Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Long live the king: Vancouver burger royalty back after a five-year hiatus

A Vancouver burger king returns after a long hiatus, and it's all about those buns
Monarch Burger, which packed up in 2019, will return to Vancouver for a two-day pop up this weekend

Just a few weeks ago, a family member asked Robert Belcham a silly question: "Can you make some burgers?"

The veteran chef, most recently known as one of the trio behind Granville Island's lively Popina, got to work making a meal using the cheeseburger recipe from his own venture, Monarch, which departed the Vancouver food scene back in 2019.

No surprise here, as Belcham tells V.I.A. by phone, but the burgers were fantastic.

Monarch Burger fired up the Vancouver burger scene back in 2016 when Belcham parlayed the Dirty Burger from his Campagnolo Upstairs operation on Main Street into a pop-up that found a home the following year at the neighbouring The American.

'I've been looking for a place ever since'

While Monarch enjoyed an all-too-brief reign as a burger king in Vancouver, Belcham reveals that it had been his intention all along to open the casual burger joint with its laser-focused menu soon after, only the pandemic squashed all the plans that had been in motion. 

"I've been looking for a place ever since," says Belcham.

Now, after a nearly five-year pause, Monarch Burger is ready to re-emerge; the burgers will be served up hot off the grill this weekend as part of a pop-up and collab with Rosie's BBQ truck.

Taking place February 24 and 25 from noon to 6 p.m. (while supplies last) at Batch, the impressive Rosie's trailer will be set up on the Plaza of Nations grounds with a line-up of freshly ground beef burgers, fries, poutine, and even a veggie burger for a majestic two-day return.

Belcham's pairing with Rosie's stems from his friendship with the BBQ trailer's chef/owner Karl Gregg (whom Belcham calls a "real chef's chef"). As of late Gregg had been asking his pal if he had thought about doing Monarch Burger as a pop-up. 

The problem, Belcham told him, is that he didn't have anywhere to do it. 

Enter the Rosie's trailer, and, as it happens, the beef Gregg uses for his signature brisket.

Belcham's response to the offer?

"Let's fucken do it! Let's make this happen!"

Armed with all his own recipes — from the veggie or beef patties to the gravy for the poutine — the wheels were swiftly in motion. Kind of like riding a bicycle.

Still, a lot has happened in the five years that Monarch was on pause.

"Vancouver's food scene has changed so much," acknowledges Belcham.

"There are so many great burger spots now," he adds, noting not only Monarch's meaty successor at The American, Downlow Burgers, and Chinatown's smashburger sensation Between 2 Buns, among the many.

But like royalty, Monarch's burger is a little different from everyone else.

Buns to beef: What makes a great burger? 

Belcham, as he will be the first to admit, has spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a great burger.

"A great bun is number one," he explains.

"Most people think the bun is secondary. It has to be toasted properly," the chef elaborates. To take it a tasty step further, Belcham shares that Monarch's buns are toasted in a decadent blend of lard and butter. 

Of course, the beef is the next most important consideration; it has to be "unbelievably high quality," which Belcham says he's landed on by using Gregg's brisket for his current Monarch blend.

Belcham's 30 years of cooking professionally in Vancouver, as well as his longtime dedication to the craft of whole animal butchery (which he honed routinely as part of operating Campagnolo for many years), has given the chef solid footing when it comes to knowing how to put together a burger. 

Here, Belcham gets a little nerdy, explaining the blend calculation (i.s. the fat-to-meat ratio) and what happens when you grind your meat right before cooking, as opposed to much earlier in the process to form into patties and freeze to use later. 

It doesn't stop there, though.

"You have the things that add to the beef flavour," he continues. "You season it in a specific way, and cook it in beef fat," which gives Monarch's burgers an even more pronounced beef flavour.

Then there's the cheese. It's got to be American.

While Belcham says he'd never choose to simply eat a piece of the much-maligned cheese product on its own, the fact of the matter is, for a great cheeseburger, American cheese is the "quintessential" choice.

"It adds an acidity that's super important," he describes, noting its inherent viscosity, creaminess, and chew, that leaves a pleasing "lingering flavour of the cheese."

Monarch burgers are dressed with a secret sauce ("it's not like Big Mac sauce," the chef qualifies) and topped with a simple combo of lettuce, tomato, and house-made pickles, though Belcham's personal preference is to leave the veggies off. 

"If I wanted a salad, I'd order a salad," he jokes. 

No 'beef crackers': Why it's not a smashburger

For those wondering where Monarch's burgs sit in terms of thickness, on the scale of early 2000s super thick monster burgers and the current trend of lacy, ultra-thin smashburgers, these are "a bit thicker" than the latter. (Belcham describes a smashburger he sampled from a famous U.S. chef during his travels south of the border and said it was dry and cracker-like; Monarch is a juicier four-ounce patty that's not going to come off the grill like a "beef cracker.")

In fact, it's a precise sense memory that Belcham has in mind when he's crafting his Monarch Burgers. 

"They're like the style of burger I remember having as a kid," he explains, describing a time in his childhood in Northern Alberta when he played hockey and got treated to a concession-stand burger — often home-made by team moms — at the rink. 

"That's the flavour I think about: a cold winter day, hustling on the ice, and your mom or dad buys you a burger."

While the weekend Monarch Burger pop-up won't likely bring the same frigid chill as the rink, the Rosie's trailer will be keeping things hot at the Batch site, with a tight menu of a single cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, a veggie burger, with sides of fries and poutine. 

If it goes well, Monarch Burger could be back on a more regular basis in Vancouver.

"I'm always thinking about the next step," confesses Belcham. "I'm a dreamer. I've always wanted a burger empire."

But Belcham isn't happy unless his burger-loving guests are happy. 

"If people dig it, we'd love to do more pop-ups. It's all about what the people want."

Monarch Burger will pop up with Rosie's BBQ at Batch at the Plaza of Nations (770 Pacific Boulevard) on Saturday, Feb. 24 and Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 from noon to 6 p.m. while supplies last. Follow @monarchburger on Instagram.

Find more delicious Vancouver food and drink video stories by following V.I.A's Forking Awesome TikTok account, @forkingawesomevancouver on Instagram, and signing up for our Forking Awesome newsletter delivered fresh to your inbox every Thursday.