After the recent Pizzaburger fiasco (which I reviewed at A Hamburger Today), I kind of felt like going for a safer bet. The awfulness of that Pizzaburger will haunt my dreams. I needed something that actually tasted good.
So I decided to take another gander at Toronto Life’s list of the best burgers in the city, and wound up at Marben — home of Toronto’s second best burger, by their approximation.
The menu was actually fairly interesting, but of course, I was there with a purpose. I zeroed in on John’s Burger, described on the menu as coming with “Branston Pickle, braised beef short-ribs, aged cheddar, coleslaw, fries.”
(For the unaware — and I know I was — Branston Pickle is, as per Wikipedia, “a jarred pickled chutney.” It’s a British thing, apparently.)
This is not a traditional hamburger. Similar to Daniel Buloud’s famous burger, which is sadly not available at his Toronto outpost, the patty is stuffed with braised short ribs. This addition changes the hamburger’s essential character, and naturally, takes away from its burgeriness.
Is that a bad thing? It’s up to you, I suppose. I certainly can’t deny that the final product is good, though whether this modification is severe enough to make a burger no longer a burger is up for debate.
The short rib has some kind of Worcestershire-esque sauce, which is tasty enough, if somewhat overpowering.
This means that the centre of the burger, which is chock-full of the saucy, shredded short rib, is less hamburger and more upscale sloppy joe.
The short rib-less outer edges is where this tastes more like a traditional hamburger. These parts are good, but not great.
The beef is obviously of a fairly good quality, with a mildly beefy flavour. But it’s a little bit too tightly packed and dense (I would imagine that it would be difficult to stuff a patty with short ribs without overhandling the beef). This, combined with beef that is a bit on the lean side, results in an unfortunately dry burger. This is not particularly noticeable in the centre, where the medium rare ground beef mingles with the saucy short ribs, but around the edges it is clearly an issue.
The rest of the burger is quite good; the cheese and the soft, toasted bun compliment the patty very well.
When the burger arrived, I was a bit shocked by how small it is. It’s certainly not the largest hamburger in the city, but combined with the generous portion of fries, there is no risk that you’ll leave here hungry.
And those fries are seriously delicious. They’re the polar opposite of the mediocre frozen fries I was recently served at Boston Pizza; they’re crispy, potatoey, and amazingly addictive.
As for Toronto Life’s proclamation that this is the second best burger in the city? No. I seriously doubt it would be in my top 20 at all, let alone number two. It’s certainly tasty, but it’s a bit too bastardized for my tastes — and even setting that aside, it has too many issues to be considered an upper-echelon burger.