Burger Factory

Location: 5130 Dixie Road, Mississauga

It was with no small amount of anticipation that I walked through Burger Factory’s doors;  it’s relatively close to where I live, an area that is definitely slim pickings in the burger department.  The idea of having a great (or even just good) burger joint near my house is pretty exciting.

I walked in, and it seemed promising — the place is laid out fast-food style, with the burger cookery in full view.  The burgers are made by smashing a ball of ground beef onto a griddle, a style that seems to be in vogue right now (and a style that produces a couple of my favourite burgers in the city).  So I thought, hey!  This is it!  A good burger within minutes of my home.  What could be finer?

It’s a small restaurant.  There are a handful of tables, but I think the place is mostly meant to be a takeout joint.

I ordered the burger and fries combo (they also serve a Juicy Lucy — a burger with a centre of molten hot cheddar cheese.  I’ll have to try that at some point).  After waiting a few minutes, my burger was ready.  I got it topped with tomato, pickle and Factory Sauce (described as a mayo-based sauce with ketchup), and sat down.

I took a bite of the hamburger, and a wave of sadness washed over me — the dream of having a great burger place near my house died a sad, lonely death.  This is not a good burger, let alone a great one.

For one thing, the burger was cooked beyond well done, and was thus quite overcooked.  And, like the burger I recently had at Burger Stomper, it had little to no crust, despite its long stay on the griddle.  Again, the griddle must have not been hot enough.  Seriously, this isn’t rocket science, people.  It’s not too difficult to do it well.  Just go to The Burger’s Priest, watch what they do, and then do it yourself until you get it right.

The beef was also far too lean, resulting in one of the drier burgers I’ve had in a while.  It’s decent quality beef; though it doesn’t exactly hit you in the face with beefiness, there are no off flavours here, and it was well seasoned with salt and pepper.  But man, it was dry, and without any real caramelization from the griddle, it was kind of bland.

The sesame seed bun was a disaster.  Big, bready, and stale, it was dense and overwhelming and completely threw off the beef-to-bun ratio.  It had been placed on the griddle, though if I hadn’t seen it I wouldn’t have believed it — it was completely untoasted and cold (and if your griddle can’t even toast a bun, then you know it’s not hot enough).  The bun was also far too wide for the burger, which meant I ran out of burger long before I ran out of bun.

The fries, too, were a complete write-off.  They looked golden and tasty, but they weren’t particularly crispy, and contained an unappealingly underdone centre.  I ate only a handful before escorting the rest to the nearest garbage bin.

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Burger Stomper Gourmet Burger & Milkshake Bar

Location: 364 Danforth Ave., Toronto

Well, this has to be a first – a burger joint opened partially to promote a kitchen gadget. The gadget, in this case, is the Burger Stomper, a tool whose purpose is to streamline the apparently arduous task of forming a hamburger patty. It doesn’t strike me that patty-forming is exactly a job requiring a piece of kitchen paraphernalia, but then again I’ve certainly seen more useless gadgets.

The restaurant has a fairly typical layout – the menu’s posted up on the wall, you order with the person behind the register, pay, get a number, then go to your table and wait for your food.

Seeing that the name of the restaurant has “milkshake” right in it, I figured that I would be remiss if I didn’t order myself a shake along with the usual burger/fries. For you, of course. Not because of my gluttony. No, not that.

As for the burger, I ordered the Classic Stomp, which is a plain burger with tomato, onion, lettuce, and ketchup. I asked for mine sans-onion, and with mayo substituted for ketchup; my dining companion accused me of violating the integrity of the burger with these substitutions, thus making my review less relevant. I argued that I was reviewing the burger itself, and that with a no-frills burger such as this, condiment-substitution is to be expected.

To explain my modifications: I’m just not a fan of raw onions in any context. I know that they’re a classic burger topping and that I really should learn to like them, but alas, I do not. Ketchup, on the other hand, I do like. However, while it works well with fries or on a hot dog, I find that its vinegary sweetness is a little bit overwhelming on a hamburger.

The burger is quite good. There is potential for greatness, but there were just a few things that were off. The base is definitely there – they’re using good quality beef, which has a nicely robust beefy flavor. It’s quite tasty. The bun is also pretty much perfect – it’s supple and fresh, and is a fantastic match for the burger at hand. It has just the right amount of pliancy to hold up to the burger, without ever becoming overwhelming.

The beef, however, is a bit too tightly-packed, and thus a bit denser than it should have been. I’m not sure if this is the result of the Burger Stomper itself, or if the beef had been overhandled prior to stomping. I also suspect that the beef is a little bit too finely ground — the texture was slightly off.

Perhaps most seriously, the griddled burger was completely under-seared, despite being cooked past well done (it was a bit overcooked). The patty had some vague amounts of sear, but for the most part was far more gray and wan than it should have been. This is quite unfortunate, as the caramelization that results from the cooking process (whether griddled or grilled) contributes a lot of flavour and textural contrast to a hamburger, and that flavour was lacking here. Clearly, their griddle needs to be quite a bit hotter.

It’s telling that despite these misgivings, I still enjoyed this burger. They’re doing a lot right here; there are just a few small improvements needed to turn these burgers from good to great.

As for the previously mentioned milkshake, I got the “Nutella Chocolate Peanut Butter Heaven,” which tasted exactly how you would hope a Nutella / peanut butter milkshake would taste (which is to say, awesome).

I also got an order of fries, which had a slightly oily flavor and were a smidgeon on the soggy side, but were otherwise quite tasty.

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OBQ Burgers

Location: 602 Brown’s Line, Toronto
Website: None

OBQ Burgers is one of the sketchier looking places that I’ve visited for this blog; it’s a tiny place in a run-down little plaza that’s basically in the middle of nowhere, and its sign/logo looks like it was designed in about five minutes in MS Paint.  But sometimes hole-in-the-wall places like this can have some seriously tasty food, so I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover.

Though I dined in, it’s pretty much a take-out place only — the seating options are limited to a small counter with four stools, though they do have a couple of tables outside, so if it’s a nice day that’s probably your best bet.

The burgers are listed on a blackboard next to the register; there’s actually a pretty good variety to be had, though as per my policy I zeroed in on the eponymous OBQ Burger.  I think I’m going to have to go back to try the Halo Burger, which reminds me of a burger that I read about in Hamburger America, from a place called Shady Glen (and if you’re reading this blog, that’s probably a book that will interest you).   It’s a essentially a cheeseburger in which the cheese has been allowed to overflow onto the griddle, creating a ring of crispy cheese surrounding the burger.  If I go back and try this I will update this post.

As for my OBQ Burger, I was heartened to see the man behind the counter get out a ball of fresh beef, and then smash it down on the griddle; no frozen burgers here.  After searing the burger on the griddle for 30 seconds or so, he transferred the patty to the grill, which struck me as an interesting way to cook a burger.

A few minutes later the burger was ready, and I took my tray, sat down on a stool and dug in.  The OBQ Burger is described as being “served with cheddar, lettuce, pickles, onion & GABAGOO!!”  I asked the man behind the counter what Gabagoo was, and was informed that it’s their special sauce, and a secret recipe.

The burger was okay.   After eating it, I told my dining companion that I wish the burger had either been better, or worse, because writing about an agreeable but generally middling burger like this one can be a bit of a challenge.

It’s a meatloaf burger, though it wasn’t too aggressively-spiced. It didn’t have that sausagey texture that a lot of meatloaf burgers tend to have, which I definitely appreciated.  The beef itself had a fairly neutral flavour — it obviously wasn’t bad quality beef, but it wasn’t great, either.  It was also too lean and a bit on the dry side, though I have certainly had worse.

The cheddar was shredded and mounded on top of the burger, a questionable choice that resulted in cheese that was melted around the edges and cold and uncooked in the middle.  There’s clearly a reason why 99 percent of the cheeseburgers out there use slices.  The cheddar was also fairly low quality, and as such I kinda wish they had just gone with good old fashioned American cheese — it melts much more consistently and is a good match for a burger such as this.

The Gabagoo sauce essentially tasted like sweet honey mustard, so I’m not sure what all the “top secret” business was about.  I like honey mustard when it leans more toward mustard than honey; this leaned very strongly in the other direction, and I found it to be a bit too sweet and overpowering for my tastes.

I got the burger as a combo with fries, and received a very generous portion of crispy, tasty fries.  They were probably better than the burger itself, actually.

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Burger Hut

Website: None
Location: 804 Sheppard Avenue East, North York

Burger Hut is another old-school burger joint like Apache or Johnny’s, coasting by for years on nostalgic appeal and fond memories, rather than actual taste.  If you opened a place like this now and served burgers of this caliber, you’d be laughed out of town.  But somehow, dingy old burger joints that have been around since Johnny Carson was the king of late night are given a free pass.  As I mentioned in my Apache review, nostalgia can be a powerful force.

The place has two burgers on their menu: the 1/4 pound hamburger, and the 6 ounce steakburger.  I sort of figured that the steakburger would be the one to get, but just to be sure I asked the man behind the counter, and he confirmed that yes, this is the better of the two burgers.

I ordered, waited for the burger to be ready, and picked my toppings from behind the glass.  As usual, I went with pickles, tomato, and mayo.

It’s a frozen burger; it was obvious enough just cutting into it and looking at the burger’s cross-section.  It’s hard to miss a frozen patty, and of course, if you’ve read my burger commandments then you know that this is a cardinal sin of burgerdom (though that really should go without saying).

The burger was grilled, and though it was somewhat above average for what it was, it had that telltale frozen burger taste and chewy texture.  But it also had a vaguely pleasant beefy flavour, which is somewhat of a rarity for freezer-dwelling hamburgers.  It was still a frozen burger, of course, but I have had worse (I’m assuming the 6 ounce steakburger is the premium frozen burger, and the 1/4 pound hamburger is the standard, cafeteria-style frozen patty).

The fries were also of the frozen variety, but they were fresh from the fryer, and were fairly tasty.  They were completely unsalted, but salt shakers were readily available to rectify that omission.

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BQM Diner

Location: 354 Queen Street West, Toronto

When a burger joint’s menu proudly advertises the fact that all of their burgers have less than 10 percent fat, I’m immediately on my guard.  A burger should strive to be many things; low fat is not one of them.  It is a universally accepted fact that a good burger needs a bare minimum of 15 percent fat; a preferable number is anywhere between 20 and 30 percent.  This is where a burger’s juciness comes from.  So if you’re advertising low fat burgers, you’re pretty much just coming out and admitting that you serve dry hamburgers.  Not a good sign.

The BQM Diner is a small-ish restaurant, with almost comically small booths.  Seriously, the booth was probably the smallest one I’ve ever sat in; I’m pretty sure I could have head-butted my dining companion without having to lean forward all that much.

The menu, oddly, offers three different cuts of beef:  chuck, brisket, or sirloin.  Sirloin is a definite no-go;  though there is the perception that sirloin is a “fancy” cut of beef, thus making it more desirable, it is actually quite lean and a terrible choice for a burger.  It may work well as a steak, but a burger is a different beast altogether.

I was leaning towards the brisket, because it is the fattiest cut, and I was concerned by the menu’s 10 percent fat boast.  However, the waitress came by and rendered it all moot — all they had left was the chuck.  It seemed odd that they were already out of 2/3rds of the menu, given that it was lunchtime and early in the day, but since chuck is a fairly standard cut of beef for a burger, I wasn’t too perturbed.

I ordered the BQM, labeled as “the Boss’ favourite,” which comes topped with caramelized onion, horseradish, garlic aioli, lettuce, and tomato.  The waitress asked if I wanted it medium or medium-well.  It’s always a good sign when you get asked how you want your burger cooked; I asked for mine medium.

The burger came, and it was immediately apparent that it was a little overcharred on the grill — it was pretty much completely blackened, giving it a strong smoky flavour that did overwhelm the beef a bit.

The burger actually was fairly juicy; it helped that it wasn’t cooked to well done like at most places (the burger actually came out much closer to medium rare than to medium), but I would be very surprised if this burger truly only contained 10 percent fat.  I suspect that the 10 percent fat claim only really applies to the sirloin burger.

Though its flavour was a bit obscured by the liberal amount of charring on the burger and by the horseradish, it was still pretty clear that this was an above average burger, with a nicely beefy flavour.  The toppings generally suited the burger fairly well, though the aforementioned horseradish was probably unnecessary.  I’m generally not a fan of assertive flavours like horseradish on a burger, because they tend to overpower the taste of what is supposed to be the star of the show: the patty.  It is a shame to disguise that flavour, especially when you’re dealing with good quality beef like they’re clearly using here.

I also got the fries on the side, and though they were a bit on the soggy side, they were obviously freshly cut and quite tasty.

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