UPDATE-July 6, 2011: CHARCUT is launching a lunch food truck to peddle the famous alley burgers. To find out where the truck will be parked around Calgary, follow updates on Twitter and Facebook. The menu will also include hand-cut duck fat-fried potatoes and poutine with Quebec cheese curds.

Charcut, Calgary

Some people like to complain that Calgary isn’t a very cool city. That it’s redneck or sleepy or unimaginative. Ah, but they have not experienced lining up for gourmet burgers in a dark downtown alley amid dumpsters and the twinkling lights of office towers.

Alley? Late at night? Isn’t that dangerous? Uh, no. But in case you were frightened, check out the two security guards watching over us (right).

Charcut, Calgary

I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a CHARCUT alley burger for a while. The hot restaurant sells them for $5 from the back door on random late Friday or Saturday nights. The only way you can find out exactly when is by following their day-of announcements on their Twitter or Facebook page. Do not phone them.

But my new mom job means I’m usually in bed early. Luckily there was a special-edition alley burger on Thursday because of an out-of-town request which then morphed into a segment on the local newscast too.

Charcut, Calgary

So here’s how it works. Go around the corner to the back door of CHARCUT in the alley (look for the wooden sign with a pig on it) and line up. Best to go at least half an hour before the appointed time. When we got there at 9 p.m., there were only two people in line, so we went inside for a quick drink at CHARCUT’s awesome bar.

When we returned to the line at 9:30 p.m., there were 27 people ahead of us. By the time, the final count was made just before 10 p.m. there were more than 50.

There are some unofficial rules:

  • One burger per person.
  • There is a cut-off to when you can join the lineup. I *think* that means a few minutes before whatever time they said burgers would be served at.
  • They do a final head count at the deadline and only make that number of burgers. *Unless they’ve run out of freshly ground meat.
  • Cash only.
  • No special requests. (Unless you’re the mayor. He gets custom lamb burgers.)

Charcut, Calgary

A mighty cheer arose from the crowd as the first trays of alley burgers appeared. Tucked into a simple paper bag with a delicious homemade pickle wedge was the alley burger.

Charcut, Calgary

A juicy roasted garlic sausage patty (80 per cent pork, 20 per cent lamb) and melted curd cheese nestled on a lightly toasted brioche bun with piri piri aioli. Oh my.

The alley burger is a smaller version of the Share Burger that you can order in the restaurant by the ounce. But it’s not a mere gimmick. CHARCUT is the real deal, featuring chef/owners with major international experience and a devotion to local ingredients and wholesome food. Its in-house charcuterie, rotisserie meats and bone marrow au gratin has won praise from enRoute to the Huffington Post.

While the alley burgers are mouth-watering, CHARCUT has created something more. An experience. A uniqueness. A camaraderie.

Almost everyone in line had an iPhone or Blackberry and was live tweeting photos. A bag of popcorn had made its way up and down the line to be shared. It was boisterous and fun. I met betamanic, and ran into Julie.

Looking for the spirit of Calgary? Check the alley.

CHARCUT, 899 Centre St. SW, Calgary, (403) 984-2180. Open Monday to Tuesday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Wednesday to Friday 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Saturday 5 p.m.-1 a.m., Sunday 5-10 p.m. Times of alley burgers announced on Twitter and Facebook.

Baby notes – Seriously? It’s a dark alley.
Room for strollers: Sure
High chairs: No
Kids menu: No
Ambiance: Dumpsters and steaming manholes.

CHARCUT Roast House on Urbanspoon