Monday, 5 September 2016
Stokey Bears, Stoke Newington
I first came across Burger Bear when they were doing their thing in the old Red Market near Old Street. Back then, the "market" was just a gap between two buildings previously used as a car park; traders pitched up with little fanfare (few had anything so fancy as a branded van; most were just foldable gazebos over a hot plate) and sold to the lunchtime crowd, a healthy number of people rain or shine given the huge number of offices in the area.
Even in those days, though, you could tell Burger Bear were going places. Their queue was always that much longer than anyone else's, the buzz about their product that much louder. Though far from the first street trader to bring a genuine American cheeseburger to London (Yianni had most beat by a few years) it was obvious that this was an operation that truly understood exactly what made a great burger, and by golly it showed in their signature Grizzly Bear, loose-mince medium beef bound by plastic cheese, with just a touch of bacon jam and rashers of gloriously crisp streaky bacon. Like most people, from the first bite, I was a fan.
And I'm pleased to report that, all these years later, I still am. Mirroring the way the streetfood scene at large grew up and settled down, Red Market transformed into a vast multi-level venue hosting corporate prosecco bars and charging an entrance fee, and Burger Bear found a permanent site on Stoke Newington High Street and rebranded as Stokey Bears. But despite this transition, their signature offering still has it where it counts; the mince is still medium-rare with a good thick crust from the hot plate, the bacon is still crisp and the yellow cheese still unapologetically holds it all together in its salty, smooth embrace. It is, without doubt, one of London's great burgers.
And there, you may think, the story should end. If you went to Stokey Bears for a burger, ordered a burger and then ate a burger, you would have no cause to complain. But this being London 2016 and because we are told man cannot live by burgers alone (actually you can, I can prove it) the menu has expanded to include other US diner staples such as hot dogs, which we didn't try, and chicken wings, which - unfortunately - we did.
The main problem with the hot wings was that they weren't jointed. If Stokey Bears honestly think hot wings are better served in huge clumsy unjointed portions requiring the diner to tear them apart themselves, then that's their outlook, but to me it just looks like laziness. And it's one thing having them not separated into mid-joint and drumette but the wing tips contain no meat at all and should never be served with buffalo wings. Used for making stock, certainly, or kept on for certain speciality Asian presentations, but never in buffalo wings. On top of that, the sauce was thin and acidic enough to suggest that not nearly enough (or no) butter had been used in its preparation. Blue cheese dip was nice and chunky though, so there is that.
Angry fries weren't quite what I was expecting but were very nice nontheless. Bleecker Burger's version has blue cheese and hot sauce on but here we have French's mustard, some kind of green relish and what I think is The Rib Man's famous Holy Fuck sauce - and as anyone who's ever dipped their fries in Holy Fuck will tell you, this is a very good combination.
OK, so, there was The Incident With The Wings but overall it's hard to stay very upset with Stokey Bears. Staff were friendly and attentive, there's a good selection of local beers on tap (Beavertown Gamma Ray is always enjoyable), and there are loads of cosy booths to gather your friends in and while away the hours. Most people, all said and done, will be coming to this boisterous spot on Stoke Newington High St for a burger, and I can't think of anyone that would come away disappointed on that front. If the wings hint at a certain sloppiness then there's still enough evidence of attention to detail elsewhere to make up for it. I enjoyed Stokey Bears. So should you. Just don't order the wings.
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