Mulling Over Monroe’s: The Chinese Joint Cheeseburger That Gets People Talking Also Spawns Debate On Stereotypes

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One wet, windy night last month, the kind of November night  that no one in their right mind would venture out in given a choice, I decided to order some take out Chinese food from my go-to delivery spot, Monroe’s.

Much to my surprise, my partner, who has resided in St. John’s for 18 years (much of that downtown), had never tried their food before. Pretty wild, I thought, but I had no idea what was to come.

Foodwise, what came was exactly what we had ordered; pretty standard chicken balls, equally passable but mundane mushroom fried rice, and a simple but delicious deep fried tofu dish with tender bok choy and fresh broccoli in a light sauce.

We ate, we were full, nothing out of the ordinary at all. Then I posted on the internet. “Dave has just tried his first feed of Monroes.” The internet lit up, inspiring more conversation than any single post of mine has since I wrote about the seal hunt last year. There’s a story in this, I realized. Again, I had no idea what was coming.

The story’s  main character is not the customers, the owner, or this writer. It is the Monroe’s cheeseburger, so much the stuff of  legend that if we had a local Indiana Jones, he would be questing for this long before the Ark; a golden slice of processed cheese glinting beneath the cover of pallid buns like buried treasure beckoning him ever closer. This local burger is loved on a level usually reserved for hockey teams and favourite classic rock artists. Everyone has heard of it, it gets people talking, and sometimes tensions rise.

Very few people will diss the cheeseburger itself. A basic affair with a few classic fixings, it is a solid burger for its easy-to-love price tag of $3.30. Of over 40 Monroe’s cheeseburger anecdotes reported to me, a mere 5 questioned the sanctity of the item, and only 2 of those were really negative. There’s little ground to stand on to dispute the popularity of the Monroe’s cheeseburger.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever ordered a Monroe’s feed without a burger,” one respondent said. “Loves a cheeseburger platter. With the works. Juicy. Tender. Melt in your mouth. Mmmmonroe’s burgers. Nothing like them. Just like homemade” added another. “A cheesebuger was always an addition to any order of food. Hell, a second cheeseburger was added to a cheeseburger platter,” said a third.

While not exciting people quite as much, there were many good stories about the Chinese food as well. Monroe’s has been in business for ages, and as one friend testifies “for historical context, I can attest that they’ve been solid since at least the 90’s. Many a Saturday working at Healy’s was salvaged by a greasy feed from Monroe’s.” But not everyone loves them so much. The criticism split into 2 main parts; the quality of the food and, more discussed and ultimately more interesting, people’s impressions of the décor and hygiene.

I’d never been to Monroe’s, it’s takeout status being one of its big draws for me, but now I had to go. Was it really unhygienic, as some had suggested? No one had said “don’t eat there,” but several had said “don’t go pick it up yourself or you’ll ruin your appetite.” I found it sparse and in need of some superficial repairs, I will admit, but not dirty.

The woman who brought me my food was friendly and neat as a pin in her almost glamourous old school hair net. The splashes of colour around the door dividing kitchen from customer area were quite pleasing. I could now see why some described it as homey.

In the spirit of due journalistic diligence, I read their Food Premises Inspection Reports back to 2105 while I ate my cheeseburger back at home. There were certainly infractions, but most were fairly ridiculous to me. Storing packaged food in grocery store bags and bins rather then foodsafe bags, no hairnets, unlabeled sanitizer, and failing to close the door between the residence part of the building and the kitchen were, in my opinion, small issues. Hygiene was criticized in some reports (as a non-critical issue though), but any major infractions have been listed as corrected.

The only real warning I will give is that it seems there may be a sagging bathroom subfloor, so watch your step if you need to visit it while picking up your food. Perhaps there are larger issues than I know, or perhaps in our age of glitzy appearances people have confused thrifty with unclean. At $3.30 a burg, how much decoration do you need?

This is where food politics enters the picture. Tired stereotypes about Asian restaurants serving cat meat luckily didn’t come up much, but if you are among the people in St. John’s who still thinks that’s funny, I have news for you. It’s not.

More worrisome for me were the number of mentions of poor hygiene in online reviews I read. Again, it’s not sparkling and scented of bleach, but I’ve eaten in many fast food take outs that were similar who do not seem to experience the same level of critique. In a New York Times article, successful chef Andy Ricker says for some odd reason, people seem to believe white-owned restaurants are cleaner, which impacts on food borne illness rumours. Andrew Simmons writes in Slate that people have a statistically higher incidence of blaming Asian and Mexican restaurants specifically for instances of food poisoning, in which the exact cause of illness has not yet been determined. Not cool.

With the leftovers from my last feed of Monroe’s chilling in the fridge, wondering if I should have bought one of the jaunty hats at the checkout as a souvenir, I feel like I’ve entered a special club. Those who love Monroe’s seem to love it enough to make up for those who don’t. As for my favourite “sit down Chinese restaurant” these days, it’s the Hong Kong specifically for their shredded pork, Chinese mushrooms, and salted cabbage dish , though the Hong Kong fried rice is pretty darn good too.

Happy eating!

About Author

Felicity Roberts

Felicity grew up dreaming of finding a way to pick berries as a profession, and has almost succeeded. A collector of local plants and lore, she is always searching for a new use for an old ingredient, and still wears odd socks to confuse the faeries.

18 Comments

  1. It seems like you’re reaching. They operate out of a shabby-looking building, right or wrong this could give some people the impression that they are unclean. Appearance matters, although in this case it certainly doesn’t seem to be hurting their business. Not everything is racism.

  2. It was a pretty minor part of the article, but I guess your white defensiveness knows no nuance.

  3. I don’t get it? What is the point of this article? To point out that there is a cheap meal to be found in a cheap looking restaurant? Or that most of your friends like Monroe’s too, despite the fact that building could use a little love? Where is the stereotyping? You even say yourself that the “Cat meat” stereotype (which, ironically, you yourself are now spreading….) didn’t come up in any of the comments. This is a click-bait title if I’ve ever seen one. From now on, a google search of Monroe’s Takeout and Cat Meat will now point to this article. I’m sure the business will be thrilled.

  4. nothin ruins a good burger more than cheese and / or mayo. Or anything else besides, ketchup, mustard, pickles, onions and i can take or leave the relish.

    Call me crazy but i would go as far to say that people put so many things on or in their food these days that most don’t even taste their food anymore.

    Ah yes, nothing safer than some recognized flavors you’ve conditioned yourself to.

  5. I had no idea food inspectors could travel through time, but I am happy to know Monroe’s (and humanity) will still be around in the year 2105.

  6. Yes sloppy. Next thing ya know you’ll be trying to say bacon is needed too right? Nothing like things on food to cover up its real taste. Anything you put bacon on just makes it taste like bacon. Still trying to deal with the after taste of cheese, mayo, lettuce and bacon on a burger from years ago that someone made me and i ate out of guilt. Ridiculous.

  7. The only thing any good burger needs is ketchup and onions. Any time I order a Monroe’s buger, that’s all I have on it. And it’s all it needs!! Absolutely delicious!! As for the establishment itself, I can fondly recall my early teen years of the early to mid 80s, working at Robinson Blackmore and The Daily News, hanging out at my cousin’s on Springdale Street. Some of my fondest memories consist of getting paid on Friday evenings, cashing my cheque at Mudder Hubbards convenience store, and heading to Monroe Take Out with my cousin for some great chinese food! Yes folks, Monroe’s has been on the go since at least the early 80s, and I’d venture to say, well before that as well. I believe the date on the Certificate belonging to the original owner, Au Mau, is 1975, but that would have to be confirmed. However, for at least 35 years, Monroe’s has been serving great take-out Chinese food and AWESOME burgers! I still go there for chinese take-out any chance I get!

  8. Oh, and if you think their burgers are good, you should try their fish and chips!! Their gravy is out of this world!! Granted, the fish is generally overcooked and far from fresh, but it’s very tasty nonetheless, and I order it now and again for a treat when not in the mood for Chinese! 🙂

  9. rod, you are a good man. i could eat that and be perfectly satisfied. they’re currently reviewing you for a raise as i type this.

    crypt, i’m actually “from” pleasantville ave.
    I do not live in newfoundland.
    you must be a townie.

  10. Charlie is really a girl on

    Charlie – What does not living in Newfoundland have to do with it?
    Ohhhhh right! You’re the type of guy that pretends he has more cuisine knowledge because lives in places like Halifax..
    Pleasantville Ave makes you a townie, you stupid fuck.
    I guess they don’t capitalize letters at the public library you write these messages from?

  11. Sounds like someone got a little insulted over some silliness.

    Now since you’ve taken offence over being called a townie (and I understand that coming from their defaults me as one. Something I avoided like a plague to stand behind since kindergarten), but what does any of this have to do with cuisine. We are talking burgers with processed cheese and mayo lol.

    Now, since you got me right in your name at least, why not accept that people have opinions aside from a cozy status quo. AND when they opinion annoys you, why not accept and move on?

    Also don’t confuse someone making fun of things (without saying a big friendly safe jk) as stupidity.

  12. Also regarding cuisine. I can’t think of a better place for it than Newfoundland. Even their pizza. Let alone the fast selection of Newfoundland food / meals.

    Perhaps I’ve picked up for people living in the Goulds too often in previous years.

    The one thing I find consistent anywhere is that only certain people can say and do certain things.

    As for caps, which I thought died with the arrival of the h’innernets, they only exist when typing in a medium that caps it for the user.

    Sure call that lazy, but this day in age, is that something to pick apart?

    I mean all the writing, poetry, song lyrics, album art, art, etc.. these days, there may be more without caps than with caps.

    Next time, before getting worked up over someone else’s diatribe, reread their opinion in the voice of Tom Hardy’s Bane and see how worked up you still are.

  13. Oh dear, for any sjw grammar police out there, before you put on that typo correction suit, it’s vast* and not fast.

  14. I knew a male wouldn’t say cheese and mayo ruins a burger; that’s something women pick up in fear of the caloric intake. This slowly morphs into the thought that it’s the flavour they don’t like, when it is actually weight gain..
    Solved.

  15. as someone who is 350 lbs.. i highly doubt this is about calorie intake..

    now.. this is about the worst aftertaste known to mankind . That said, try leaving a blob of mayo OR Miracle Whip out on your counter top and check it the next day. Calories burn off. Plastic unfortunate tasting globs of “whatever that is” may not..

    That retort had little to do with health and mostly to do with aftertaste. Seeing that hardened piece of plastic was enough to finalize my opinion on that subject and substance.

    I think my best experiences with mayo involve Subway after a night of drinking. You’d swear it was a competition on who can get the most gloop on their sub.

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