One-Third Pounder with Potato Wedges
My usual order here is the One Third Pounder, no cheese -- gotta watch the calories, and also because I usually want to enjoy the beef without diluting its flavor. Normally this burger's enough to fill me up, so I don't even have to order sides unless I'm really starving. BBB's burgers are thick, juicy, have the crumbly texture of an all-beef patty, and because they're grilled, have a lightly smoky flavor. You may have to wait a bit for your burger on a busy day, because they grill each order fresh; me, I consider the wait worth it!
Taking Cat here for the first time -- she was in Davao when BBB opened -- we got the One Third Pounder, a side of Potato Wedges, and the Chicken Parmigiana rice meal. We loved the potato wedges, nice thick slices of potato, skin on, crisp outside and perfectly cooked through inside. Cat says if she can't have mashed potato, her fave potato dish, she'll gladly settle for this any time. Me, I think my next order of burger will have to include this. There goes the calorie count! We also liked the Chicken Parmigiana, the sauce was nice and savory, and there's a generous topping of melted cheese on top. I'm a sucker for melted cheese on rice, so again this dish is a winner for me.
Is a bigger burger really better? For me it depends on what you made it bigger with. Now, if you're making that burger bigger with more real, high quality beef, then yes, a bigger burger definitely makes me happier! If Pergola Mall were on my way home from work I'd probably be eating here more often.
Big Better Burger is an up-and-coming chain with 10 branches already throughout Metro Manila, the Pergola Mall branch being their 8th. The chain is owned and operated by the Teotico family, and interestingly enough is totally home-grown--it's not a US franchise at all. Eric Teotico, who loves to cook, came up with the idea of opening a burger chain based on his own recipes. Learning this story, I'm motivated to patronize BBB even more -- I like it when my peso goes to a local entrepreneur instead of a foreign corporation, and my palate tells me I'm getting value for my money.
Still, if you're coming to Big Better Burger for the first time, you should be here for the burgers. Yes, they're that good. BBB's patties compare very well with the product of a classic Filipino chain we who're old enough to like retro stuff know well, but because it's grilled I'll have to consider BBB's even better.
While admitting it inevitably betrays my true age, I just have to say that if there's one burger I think of when I'm nostalgic, it's Tropical Hut's Classic burger. We rarely feature chains here in Good Living BF, since our focus is on 'homegrown' restaurants and enterprises, but we decided to do this as a fitting tribute to our favorite burger since the 1970s.
Tropical Hut was a burger chain way before McDonalds came in, or Jollibee morphed from ice cream parlor to fastfood giant. The BF Homes branch is up to now one of the longest-running Tropical Hut outlets in the country -- if I remember correctly it's their second or third branch. When I was a kid studying at La Salle Zobel, I'd often badger my dad into taking me there after school before we made the long drive back home. But Cat and I don't go to Tropical Hut to eat history. We go because, very simply, Tropical Hut still serves the juiciest, most meatily fragrant burger we know.
The Tropical Hut Classic stands out because it's cooked quite differently from other fastfood chain burgers. I often find the meat patties from other chains rubbery in texture, probably from a combination of extenders and the dry cooking method they use. In contrast, Tropical Hut's burgers tend to fall apart on you while you eat, while the buttery, utterly beefy juices run down your chin. The secret is in the thickness of the patty and the pouring of a special sauce over the burger as it cooks. As the outsides of the burger seal from the heat, the sauce gets trapped inside, keeping it tender and packed with flavor. I'm drooling as I write this!
Unfortunately, Tropical Hut was never managed with the same level of marketing savvy as its newer rivals, and the quality of its products can be uneven. I've been to Tropical Hut branches that were badly maintained, that stank (I didn't eat at those!), and been disappointed with various menu entries. The fries can be bland and soggy at times; at best, they're crisp but still rather plain, when compared to say McDonalds' fries. Sometimes the staff are not as well-trained as they could've been.
I hope one day to see Tropical Hut undergo a management renaissance. Better training, better marketing, investment in more effective advertising. But please, please, if ever this happens, do not change the Classic burger. It's the reason why, despite all the warts, I still keep coming back to Tropical Hut.
As I am a few years older than Dariel, my memories of Tropical Hut burger go even more way back, back to where I think it started in Ortigas in the 70s. But here I plead a senior moment because I cannot exactly recall the name of the place or the building. But what has stayed indelibly in my mind was the experience of my first taste of the burger that was then making waves all over town.
Simply put, it tasted like no other -- not that I could compare it with a MacDonald's or a Jollibee's because as Dariel said, they still had to hit town or hit it big at that time -- but that it had its own very distinct taste. A taste that, thankfully, to this day has remained in the Classic Burger.
Part of its appeal was its bigger-than-normal serving size -- rivaled only by the equally famous Dayrit's hamburger -- which the Classic has kept; and part of it was the de luxe way it was served, with chips and potato salad if memory serves me right. .
Over the years, as its rivals overtook it in popularity, availability, and visibility, it has tried to hang on stubbornly, sometimes perhaps too stubbornly for its own good as when it seemed to resist upgrading its branches, making them look like holdovers from the past century. But at the same time, that stubbornness is what may have kept its loyal followers like me coming back for the Tropical Hut burger taste--it had kept the flavor that had made it an institution, a go-to for a burger fix, and a must-have for those midnight cravings.
The relatively few places it had branches in became my landmarks -- in Greenbelt and Crispa in Gil Puyat opposite the Makati Post Office; the Greenhills branch was another favorite stopover. The first two are now gone; I haven't been to the latter in ages. So I am happy that although as whimsical as the food industry can be, Tropical Hut has endured. And that the Classic Burger is still a classic.
Now, my only quibble is why don't they have a branch in Davao?
"As a wife and a mom above everything else, I'd never feed anyone something I wouldn't feed my own family," says home baker-turned-entrepreneur Ria Ortega. "So everything that goes into my baked goods has to be fresh and first class. I wouldn't substitute to cut down on cost." This uncompromising stance on quality is evident in every bite of Ortega's fine desserts, from her blueberry muffins to her traditional Ilonggo ensaymada. That maternal attachment also shaped the name of her new business, Apron Strings - a name connoting strong and lovingly maintained family ties, and a long tradition of baking only the best.
Indeed, baking is in Ria's blood. She recalls watching her Lola Rosita making ensaymadas and fruitcakes from her earliest childhood, an activity she thought so much fun that when finally allowed to mess around in the kitchen at age eight, Ria took to baking like the proverbial duck to water.
"My father wouldn't allow me into the kitchen before I was eight. Since to a child whatever is forbidden just seems more enticing, my interest was really piqued. Finally when I reached eight, my mom enrolled me in a baking class with Lorrie Reynoso, and I knew I loved to bake because I would wake up in the morning, already looking forward to going to my classes," Ria says. Even now the ensaymada recipe she uses is her Lola Rosita's; thick, fluffy, buttery without being oily, the top fragrant with freshly grated queso de bola. "Eating that ensaymada just takes me right back to my childhood," Ria grins. "Heaven!"
Through her years growing up and later going on to a career in theatre and music, Ria maintained her ties to the kitchen. "Ever so often I would bake again, trying recipes from books and magazines or sometimes trying to formulate my own. I would want something, like a particular texture and flavor in brownies that I just couldn't find in commercial ones, so I ended up developing my own brownie recipe," she says.
On marrying and getting pregnant with her first child, Ria discovered that her version of 'nesting' was to spend even more time in the kitchen, and took more classes with Sylvia Reynoso-Gala. "That's when I began to realize my love of cooking and baking could be deep enough that I could turn it into a career," she says, and now she's finally making that leap of faith.
Apron Strings is starting out in the classic manner of homegrown businesses built with love -- on a shoestring, but with a ready and familiar clientele of friends who've known what Ria can do for years. Working out of her home, Ria takes orders for brownies, cookies, ensaymada, and cinnamon rolls, and is developing new recipes in her spare time.
One product we're watching out for with breathless anticipation is her cinnamon rolls with mango. She'll be participating in the Cuenca bazaar at Ayala Alabang Village and is hoping to get into Mercato Centrale in Fort Bonifacio. "When the demand gets big enough, I'll consider opening a bakeshop or cafe. Slow but sure is the way to go for me," Ria says. "Anyway, whatever happens or how long it takes, this will always be a labor of love for me. Baking isn't just about producing breads or cookies or cakes. It's about creating memories as we enjoy our goodies, whether it's in the process of making them, or eating them."
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We're proud to present another success story from BF Homes in Pinky Anonuevo, proprietress of Pinky's Goodies along El Grande Avenue. Starting from just her mom's signature butterscotch brownies, Pinky has grown Pinky's Goodies into a bakeshop that supplies retailers as far as Tagaytay and Davao and is now about to enter the Landmark chain of supermarkets.
She's also proof positive that Ilonggas have a magical connection to pastry. "What's the secret?" we ask her. "The sugar!" she laughs. "I think it's very simply because in Iloilo and Bacolod we're at the center of the sugar industry and with so much sugar available, it was easy to find ways to use it. Also I think because the Spanish influence is strong there -- look how many of our pastry products in Iloilo have Spanish names." These influences came together in a set of traditional family recipes that Pinky inherited from her mother, who inherited it from her mother, with which she established her bakeshop.
Date and Walnut Cookies
Pinky's Goodies sells Butterscotch brownies in traditional, Chocolate, and Mango variations, plus an assortment of merengues, muffins, cookies, yema, biscocho, and Iloilo's signature Pancit Efuven noodles. I got to sample the Butterscotch in their new foil packaging, which Pinky had to do to maximize their shelf life in anticipation of supermarket distribution, the delectable Banana Muffins, the Date and Walnut Cookies, and the Raspberry Cookies. They were good!
I specially liked the three varieties of Butterscotch, the Banana Muffins, and the Date and Walnut Cookies. The butterscotches were moist, chewy, full of nuts and fruits, and I could taste every different filling because they were neither too sweet nor too buttery. Yum. As for the Date and Walnut Cookies, they were also nicely chewy and the walnuts fresh-tasting. I hate the taste of stale walnuts, and these cookies were thankfully innocent of that taint. My personal favorite though would be the Banana Muffins, as I've always loved banana-based breads and cakes. I got mine baked just that day, and it was wonderfully moist and rich, with just the right amount of butter, the banana flavor very fresh and clean. Now that I know what Pinky can do, I'm just itching to try out their new Banoffee Pie ...
I once had a friend with a funny way of eating empanadas: right after buying one, she'd squish it flat. "Why?!" I asked. "To drive out the air," she grinned. And true enough, the empanadas we got often had way too much air in them. But she won't be doing that to Empanada Mas' pies. There's hardly any air in `em; once you get past the crisp, flavorful crust all you see and chew is filling. Rich, flavorful filling.
Cat and I got a boxful at the Pergola Mall branch of Empanada Mas, trying out the Chorizo, Chicken, Ham Cheese and Jalapeno, Tuna, Spinach with Cream Cheese and Pork empanadas, plus the Cream Cheese and Chives, Cheese, Chocolate, and Peanut Butter Fudge empanaditas. First, the crust: I have to say Empanada Mas trains its employees well. The empanadas were fried, but done just right and in very hot oil, leaving hardly any oil in the crust afterward. A hastily-trained cook would likely not wait until the oil was the right temperature, resulting in an oily, soggy empanada. Ours were really crunchy outside. And inside ... I have a feeling if I bought another box to bring home, only half the contents would make it to the house!
Ham & Cheese Jalapeno
Spinach with Cream Cheese
I'd already tried the Cream Cheese & Chives empanaditas before, which was why I got really excited when Cat told me we were shooting Empanada Mas. These little explosions of flavor make a good starter or snack, and you can mix them with the Cheese empanaditas to have a balance of flavors. The Chicken, Pork and Tuna are hearty comfort foods, just like mom used to make (or better - mom could never get her crust like that). The Spinach was a salad you can eat on the go, perfect for the health buff or vegetarian. Spice addict that I am, though, I enjoyed the Chorizo and Ham n Cheese with Jalapeno best. The Chorizo reminds me of a sausage we can only find in Davao, or a milder version of the Vigan longganisa in flavor -- loaded with garlic and pepper, and very fragrant. The Ham n Cheese with Jalapeno is nicely balanced, with just the right amount of the peppers so you can definitely taste the jalapeno but without its overwhelming the ham or cheese.
Chocolate, Cream Cheese & Chives, Cheese, Peanut Butter Fudge
Our hasty lunch -- grabbed on the way to Cat's parlor session for a friend's wedding -- ended on a perfect note with the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Fudge empanaditas. What kid wouldn't go crazy for flavors like these? I have to say when it comes to Empanada Mas' dessert empanaditas, I'm definitely still a ten-year-old.
There's a nice new breakfast and merienda spot on the corner of Aguirre and Banzon called Lugawan Republic, a great place to stop when you're in need of comfort food. Cat and I stopped by for a snack and got to chat with Attorney Jojo Salomon, one of the owners, who told us the interesting stories behind each dish.
We had the Pilugaw, the aptly named Goto Hell, a very crunchy version of Tokwa't Baboy, and Crispy Tofu. As we learned from Salomon, the whole concept of Lugawan Republic is to offer the classic Pinoy favorite in a new way; yep, it's lugaw with class. The Pilugaw, their flagship product, is truly a deluxe congee, tinted and flavored with either annatto or kasubha, and topped with tender goto (tripe), wood mushrooms, quail eggs, crunchy fried garlic bits and green onion shoots. Very flavorful and filling! The wood mushrooms (tengang daga) add a touch of the exotic, raising the humble lugaw to a whole new level.
On Atty. Salomon's urging I also tried the Goto Hell, a product with a humorous story behind it. It seems that when Lugawan Republic was first started in Timog, partner Gladys Reyes mentioned it on a TV show and her co-hosts jokingly told her she should make a porridge named Goto Hell. The next day, the restaurant was deluged with requests for the fictitious product. Reyes took up the challenge and concocted the chili tripe with chili congee recipe over the next few days. Was it as infernally good as advertised? One spoonful and ... woohoo! This stuff would be a hit in Singapore! As a confirmed spice addict, I have to say I'll definitely order this again.
To go with our congees we had the Tokwa't Baboy, and as with everything here, there's a little twist added to make the dish unique. Traditional tokwa't baboy usually consists of boiled pork, with the crunch, if any, coming solely from the tofu; Lugawan Republic's version adds quite a bit more pork, and fried crisp lechon-kawali style. It's double, no, triple, the crunch of mom's tokwa't baboy, and I'm loving it. But as Cat and I are too crunch-happy, we also had to try the Crispy Tofu. This was fresh tofu fried with panko breading, so it's really crunchy on the outside, silky soft inside; it's served with a sweet and sour sauce. Good stuff, and if your kids don't like tofu I'm sure this is going to convince them otherwise.
Lugawan Republic shares premises and in fact has the same management as Iago's Grill so it was no surprise that the water served was again pandan water. It's also possible to sit in Lugawan Republic's quiet, air conditioned space and order from Iago's, or vice versa. I like that. Cat and I will definitely be coming back, and one of these days we're bringing the family.