Tallboys Craft Beer House

27 Jul

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Location: 838 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: http://tallboyscraft.com/

I’ll admit that Tallboys was barely even on my radar before a few days ago.  I had vaguely heard of it, but with their seemingly single-minded focus on curating an impressive selection of beers, I had sort of figured that food would be an afterthought.  It didn’t even occur to me that they might have a hamburger worth eating.

But then, while browsing Instagram while watching a particularly boring episode of True Blood (seriously, how did that show get so terrible??  Did they replace their writing staff with a bunch of particularly dim-witted chimps?) I stumbled onto a picture of the burger at Tallboys.  It certainly grabbed my attention more than the shoddy episode I was watching.  It actually looked good.  Not perfunctory at all.

It didn’t take much more than that for me to find myself at Tallboys a few days later, scanning the menu (they have five burger choices, all double burgers with two four ounce patties) and quickly settling on the Classic: “lettuce, tomato, pickle & scallion mayo.”

Since I was driving I didn’t partake in their impressive beer selection; needless to say, if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s reason enough to visit.

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The main thing that caught my eye while browsing through Instagram was the awe-inducing crust on the patties.  When you cook a patty on a sufficiently hot griddle, you wind up with a dark crust that adds a ton of flavour and texture.   This seems like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of Toronto burger joints that griddle-cook their burger and still get this completely wrong.

The chef at Tallboys has clearly mastered this particular technique; the crust on their burgers is abundant and it is glorious.  Based on the pictures I saw on Instagram and the burgers both I and my dining companion were served, this is something the kitchen pulls off every time.  Good stuff.

The patties also had a really great, deeply satisfying beefy flavour that made this one of the tastier burgers I’ve had in quite a while.  It’s kind of amazing how big of a difference using good quality beef makes, but you can tell instantly that they’re using top-shelf stuff.

I do, unfortunately, have a couple of issues.  The texture is off; I think the beef has been a bit overhandled, making it denser than I’d like.  It’s also, like so many other burgers in the GTA, dryer than it should be.  It probably doesn’t help that it’s been cooked all the way to the end of well done, but even still it does retain a bit of juiciness.

Still, those are relatively minor complaints.  Though they do hold the burger back from greatness, it’s still pretty damn good.

The condiments are above average as well — the scallion mayo in particular adds a nice kick of flavour without ever overpowering the beef.

The bun deserves special mention.  Though it’s a bit too wide for the patties, it’s soft enough to not get in the way, and substantial enough to hold up very well to the patties and the condiments.  It also has this lightly crispy, subtly crackly exterior that’s pretty much irresistible.

As for the fries, aside from being ever-so-slightly undercooked, they were quite tasty.

Tallboys Craft Beer House - the outside Tallboys Craft Beer House - the menu Tallboys Craft Beer House - the restaurant Tallboys Craft Beer House - the burger and fries Tallboys Craft Beer House - the burger
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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

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