Wahlburgers

23 Nov

wahl
Location
: 46 Blue Jays Way, Toronto
Websitehttp://wahlburgers.ca/

Kudos to whichever Wahlberg brother realized that their name made them ideally suited to open a burger joint, and double-kudos to whichever one decided that they should actually make good on what I can only assume started as a silly joke. As a fan of cheesy puns and general wordplay, I approve.

And if you want to eat a hamburger while basking in the reflected glory of a famous movie star and a semi-famous TV star (and a third guy you probably don’t care about), then Wahlburgers will fit the bill.

Of course, there’s a good chance that you don’t care about such things, and are just looking for a tasty burger. Thankfully, Wahlburgers is more than just a Planet Hollywood-esque shrine to celebrity-adjacent dining; it’s certainly nothing anyone is going to go too crazy over, but they serve a pretty good burger.

It’s a fairly large, full-service restaurant with long list of pre-topped burgers to be had. Each Wahlberg has his favourite burger labelled on the menu: Donnie’s got a BBQ bacon burger, Mark has a turkey burger, and Paul (i.e. the Wahlberg you haven’t heard of –- and the chef) has a simple cheeseburger. I went with Paul’s choice, dubbed Our Burger: “Paul’s signature Wahl sauce, dill pickles, government cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion.”

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The griddled burger was cooked all the way to well done (despite the claim that they cook to medium on the menu), but was somewhat juicy regardless. It was definitely a bit more dry than I’d like, particularly around the edges, but I’ve certainly had worse. It was also too tightly packed and a little bit dense, making it a bit more tough than it needed to be.

Still, it’s a pretty good cheeseburger outside of those two beefs (no pun intended… oh, who am I kidding? Pun absolutely intended). The meat has a decent –- if somewhat mild –- beefy flavour, and the American cheese on top is nicely gooey. Though the bun looks a little bit big, it’s not overwhelming at all and actually suits the burger perfectly.

The other toppings were all solid — particularly the onions, oddly enough. I normally find raw onions to be a bit too overwhelming for my tastes, but these were very thinly sliced and nice and mild. They added some crunch and oniony character without over-asserting themselves, as onions tend to do.

The burgers don’t come with any sides, so I got an order of tater tots.  I could have gotten fries as per usual, but who can say no to tater tots?  Nobody, that’s who.  They pretty much tasted like run-of-the-mill cafeteria tots.  This isn’t a bad thing.  I also tried the onion rings, which are more like onion strings than what you’d expect.  They were pretty good as well.

3 out of 4

Wahlburgers Toronto - the outside Wahlburgers Toronto - the restaurant Wahlburgers Toronto - onion rings and tater tots Wahlburgers Toronto - Our Burger Wahlburgers Toronto - Our Burger

The Tavern by Trevor

16 Nov

tavern
Location
: 147 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.tavernbytrevor.com/

Though The Tavern by Trevor isn’t technically on Toronto Life’s list of the twenty best burgers in the city, it’s a spin-off of a restaurant that is (Trevor Kitchen and Bar), so I sort of figured I was in good hands.

The burger they serve is labelled as a Kobe burger. Excuse me for going on a brief rant, but this is misguided on several levels, not the least of which being that anything called Kobe beef in Canada is almost certainly not actually Kobe beef. Kobe beef refers to a specific breed of cattle raised in a specific part of Japan (Kobe), and is pretty much never exported to Canada — not legally, at least. It’s far more likely that what’s being served here is Wagyu beef, which is similar enough to Kobe that many restaurants feel okay labeling it as such, even if it’s not really true.

That’s not to mention that the biggest appeal of Kobe (or Wagyu) beef is its prodigious marbling, which is rendered entirely moot when you grind it up for a hamburger.

So basically, labeling something as a Kobe burger is completely meaningless. It is a marketing ploy at best, and an excuse to overcharge at worst. Fortunately the latter isn’t the case here; at ten bucks (plus an additional five for fries), the price is about on par with what you’d expect at a restaurant like this.

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The 6 oz Kobe Burger is described as coming with “horseradish mayo, smoked cheddar & caramelized onion.”

The grilled burger came cooked to medium rare and was reasonably juicy. I think, however, that the heat was too high, as the exterior of the burger was thoroughly charred, with an unpleasantly acrid, bitter flavour.

The patty was also too tightly packed and, I think, a bit too finely ground. It was fine in the medium rare centre, but the well done edges were dry, dense, and unpleasant.

Still, the bulk of the patty (i.e. everything but the edges) is fairly tasty with a good texture, though the pervasive bitterness is unfortunate.

The smoked cheddar is creamy, nicely melted and not too sharp, allowing the beef to be the star of the show. The horseradish mayo also suits the burger pretty well.

Sadly, the bun was awful. Dry, unpleasantly dense, and — I think — more than a little bit stale, it’s a complete fiasco. It’s definitely one of the shoddiest buns I’ve had in quite a long time.

Basically, it’s a good burger with a few pretty major flaws.  With a fresh bun and without being way over-charred it actually could have been really good, but sadly they served what they served.

As for the fries, they were outstanding.  Really tasty and addictively crispy without ever becoming too crunchy, they were pretty great.

3 out of 4

Tavern by Trevor - the restaurant Tavern by Trevor - the menu Tavern by Trevor - the burger and fries Tavern by Trevor - the burger
The Tavern by Trevor on Urbanspoon

Little Fin

9 Nov

fin
Location
: 4 Temperance Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://littlefin.ca/

Little Fin is, as the name implies, mostly a seafood joint; it probably would have been very low on my list of places to check out for this blog, but then I saw the header photo on Toronto Life’s write-up of the place and that was pretty much that.  A visit was inevitable.

It’s a tiny little place that’s obviously meant to be a take-out joint for local office-dwellers, though they do have a few narrow tables (but no stools, so prepare to eat standing up like a horse).

The menu’s up on the wall, and though it’s mostly an array of fish sandwiches, there is a cheeseburger that can either be had single, or double.  The aforementioned photo made it look a bit small, so I went with the double; bacon jam is optional for an additional $1.25, but I passed on that.

It’s actually not quite as small as it looks.  They don’t say how big the patties are on the menu, but I’m guessing they’re somewhere in the ballpark of five ounces.

It comes topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, cheddar, and a sauce that is unmentioned on the menu, but which Toronto Life calls a “sea-urchin sauce.”

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It’s good, though like last week’s review, Cardinal Rule, I’m loathe to even call it a hamburger.  The patty is so thoroughly suffused with onions and spices and who-knows-what-else that the simple beefiness that makes a good hamburger so special has been completely annihilated.  It’s meatloaf.  It certainly looks like a hamburger, but if appearances are all that matters I’m pretty sure I could take brownie batter and make it look like a hamburger, but that doesn’t make it so.  

Put simply, if I wanted meatloaf I’d order meatloaf.

I think I need to calm down.  Especially because, unlike at Cardinal Rule, what they’re serving here is actually not bad.  While I would argue until I’m blue in the face against it being a traditional hamburger, it’s okay for what it is.  It’s a decent meatloaf sandwich.  It’s not a hamburger, but it’s tasty.

It’s fairly well spiced, though it’s strong enough that the beef’s natural flavour has been almost entirely wiped out.  It’s also a bit too finely ground, with a slightly odd, overhandled texture.  It’s fairly juicy, however, which is nice, and which helps to compensate for some of the patty’s textural deficiencies.  The cheddar is also fully melted and nicely gooey.

The condiments are mostly okay, though the tomato was a bit mealy.  The very tangy sea-urchin sauce would easily overwhelm a traditional hamburger, but with a through-and-through meatloaf burger like this, all bets are off.

The bun has been off-puttingly dyed jet-black (because charcoal black is clearly the colour you want your bread to be, right guys?), but aside from its weirdly dark colour, it’s above-average.  It’s fresh, soft, and slightly chewy, and holds up to the burger quite well (though I suspect it might be a bit overwhelming with the single-patty option).

As for the side… there wasn’t one.  I’ll admit that I only gave the menu a cursory glance, but given the fairly steep $14.25 price tag for the double burger, I just assumed that a side of some sort would be included.  Nope.  Suffice it to say, it’s a bit overpriced.

2.5 out of 4

Little Fin - the restaurant Little Fin - the menu Little Fin - the restaurant Little Fin - the burger Little Fin - the burger
Little Fin on Urbanspoon

Cardinal Rule

2 Nov

cardinal
Location
: 5 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.cardinalrulerestaurant.com/

Cardinal Rule is a cozy little diner on Roncesvalles that seems to be doing pretty well for themselves; they were featured on You Gotta Eat Here, and when I went at around 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon, they were pretty much packed.

Usually when I review a place I’ll go there with the specific intention of writing a review — in this case, I just happened to find myself there and what’s this?  A burger on the menu?  Well then.

I actually almost didn’t order the burger. It’s one of those brunch burgers with the works piled on top which I normally avoid, but a big kitchen sink burger actually sounded pretty good at that moment, so I went for it.

This particular hamburger — dubbed the Wallop Burger — comes topped with “a potato latke, bacon, cheddar & a sunny fried egg on a ciabatta bun.”  So, basically it’s a complete breakfast crammed onto a burger.

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It’s… okay, I guess.  It actually should have been pretty tasty, but the burger itself is iffy.  It’s a meatloaf burger, for one thing.  And oh man, it’s so damn meatloafy.  Seriously: at what point does a burger stop being a burger and become meatloaf?  When onions are added?  Spices?  Breadcrumbs?  Eggs?  Because I’m not sure about the latter two (though I have my suspicions) but there were definitely a crap-ton of onions and spices in this “burger”.

So what makes it a hamburger and not a meatloaf sandwich?  Is it just because the meat has been formed into individual patties and not into a pan?  Is that it?  As long as one of the ingredients is beef and it’s in a patty shape, it’s a hamburger?  I just…  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m being a stick in the mud, but when you take something as simple as a hamburger and start cramming all kinds of other flavours into it, it changes its essential character so thoroughly that it’s no longer the same thing.  It’s a different dish altogether.  It’s a meatloaf sandwich.

Whatever it is, it’s over-spiced, with a face-punch of flavour but zero beefiness remaining.  It’s also quite dry and a bit more dense than it should be.

As for the other stuff, it’s not bad.  The fried egg has a satisfyingly runny yolk, and the cheese is creamy and melted.  The patty packs such a strong salty punch, however, that the bacon is mostly superfluous.  As for the latke, it’s fine, but there’s clearly a reason why you rarely find potatoes on a hamburger (or on sandwiches in general)  — it’s just adding additional starchiness that isn’t really necessary when you’ve already got bread.

The bun is a bit on the crusty side, but since there’s so much stuff piled on here, the more substantial bun is definitely quite welcome.

I don’t wanna pile onto the place, but I should mention that the service was kind of questionable.   It took about half an hour to receive our food, which seems a bit excessive for a casual diner like this.  We also pretty much never saw our waitress aside from our order being taken and the food being delivered; getting the bill was a bit of a challenge (eventually, one of us had to get up to ask for it).

2 out of 4

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Cardinal Rule on Urbanspoon

Capitano Burgers & Gelato

26 Oct

capitano
Location
: 645 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.capitano.ca/

Burgers and gelato don’t sound like the most obvious of bedfellows. Burgers and milkshakes, sure, but gelato? I mean, Gelato Pizza is a thing, but then those are both Italian, so… I’m over-thinking this, aren’t I?

Anyway, I’m not going to lie: my expectations weren’t super high. Aside from the fact that hamburgers and gelato may or may not be an appropriate combination, the place gives off a bit of a dank, sketchy vibe. It doesn’t have the most welcoming ambiance.  I’ll put it this way: If you heard that someone got murdered there, it wouldn’t seem all that far-fetched.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the burger actually turned out to be pretty good.

I ordered the Capilano Burger, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and Capitano sauce.

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Pretty much everything about the burger is solid. The beef is obviously of a decent quality — it doesn’t hit you in the face with beefy flavour, but it’s good. It’s nicely griddled, with a decent amount of crust from the grill. It’s reasonably juicy despite being cooked to well done. And the texture is great — the grind is nice and coarse, and the patty hasn’t been overhandled.

It was a pleasant surprise, no doubt about it.

The biggest issue? It’s ostensibly a cheeseburger, but the slice of cheddar was obviously added after the patty had been cooked, resulting in a cold, unmelted slice of cheese resting atop the patty. If the cheese is completely unmelted and hasn’t mingled with the beef, is it even a cheeseburger? I submit that it is not. It’s merely a burger with a slice of cheese on top: a small but essential distinction.

The toppings were otherwise pretty good, though the Capilano sauce was a little bit sweet for my taste. The bun was a tad on the dense side, but was fresh and mostly suited the burger quite well.

As for the fries, they were another low point. They looked pretty good, but they were soggy, undercooked, and absolutely suffused with oil.

3 out of 4

Capitano Burgers and Gelato - the restaurant Capitano Burgers and Gelato - the inside Capitano Burgers and Gelato - the burger and fries Capitano Burgers and Gelato - the burger
Capitano Burgers & Gelato on Urbanspoon

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