Manhattan’s Hand-made Burgers

20 Jul

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Location
: 333 Bay Street, Toronto (inside the Bay Adelaide Centre)
Websitehttp://www.manhattansburger.com/

Odds are pretty good that you haven’t heard of Manhattan’s Hand-made Burgers, an under-the-radar spot that’s nestled away in an underground food court downtown. There’s not a whole lot of chatter about it online, and if you don’t already know about it, you’re probably not going to run into it (and even if you do know about it, you might struggle to find it, as I did).

There didn’t seem to be a signature burger among their handful of pre-topped specialty burgers, so I went simple with the Yankee Burger, their no-frills choice. It came up to about ten bucks for the combo, so it’s not a bad value at least.

I was given the choice of bun, and went for white. I could have picked whole wheat, but since “whole wheat” and “hamburger” should never be in the same sentence together, that obviously wasn’t going to happen. I asked for the burger topped with my usual pickles, tomato, and mayo, and watched the man behind the griddle do his thing.

On their website, Manhattan’s proudly proclaims that they “strictly use Lean Ground beef with half the fat content of the regular grind.” Obviously, the alarm bells were going off in my head. I’m a broken record about this, but the reason so many GTA burger joints serve dry burgers is this weird compulsion to make burgers healthier by using leaner beef. This is the equivalent of trying to make a cookie healthier by cutting out most of the sugar. It might end up being much healthier, but if it’s not sweet, what’s the point?? Same goes for a burger: juiciness comes from fat. Cut out the fat, and you end up with a dry burger. No ifs, ands, or buts.

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Still, that doesn’t mean that my mind was entirely closed. If your preparation is otherwise solid (ie. a good grind, good quality beef, no extraneous seasonings, etc.) you can still serve a burger worth eating. Case in point: Fresh Burger. They come right out and admit that they use sirloin (a super lean cut of beef) but because they use good quality beef and the burger is well prepared, it’s still pretty darn good.

Sadly, the burger at Manhattan’s Hand-made Burgers is not pretty darn good.

For one thing, despite cooking the patties on a griddle there’s very little browning. Though the patty has the vaguest inklings of a crust, it’s clear that the griddle wasn’t nearly hot enough, which means that the burger misses out on a lot of potential flavour.

And of course, it’s dry. The burger was cooked to well done but not overcooked, and though it did have some juiciness (not much, but some), it was clearly dryer than it should have been.

The biggest issue, however, is the way that they’ve ground the beef. It’s way too fine, giving the beef an oddly mealy, somewhat unappealing texture. I’ve certainly had worse, but the texture holds the burger back from being anything particularly worth eating.

The flavour isn’t much better. Again, I’ve had worse, but the patty definitely had that very distinctively muddled flavour that you get from middling quality beef. I also don’t think it was seasoned at all, which didn’t help (as much as I hate overly-spiced meatloaf burgers, a little salt and maybe some pepper is fairly essential to bring out the flavour of the beef).

The sesame seed bun was fresh and suited the burger quite well, at least, and the toppings were fine.

The fries were the highlight — they were excellent. Crispy, perfectly cooked, amazing. I seem to be going to a lot of places recently that have great fries and mediocre burgers. I wish it were the other way around, but at least something is good I guess?

Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the restaurant Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the food court Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the fries Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the burger Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the burger
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This End Up

13 Jul

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Location
: 1454 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.thisendup.ca/

A few months ago, The Post called This End Up’s Better Mac one of the best sandwiches in the city.  More recently, Toronto Life mentioned it in a list of seven Big Mac-esque concoctions served in Toronto restaurants (which includes, intriguingly, a pizza).  That was it.  A burger getting that much press and I hadn’t tried it yet?  Nope.  Not acceptable.  I had to go.  Obviously.

So it was that I found myself sitting in one of This End Up’s weirdly low chairs. Seriously: either the chair is too low or the table too high, but it’s weird.  The chair-to-table-height ratio was off.  That’s right — I think about chair-to-table-height ratios.  Should I have admitted that?  I’m going to move on now.

They have a couple of burgers on the menu: the aforementioned Better Mac, along with a chutney burger.  Even if I hadn’t already been there for the Better Mac, that’s what I would have gone with.  I like chutney, but I can’t imagine it being anything but overpowering on a hamburger.

The Better Mac, as described by the menu: “2×4 oz. fresh ground chuck patties / special sauce / lettuce / choice of American or cheddar cheese / pickles / sweet onion.”  Not sure why cheddar is even an option in this case, but I obviously went with American.

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I know that as someone who’s fairly serious about food, I’m supposed to hate McDonald’s on principle.  I don’t.  Not that everything there is particularly good (and in fact some of it is quite terrible), but like a Twinkie, a Big Mac can be pretty satisfying in its own junky way.

The middle bun is missing and there’s an extra slice of cheese, but aside from that this thing definitely has the essential Big Mac flavours nailed.  Obviously, however, the patties are much much (much much) better.

The griddled patties came cooked to a pretty perfect medium rare.  The texture was a bit off — I think it’s a bit too finely ground, and a tad on the dry side — but even still it was fairly juicy, and had a mild but satisfying beefly flavour.

There were two slices of cheese rather than a Big Mac’s one, but the patties were substantial enough that the balance of meat and cheese still felt pretty much perfect.

As for the other toppings, they were classic Big Mac.  The sauce, the pickles, the lettuce, even the onion — I’m normally not a huge fan of raw onions on a hamburger, but these were quite mild and sliced very thin. They replicated the taste of the rehyratated little onions on a Big Mac surprisingly well.

So yeah, if you ever wondered what a Big Mac would taste like with actual good quality beef, get yourself over to This End Up post-haste.

As for the fries, they were outstanding.  When I first got them I was afraid they’d be of the thin-and-crunchy variety, but they were perfectly cooked; crispy on the outside, and creamy potatoey goodness on the inside.  Bottles of delicious house-made (I’m assuming) ketchup, mayo, and hot sauce are provided (Heinz, Hellman’s, and Tobasco they definitely were not).  So good.

I should also mention the impressive selection of sodas, also house-made.  I got the Grenadine Hibiscus, and it was sweet, refreshing, and kind of amazing.

This End Up - the outside This End Up - the restaurant This End Up - the menu This End Up - the Better Mac This End Up - the Better Mac
This End Up on Urbanspoon

Big Butcher Barbeque

6 Jul

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Location843 Kipling Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://twitter.com/BigButcherBBQ

I wasn’t even planning on a burger review.  I went to the newly opened Big Butcher Barbeque — knowing nothing about it aside from the name — with visions of pulled pork and brisket dancing in my head.  A name like that screams southern-style BBQ, but nope — the menu reads like an expanded version of Royal Meats around the corner, with eastern European fare like chevaps and plyeska, along with burgers, breakfast, and sandwiches.

Okay fine: plans change, and I’m obviously always down for a burger, so I rolled with the punches.

It’s in a location formerly occupied by a Gourmet Burger Co., and they didn’t change much.  I definitely got some pretty strong deja-vu in there.  Like before, it’s laid out so that you order, sit down, and wait for your food.

The burger is the first item on the menu, and it comes topped only with arugula by default.  You can choose from a list of complimentary and premium toppings (complimentary being the old standbys, and premium being stuff like tzatziki, guacamole, and bacon); I went with tomato, pickles, and mayo (though the pickles were MIA).

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The grilled burger was cooked to well done, though it did retain some juiciness.  I don’t know if “juicy” is the first word I’d use to describe this burger, but neither is “dry,” so there you go.

It definitely has some kind of seasoning mixed into the patty, but it’s nothing too strong; at least some beefy flavour is retained, which is always a good thing.  However, whatever they’ve mixed into the beef has given the patty a distinctly sausagey texture, which is not such a good thing.  

The patty also has some smokiness from the grill, and all in all has a decent, if somewhat muddled flavour.

I do, however, need to mention that about halfway into eating the burger, I crunched down on something rock hard.  Shocked, I spit out the offending bit to discover a bone about the size of a small toothpaste cap.  In all my years of burger eating, this was a first.  Small bits of cartilage and whatnot, sure, but a bone? And one that large?  Yikes.  I’m a little baffled as to how that thing made its way through the meat grinder.  I’m not going to lie: it was a bit horrifying.

The bun wasn’t the best.  They boast that they bake it in-house, and I really think they should probably leave it to the pros.  It was exceptionally crusty and either a bit overbaked, or a bit stale; it was quite dry.  It wasn’t the worst bun that I’ve ever had, but it was definitely misguided.

As for the fries, they were thinly cut and way overcooked.  I think every ounce of moisture had been sucked out.  They were so crunchy that they struck me as some kind of cross between fries and chips. They weren’t horrible, but I’m pretty sure they no longer qualify as fries when they’re that crunchy.

Big Butcher Barbeque - the outside Big Butcher Barbeque - the restaurant Big Butcher Barbeque - the menu Big Butcher Barbeque - the fries Big Butcher Barbeque - the burger Big Butcher Barbeque - the burger
Big Butcher Barbeque on Urbanspoon

The Gabardine

29 Jun

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Location
: 372 Bay Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.thegabardine.com/

The list giveth, and the list taketh away.  I am referring, of course, to Toronto Life’s list of the 25 best burgers in the city, which seems to be guiding quite a few of my burger choices recently.    I had a pretty awful experience at that list’s number 23 restaurant, The Queen and Beaver, which made me wary of its choices.  The Harbord Room was much, much better, however.  This made me much more inclined to trust the list.

I’m wary again.  Boy, that list is hit-and-miss.  Yikes.

The Gabardine is, bizarrely, closed on the weekends, which might be why it’s taken me so long to check it out.  It’s a fairly small room, but it’s cozy, and they seem to be doing well.

The burger, as per the menu: “sirloin bacon cheeseburger with aioli, tomato, lettuce & fries.”

I’ve mentioned it before, but sirloin is an absurd cut of beef to make a hamburger out of.  I know why some restaurants do it, because it sounds fancy — hey, sirloin is steak, right?  It must be good!

Well, no.  Sirloin is super lean, and pretty much all of a burger’s juiciness comes from fat.  No fat = dry burger.

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To the Gabardine’s credit, they at least don’t cook the burger all the way to well done, which would absolutely guarantee that a burger made from beef as lean as sirloin will be dry.  The grilled burger I received was cooked to medium, with a little bit of pink in the middle; this helped negate some of the dryness. It was still quite dry, no doubt about it, but they at least tried to serve up something worth eating.

Much, much more problematic was the burger’s texture.  It was finely ground to an almost criminal extent, giving it a dense, oddly mealy texture that I found quite unappealing.  It was as if they ran the beef through a meat grinder, and then ran it through again.  Then again, then again.  Then one more time.  Then, hey, what the heck, once more, let’s make sure it has the most off-putting texture possible.  Between that and the lean beef, this was a burger that required a lot of chewing.  I felt like a spittoon should have been provided.

It tasted okay, but with the abundant, sharp cheddar and the salty bacon, there was zero flavour from the beef.  Like, none at all.  The cheddar flavour so thoroughly dominated the weakly-flavoured beef that it was like chewing on some kind of beef/cheese hybrid.  It was like science had created a new substance that has the texture of beef, but the taste of cheese.

I liked the bun, I’ll say that.  Very delicately crispy on the outside, but fresh, soft and pliant on the inside, it was pretty great.  If it could talk, it would have expressed its sadness to be part of such a sub-par burger, but it’s okay: I don’t blame you, bun. You did your best.  You brought your A-game.

Also bringing their A-game?  The fries.   Man, those were good fries.  I’m baffled as to how the same kitchen puts out fries that great and a burger that middling.  The universe is mysterious.

The Gabardine - the outside The Gabardine - the restaurant The Gabardine - the burger and fries The Gabardine - the burger
The Gabardine on Urbanspoon

The Harbord Room

22 Jun

harbord
Location
: 89 Harbord Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.theharbordroom.com/

I was a little bit wary of Toronto Life’s list of the best burgers in Toronto after my most recent experience with one of their choices.  The Queen and Beaver served a muddled mess of a burger that was part steak sandwich, part hamburger, and all failure.  It was Toronto Life’s 23rd best burger in the city.

The Harbord Room, however, has drawn raves for its burger from all corners, and is the number one pick on Toronto Life’s list.  So: a much safer bet.  I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to check it out, honestly.

They sell a lot of burgers.  Of the people sitting around me, pretty much everyone got the hamburger.  Which pretty much makes it a burger joint at heart; my kind of place.

The menu describes the burger as follows: “Dry Aged ‘West Grey Farms’ Beef Burger - Sharp Cheddar, Caramelized Onions on an Egg Bun with Fries & Slaw.”  It’s 17 bucks, which is actually not bad for the amount and value of food you get.

What the menu doesn’t mention, however, is the sharply lemony aioli that cuts through the burger’s other flavours like a laser.  My dining companion and I noticed it immediately: why is this burger so lemony?  It packs a punch, and I really, really wish I had asked for my burger without it.

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The grilled patty came cooked to a perfect medium rare.  I guess you could get them to cook it differently, but why would you?

Sadly, the flavour wasn’t quite as knock-me-back beefy as I had hoped; it didn’t have any of the rich, complex flavour you associate with dry-aged beef (or at least if it did, it was completely overpowered by the aioli).  Still, there certainly was some beefy flavour there, and it was clear enough that they were using above average meat.  Perhaps my expectations were too high.

Though the medium rare parts in the middle were quite juicy, the more well-cooked edges were a bit drier than I’d like.  It’s likely that the beef is a little bit too lean, and maybe slightly too tightly packed, but I’ve certainly had worse.

The cheese was creamy and fully melted and the onions were perfectly caramelized, but that aioli aggressively elbowed its way to the front of the line, overpowering everything else and rendering most of the burger’s other flavours moot.  The sesame seed bun, however, was perfect: pillowy and super fresh, with the perfect amount of density to hold up to the substantial burger without ever getting in the way.

So no, it’s not exactly the burger of my dreams; I certainly wouldn’t pick it as my personal favourite burger in Toronto, but I don’t begrudge Toronto Life for picking it as theirs.  It’s quite good.

As for the fries, they were pretty much perfect.  Seriously: they weren’t as hot as they probably should have been, but were otherwise right up there with the best fries I’ve ever had.  The aioli, though clearly overpowering as a burger condiment, was outstanding as a dip for fries, as was the tangy house-made ketchup.

The Harbord Room - the restaurant The Harbord Room - the patio The Harbord Room - the burger The Harbord Room - the burger and fries The Harbord Room - the burger
The Harbord Room on Urbanspoon

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