The Stockyards

: 699 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto

It seems to be the general consensus that for griddle-cooked, fast-food-style hamburgers, the big three are The Burger’s Priest, Holy Chuck, and The Stockyards.  In fact, there is a 152-post thread at Chowhound whose sole purpose is to compare the merits of these three establishments.  Obviously, this review needed to be done.

I’ve actually had the burgers here a couple of times before this visit, including once with the express purpose of reviewing it for this blog.  However, I lazily held off on writing the review, and before I knew it so much time had passed that it was too hazy in my mind to write a proper review.

Every time I’ve been here the burger has been very good, but a little bit too dry to be truly great.  But considering the way some people rapturously swoon over this place, I had hoped that I had merely had bad luck on my prior visits.

The Stockyards is a small restaurant — it has a handful of seats along the counter, a few by the opposing wall, and a few by the window.  I’ve come here before only to find the place packed, so keep that in mind if you’re planning a visit.

This time, unlike my other visits, I snagged myself a prime seat by the counter, right in front of where the grill-lady was doing her thing.  It was actually kind of hypnotic, watching her prepare several burgers — placing a ball of beef on the very hot griddle, smashing it down with a circular device seemingly made for that one purpose, letting it sit to develop a rich crust, then flipping it over.  The woman obviously knew what she was doing; her technique was impeccable, and watching her so skilfully prepare these burgers was making me hungry.

But — yes, there is a but, and a fairly big one — looking at the beef, it was clear that something was amiss.  The uncooked ground beef was red, with just a few flecks of white.  I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to the fat percentage in hamburger meat, the absolute bare minimum is fifteen percent.  Twenty percent, or even thirty, is preferable.

This looked more like ten percent, if that.  It might have even been five.  It was even leaner than the ground beef you typically find at the supermarket, which itself is too lean to make ideal hamburger meat. Suddenly my previous too-dry burgers made perfect sense.  Beef this lean will absolutely never yield a particularly juicy burger, even with the most skilled cook in the world behind the griddle.

My burger came looking quite beautiful.  Glistening, with an awe-inspiring dark brown crust, it looked pretty much exactly how you want a burger to look.  I took a bite, and that perfect crust combined with what was obviously high quality beef  — seasoned with just a bit of salt — resulted in a richly flavourful burger.  But it was dry.  How couldn’t it have been, with that beef?  It was cooked all the way to well done, which obviously didn’t help, but it wasn’t overcooked (though you could make the argument that even a perfectly-cooked well done burger is inherently overcooked).

It’s actually kind of tragic, because with fattier beef, this burger would easily be a contender for best in the city.  Hands down.  Everything else is exactly how it should be: the amazing cooking technique, the quality of the beef, the fresh sesame seed bun (Dempster’s, if you’re curious), the toppings.  It’s all, as Guy Fieri would say, on point.

(Did I really just drop a Guy Fieri reference into a review?)

But it’s dry — so, so dry, and despite this it is unarguably a very good burger.  It saddens me, because with just one relatively minor change, it could be so great.  Alas.

As for the fries, they were quite tasty if just a tad overcooked.  However, the portion was absurdly large.  After eating my fill I had barely even made a dent in the voluminous pile.  I know it seems odd to complain about getting too much value, but no reasonable person could possibly finish this many French fries, leading to guaranteed food waste.

The Stockyards - the outside The Stockyards - the restaurant The Stockyards - the burger The Stockyards - the burger
The Stockyards Smokehouse & Larder on Urbanspoon

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