the Way. They certainly have had their longevity, but I question the quality. For me, there are places not as well known that I also consider to be true Calgary institutions – and Rocky’s Burger Bus is one of them.
Rocky’s Burger Bus is literally that – an old transit bus parked in the middle of an industrial area in SE Calgary. Most people have heard of it, but many people I’ve talked to don’t seem to have an idea of where it is. They proudly serve AAA Alberta beef, and their customers proudly eat it. On any given day, +20 or -20, come lunch time, there is a huge lineup. Get there early or late. Lunchtime is a zoo. You’ve been warned.
The menu is a pretty basic thing, consisting of all your typical greasy spoon items. Burgers. Fries. Onion rings. Poutine. Smokies and hot dogs. Bacon on a bun. Milkshakes. Pop. It’s nothing earth shattering, but you don’t expect that from a place serving greasy spoon out of a bus.
The big thing here is burgers. Hand formed patties made from fresh 100% Alberta beef, cooked on a griddle in their own fat and juices. They make them by the hundreds, and cook them when they are ordered. If you peek inside the bus, you’ll see dozens of burgers cooking at any one time. The smell of beef is unmistakable.
The burgers themselves are a generous size – i’d guess 1/3 of a lb, precooked weight. Maybe as large as a 1/2 lb. They come in 3 configurations – plain($4.50), with cheese ($5.00), or with cheese and bacon ($5.75). You can also make it a double for slightly less than double the price. Standard condiments are mustard, relish, and onions. They are juicy, and lack the texture of having been mixed with a lot of filler, even though they are all cooked to well done. The buns are standard store bought buns, and aren’t good, but don’t detract from the burger.
In most cases, i have some issues with well done. I like my burgers medium. Meat that has been freshly ground does not have the contamination issues that store ground has. So not only are burgers cooked to order generally better quality, but they taste better too. Canadians, however, seem to be very bacteria phobic, and prefer them all well done. Or establishments use inferior beef, and can only cook to well done. Regardless, it is typically a sign of a very average burger. But I will concede that these are a decent well done. Not bone dry. Retain some flavour. It’s about as good as i would expect well done could get, without the inclusion of a lot of pork fat
Any good burger place has some critical accompaniments. For me, the most important is fries. Fresh cut, they are fried to a crispy consistency., yet retain a nice bite with great potato flavour. The interior structure of a well cooked fry is important. It cannot be hollow, and it cannot be like mashed potatoes. These are an excellent representation of fresh cooked fries, though for $3.00, i would like a lot more fries. The order is a bit skimpy.
Fries, of course, can be improved with an excellent gravy, and this is where Rocky’s Burger Bus shines. Made from what i gather are the beef drippings off the griddle, this is probably the best gravy i’ve had in Calgary thus far. Beefy, rich, fatty, not overly thickened from flour or corn starch, the gravy stands out on its own merits. Definitely a bit oily, it isnt for the faint at heart. But I do prefer the gravy to the malt vinegar and salt, which says a lot.
Of course, thanks to our Quebec cousins to the East, there is another way to improve fries. It’s to add gravy, and cheese curds! Poutine, rated the worst food for you on the planet by some health study a few years ago (right above deep fried mars bars, which are also delectable), is considered a point of Canadian pride, and a staple for all grease lovers. The Rocky Burger Bus rendition of Poutine is excellent. Real cheese curds, complete with a little squeak, and a nice quantity, along with their rich beef gravy, and crispy fresh cut fries makes for an excellent poutine. Not quite on calibre with Montreal, but a fine rendition for the West.
In your mind, an institution or not, Rocky’s Burger Bus delivers on the vast promise that a greasy spoon in a bus should. Greasy beef, crispy fries, and an otherwise artery clogging menu that tastes so good, a food coma is almost a given. Even though there is no seating, and large lineups, they consistently serve up quality burgers and fries to the masses that visit day in and day out. And I believe it’s the consistency, the quality, and really, the bus, that make it an institution.