Smash Kitchen and Bar

10 May

smash
Location
: 4261 Highway 7, Unionville
Websitehttp://www.smashkitchen.com/

The problem with the abundant, booming popularity of hamburgers in this city is that for most restaurants, having a burger on the menu is more of an obligation than an option.  Unless a restaurant is dedicated to a very specific type of cuisine, there’s gonna be a hamburger on the menu.

Remember that scene in Chef where Dustin Hoffman crushes Jon Favreau’s dreams of cooking a personal menu, telling him that he’ll continue to cook what he’s become famous for, and he’ll like it?

I imagine that some variation on that scene plays out every time a chef in a restaurant like Smash Kitchen and Bar decides he has no interest in making a hamburger.

Oh, you don’t want to serve a burger?  Do you still want to be employed tomorrow?

This is all a fairly roundabout way of saying that the burger at Smash feels perfunctory. It feels joyless. It’s not bad; it’s alright.  But it’s clearly made by someone who doesn’t quite understand what makes a good hamburger so special.  By someone who doesn’t really care.

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I ordered the Smash Burger, which is described as being topped with “Cheddar cheese, onion rings, Smash sauce.”

I normally like to mention whether a burger has been griddled or grilled, but honestly, the burger was so middle-of-the-road that  I don’t remember.  Nothing about this hamburger is particularly memorable, other than its in-your-face mediocrity.

It wasn’t horrible, but the patty is vaguely meatloafy and oddly sweet, with a middling, barely-there beefy flavour and a slightly mealy texture.

The condiments were fine and the bun was fine.  The whole thing was fine. It’s certainly not great, but it tastes okay and it basically gets the job done.

It’s clear that the kitchen at this restaurant can put out food that’s better than okay, because the fries were quite good, as were the appetizer and dessert that I tried.  But it’s also clear that they serve a burger not because they want to, but because they have to.

Basically: it’s obligatory.  And it tastes obligatory.

2 out of 4

Smash Kitchen and Bar - the outside Smash Kitchen and Bar - the restaurant Smash Kitchen and Bar - the burger and fries Smash Kitchen and Bar - the burger

The Daughter

19 Apr

farmers
Location
: 1588 Dupont Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://farmhousehospitality.tumblr.com/

I’ve been hearing good things about the burger at the Farmhouse Tavern.  This is not a review of the Farmhouse Tavern.  I was in the area, and it was lunch, and the Farmhouse Tavern was closed.  Solution: The Daughter, a spinoff restaurant, which is open for lunch, and which also serves a burger.

That burger?  The Franklin Burger, per the menu: “Farmhouse  beef / bun / sauce w/ cheese / lettuce / tomato / onions.”

It’s pretty good.  The sizable patty (probably about six ounces) has a nice crispy crust from the grill, though it is leaning a bit towards over-charred.

It’s also too tightly packed; though the medium rare-ish middle of the burger (it’s somewhere between medium and medium rare) is nice and tender, the more well done edges suffer from over-density, and are a bit too tough.

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Still, it’s a fairly juicy burger, which helps make up for some of its deficiencies.  The mild (but nice) beefy flavour is also a firm plus in this burger’s favour.

I wasn’t too crazy about the cheese, however.  The menu doesn’t specify the type of cheese, which turned out to be goat’s cheese.  It’s an unusual choice for a hamburger, and eating it here, it’s pretty clear why.  The strongly salty, sour flavour is way too assertive in this context, completely overwhelming the flavour of the beef.  It’s not bad, but the balance of flavours is off.

The sauce is a tangy, Mac sauce-esque concoction, though again, the flavour here is pretty much all goat’s cheese, all the time.  

The other toppings were fine, and the soft, fluffy sesame seed bun was above average.

As for the fries, they were really crispy and creamy and tasty; complimented with the curry-tinged ketchup, they were pretty stellar.

3 out of 4

The Farmer's Daughter - the outside The Farmer's Daughter - the restaurant The Farmer's Daughter - the burger The Farmer's Daughter - the burger The Farmer's Daughter - the burger

Richmond Station

5 Apr

richmond
Location
: 1 Richmond Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://richmondstation.ca/

People have been raving about the burger at Richmond Station since it opened a couple of years ago.  So of course, the place has been on my list for quite a while (and this is a literal list, FYI – I have a Google map that I keep updated with about a hundred burgers I need to check out.  I’ll empty out that map one day.  One day).

The chef here, Carl Heinrich, previously worked at Marben, and set out on his own after winning Top Chef Canada.  The Marben connection is super obvious when you taste the burger; it is very, very similar.

In fact, you could probably just read my Marben review and get a pretty good idea of what I thought about this one, but they are different enough that I guess I should write a few words.

The Stn. Burger, as per the menu: “lettuce, beet chutney, aged cheddar, milk bun.”

The biggest connection between the two restaurants is unmentioned on the menu.  Like the burger at Marben, the one here is stuffed with braised short ribs.

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They’re also both about the same size, and though they appear small, they’re substantial.  There’s very little risk that you’ll walk away hungry.

Fortunately, though the short ribs at Marben were a bit overpowering, they seem to have a more subtle flavour here.  I compared the burger there to an upscale sloppy joe, and that’s less of an issue here.  It tastes more like a traditional hamburger.

The ground beef at Marben was also a little bit too lean, resulting in a slightly dry burger. Again, that’s less of an issue here.  The burger is quite juicy.

What is an issue, however?  The beef (which has a mild but satisfying beefy flavour) is way too densely packed, and has an oddly chewy, rubbery texture that’s closer to sausage than to hamburger.

There’s a video online of Heinrich making the burger, and you can see him squeezing the hell out of the patty with some kind of industrial squeezing machine.  I guess that’s necessary to keep the short ribs from bursting out during the cooking process, but it definitely doesn’t do the burger’s texture any favours.

As for the sausage-like texture, I’m not sure; it’s possible that they’re making and salting the patties well in advance, with the salt affecting the beef from the outside, and the short ribs affecting it from the inside.

Still, despite the textural weirdness, it’s definitely tasty, and it’s definitely satisfying.  The melted cheddar isn’t too overpowering, and the beet chutney and pickled onions add some zing while still allowing the beef to be the star of the show.  The toasted bun is nice and fresh, and holds up nicely to the messy burger.

The patty is grilled, apparently, though I couldn’t see or taste any evidence of that on the patty.  If I hadn’t watched the aforementioned video, I honestly wouldn’t have known how they cooked it.

As for the fries, they were amazing.  Perfectly cooked and tinged with rosemary, they were delicious on their own but even better with the horseradish-infused dipping sauce.  Seriously, seriously good.

3 out of 4

Richmond Station - the outside Richmond Station - the restaurant Richmond Station - the burger and fries Richmond Station - the burger

Thompson Diner

22 Mar

thompson
Location
: 550 Wellington Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.thompsondiner.com/

Nope.

Seriously, just: no.  I could rant and rave, but I’m not even going to waste my time writing a particularly long review of this hamburger.  The kitchen staff at the Thompson Diner clearly don’t respect their clientele enough to make a burger even remotely worth eating, so why should I respect them enough to put my time and energy into a full review?

The burger at the Thompson Diner is lousy.  Please do not order it.  I’ll quickly explain why, then seriously, I’m out.

It’s dry.  Oppressively, shockingly, inedibly dry.

Was it overcooked?  I mean, it was cooked all the way to well done, but it didn’t seem to be cooked too far past that.  To me, well done is overcooked, so it can be tough to differentiate between the two.  But I’ve certainly had well done burgers that remained juicy.

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Was the beef too lean?  Almost certainly.

I noted in my most recent review, of the burger at b.good, that it was one of the driest burgers that I’ve ever had.  It’s as if the chef at the Thompson Diner took this as a challenge.  “You think that’s dry?  I’ll show you dry.”

Maybe my burger was an aberration.  Maybe they’re not always this bad.  I doubt it, but maybe.  But there’s no excuse for a professional kitchen to put out food this bad ever.  It’s inexcusable.

The taste of the patty wasn’t horrible – it wasn’t particularly beefy, but it tasted okay.  But who cares?  If a burger is this dry, I really don’t care what it tastes like.  It’s worthless.

The bun and toppings were also fine, but again: worthless.

The fries were bad too.  Frozen and mediocre, they’re a waste of your time, though at the very least they’re not a slap in the face like that hamburger.

.5 out of 4

Thompson Diner - the restaurant Thompson Diner - the burger Thompson Diner - the burger
(Image of the front of the restaurant in the header photo taken from Caroline’s Culinary Delights. I guess I was in such a rush to get out of there that I forgot to take the photo on my way out.)

b.good

8 Mar

bgood
Location: 100 Front Street East, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.bgood.ca/

My last review was of a burger joint with two different tongue sandwiches on the menu. Speaking of incongruous pairings, we have b.good, the latest American restaurant chain to head north.  Their theme?  Health food and hamburgers.

I’m going to let that sink in for a second: Health food.  Quinoa.  Kale.  Salads.  And hamburgers.

To me (and to any rational person) the words “health food” and “hamburgers” should never be in the same sentence, other than to say “hamburgers are not health food.”

Needless to say, I was skeptical, but still hopeful; perhaps b.good’s definition of a healthy burger was merely one without any unnecessary chemicals/additives/preservatives.  Maybe you can make a hamburger with high quality beef and call it healthy.  Maybe I wouldn’t have to suffer through a dried-out patty made under the ill-advised notion that any food can be made healthy if you wish hard enough.

Maybe I’ll win the lottery tomorrow.

No, b.good’s burger isn’t healthy in the “we used good quality ingredients” sense of the term.  It’s healthy in the “lean beef” sense of the term.  It’s healthy in the “let’s ruin something good” sense of the term.  It’s healthy in the “what the hell have you done to this hamburger” sense of the term.

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They have six pre-topped burgers on the menu; I went with the simplest choice, the Cousin Oliver.  That one comes with “lettuce, tomato, onions, Chef Tony’s homemade pickles.”  They have beef, chicken, turkey, and veggie patties, as well as white or whole wheat buns.  Do I even need to mention I picked beef with a white bun?  Because of course I picked beef with a white bun.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: it’s dry.  Oh good heavens was it dry.  If you poke around this blog for longer than a few minutes, you’ll probably see me complaining about overly-dry hamburgers, but this one takes the cake.  I’m not a hundred percent sure if it’s the driest burger I’ve had in my life, but it’s a contender.

It’s way too tightly packed, which doesn’t help.  It also doesn’t help that it was cooked all the way to well done, but there were still vague hints of pink in there, so it wasn’t overcooked.  But it’s obvious that they started with ridiculously lean beef, because there wasn’t even a hint of juiciness.  As you chew it, the beef just sort of crumbles into sad little pellets of desiccated meat.  It sucks all the moisture out of your mouth.  It needs it.

It also tastes weird.  It tasted odd enough that I actually looked at the menu to make sure bison wasn’t an option, because it didn’t really taste like beef; it didn’t taste right.  It was gamy and funky and weird.  It was unpleasant.  It tasted like maybe they had cooked it yesterday and reheated it today (that would also account for some of  the absurd dryness), but don’t take my word for that.  That’s a serious accusation and I don’t make it lightly.  I’m just trying to figure out what could possibly make beef taste like that.

My dining companion had the same complaints vis-a-vis taste and texture, so this wasn’t just the case of one burger gone awry.  In fact, he posted a Yelp review, and if you’re noting similarities between the two reviews?  Yeah.  That’s inevitable.  The burgers here are dry, and they taste weird.  It’s hard not to take note of that.

The toppings and the bun were fine, though the bun was too big for the patty, and the burger oddly doesn’t come with any condiments like ketchup or mustard or mayo.  That didn’t help matters, but you could have dunked this patty in a bath consisting of all the condiments in the world, and it still would have been unpalatably dry.

As for the “fries,” they weren’t fries.  B.good proudly proclaims that they’re “oven finished” a.k.a. baked, a.k.a. not fried.  If you don’t fry a fry, is it still a fry?  Do I really need to answer that?  They tasted baked.  They didn’t taste anything like fries, though they basically looked the part.  They weren’t terrible (they were well cooked at least) but they weren’t fries.

1 out of 4

b.good Toronto - the restaurant b.good Toronto - the menu b.good Toronto - the restaurant b.good Toronto - the burger b.good Toronto - the burger

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