The Acme Burger Company

Location: 735 The Queensway, Etobicoke

I can’t help, hearing the name Acme Burger, but to think about the Road Runner and his furry nemesis, Wile E. Coyote. Those cartoons were among the funniest and best shorts produced by Warner Brothers in the golden era of the 1940s and ’50s. I’m sad to say that this restaurant is definitely not the hamburger equivalent of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons. Which is to say that this was not among the best hamburgers that I’ve ever had. Boy, that was a pretty tenuous connection, wasn’t it?

Driving up to the restaurant and seeing signs for chicken souvlaki and Greek salad, my expectations went down precipitously. Generally speaking, if a burger joint has souvlaki prominently on the menu, then the burgers being served up are probably going to be Greek style (ie. with onions and other spices mixed in). As I mentioned in my burger commandments, this is not my favourite style of hamburger. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that a burger like that shouldn’t be called a hamburger at all, but I know many would disagree on that point.

The restaurant is laid out a la Harvey’s or Lick’s — you order at the register, you wait, then you tell them what you want from the toppings behind the glass. It’s the usual assortment of toppings; nothing too exotic. I went with tomato, pickles and mayo.

I took my first bite, expecting my taste buds to be assaulted by an oniony, meatloafy patty, and… what’s this? Just meat? Let the good times roll! Sort of. Well, not really.

The patty is a little small. I ordered the six ounce, though I suspect that they gave me the four ounce by mistake. It’s kind of overwhelmed by the large bun, but the bun tasted pretty fresh and didn’t interfere with the burger too much. If the patty had been slightly larger, it probably would have worked much better.

The meat is tightly packed and mostly flavourless. It has a vague meaty flavour, but most of the patty’s taste comes from the smokiness imparted by the flame-broiling. It’s also fairly evident that the beef being used is far too lean, as the well done patty was completely dried out and without a hint of juiciness.

I suspect that the patties have been industrially made — certainly, it’s safe enough to say that Acme doesn’t grind their own meat in house. But I have eaten much worse as far as prefabricated burgers go. They don’t have that strange chewy texture that frozen burgers tend to have, so it’s likely that Acme uses pre-made, unfrozen patties.

I also had an order of fries, which were actually the highlight. Lightly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, they were fresh, hot and had a good amount of salt. I suspect, however, that the folks at Acme are not changing the oil as often as they should be, resulting in a slightly stronger oil flavour than I’d like. Despite this, the fries are definitely above average, even if the restaurant itself is not.

The Acme Burger Company - the outside The Acme Burger Company - the menu The Acme Burger Company - the dining room The Acme Burger Company - the burger The Acme Burger Company - the burger The Acme Burger Company - the fries
Acme Burger Company on Urbanspoon

Johnny Rockets

Location: 22 Dundas Street East, Toronto

I was hoping for my first review to be of a local place rather than a big chain, but I was in the area of Johnny Rockets and figured, why not?

Johnny Rockets is a fairly large chain, with over two-hundred locations all over the world, so it’s easy enough to assume that it’s going to be mediocre. My last Johnny Rockets experience was several years ago at their Niagara Falls location, and my memory was that it was decent enough, so I went in with an open mind.

The first thing you notice is the kitchy, 1950s Americana decor, complete with a jukebox playing ’50s pop. The place was fairly empty when my dining companion and I showed up, and we were instructed to seat ourselves. The service was a bit leisurely, but generally fine.

The menu is mostly burgers. They have some other stuff on there, but it’s fairly obvious what their specialty is.

I ordered the Rocket Double, which the menu describes as having “Cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce, fresh tomato, onion & special sauce.” I opted to go onion-free, as I’m generally not a huge fan of raw onions (I know, burger sacrilege! But I’m just not crazy about them. I find that they have the tendency to be overpowering, and they linger on the palette long after they have worn out their welcome).

The burger came partially wrapped in paper, a nice touch and reminiscent of great American burger chains like In-N-Out. One bite and it was clear that this was a real hamburger: fresh ground beef, no crap mixed in. Good times.

The patty has a good texture to it — it’s loosely formed, and has been cooked on a griddle, giving it a bit of a crust (the crust could have been a bit more pronounced, but it was decent enough). The burger was cooked to well done, but was nicely juicy. It wasn’t the most flavourful beef ever, but it definitely had a somewhat beefy flavour. All in all, not a mind-blowing burger — but just by virtue of being non-frozen, juicy, and without random stuff mixed in, it’s head-and-shoulders above many Toronto burger joints (which is kind of a sad indictment on the local burger scene).

As for the other components of the burger: the mild cheddar cheese was completely melted, which I certainly appreciated (there’s nothing worse than getting a so-called cheeseburger with a cold, unmelted slice of cheese). The “special sauce” was barely noticeable, the lettuce and tomato were fine, and the bun was nice and soft and complimented the burger quite well.

The sides were pretty underwhelming. The fries were pale, dry, and kind of tasteless. It probably didn’t help that they hadn’t been salted at all. They basically tasted like frozen fries that had been prepared poorly. The onion rings tasted like they might have been okay at some point, but it was clear that they had been sitting out for a while.

I also tried the patty melt, which I thought was pretty tasty, though my dining companion wasn’t quite as convinced (it tasted very strongly of caraway seeds, a flavour he’s not keen on but that I enjoy).

Johnny Rockets - the outside Johnny Rockets - the menu Johnny Rockets - the dining room Johnny Rockets - table jukebox Johnny Rockets - the kitchen Johnny Rockets - Rocket Double Johnny Rockets - Rocket Double
Johnny Rockets on Urbanspoon

My Ten Burger Commandments

As a way of introduction, I thought this might help you to know where I’m coming from when I’m reviewing a hamburger. These are ten rules that I believe anyone who serves a burger should live by:

1) Thou shall only use high quality beef that has been ground fresh.
Do I even need to elaborate? Grinding quality beef on site results in a tastier burger that can be safely cooked to rare, since you know where the beef is coming from — unlike industrially-produced ground beef, which could come from multiple cows and potentially have been washed with ammonia(!…!!!).

2) Thou shall never serve a frozen, industrially-produced patty.
This seems like such a no-brainer that I shouldn’t even have to include it — yet here we are. I can see if a place like Swiss Chalet serves a frozen burger, because obviously their specialty is chicken, and a hamburger is only present to fill out the menu. I can’t imagine that Swiss Chalet serves more than a burger or two per night (though even then, a fresh hamburger is so easy to prepare that this is barely an acceptable excuse).

But if your establishment has the word “burger” in its name and you’re still serving a frozen burger? Seriously, just pack it in right now. You’re a waste of space. Johnny’s, I’m looking at you.

3) Thou shall not use beef that is too lean.
This is especially important in Toronto, where there is a “law” that hamburgers must be cooked well past medium (whether or not this is a law or merely a guideline is a matter of some debate). A hamburger needs a decent amount of fat (the conventional wisdom is somewhere in the ballpark of 20 percent) for maximum deliciousness and juiciness. There’s nothing worse than biting into what should be a tasty burger only to realize that it’s about as juicy as a stale saltine. A burger with a decent fat content, even when cooked to well done, should remain reasonably juicy. An overcooked, too-lean hamburger is a crime against humanity. It sucks all the moisture out of your mouth and makes you question why you like burgers in the first place.

4) Thou shall not overcook the burger.
This ties in with the above. Nothing can save an overcooked burger. Nothing.

5) Thou shall season your hamburger with salt and pepper — nothing else.
If you’re using good quality beef — and you should be — then all you need is a little salt and pepper to help highlight the beefiness of the patty, and you’re good to go. No other flavours are necessary (aside from condiments, of course). That brings me to…

5) Thou shall not mix onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, and/or any kind of spices into your hamburger.
It is almost absurd how many burger joints in Toronto break this commandment. A hamburger is the definition of simplicity, with only two primary ingredients: beef (seasoned with salt and pepper), and bun. That’s it. Once you start adding aggressive flavours like onion, garlic, and strong spices, you completely overwhelm that primal beefiness that makes a good hamburger so appealing. What you end up with is more akin to a meatloaf sandwich than a real hamburger. Plus, the texture of the burger often winds up disconcertingly sausage-like (probably because, among other spices, salt has been mixed in with the beef — a hamburger no-no)

6) Thou shall not use a bun that is larger in diameter than the patty, nor shall you use a bun that is so large and/or bready that it overwhelms the beef, throwing off the beef-to-bun ratio.
The bun is there to compliment the beef, not vice-versa. No exceptions. A thinner patty can easily be overwhelmed by a too-big bun, which is a sure-fire way to ruin what should otherwise be a delicious hamburger.

7) Thou shall not automatically call any small hamburger a slider.
A slider is not simply a tiny hamburger; it’s actually a very specific way of preparing a hamburger, generally by cooking a very thin patty atop a bed of sauteed onions, allowing the burger and bun to essentially cook by steam. Real sliders are most notably served at American chains like White Castle and Krystal.

Its diminutive size is merely one element of what makes a slider a slider — not its defining characteristic.

9) Thou shall only use beef.
Turkey “burgers.” Buffalo “burgers.” Lamb “burgers.” Tuna “burgers.” All interesting, potentially delicious meals. And all not hamburgers. Calling a sandwich made with buffalo meat a hamburger would be like calling a sandwich made with cashew butter and sliced strawberries a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s similar, sure, but it’s not the same thing. At all.

10) Thou shall serve burgers immediately after cooking, and not allow them to sit out under a heat lamp, or in those weird drawers they have at McDonald’s.
(Allowing, of course, for the patty to rest for a few minutes for the juices to settle.) Again, this is a simple one: fresh food = good, stale food = bad. I would much, much rather wait a few minutes than be served some burger that’s been sitting under a lamp for who-knows-how-long.