Hero Certified Burgers

Location25 The West Mall, Toronto

Baffling.  That’s the only word that comes to mind in response to Hero Burgers’ expansion and continued success.  I’ve been meaning to review this local chain for a while now, but I’ve been putting it off because I had it a couple of times a few years ago, and I remembered it being pretty bad.

“Pretty bad,” as it turns out, doesn’t even begin to describe the horrors of what they serve at this place.

I visited the location in the Sherway Gardens food court (and if you ever find yourself here, The Construction Site — a grilled cheese place — is a bit over-priced but pretty darn tasty).  They have a four ounce, a six ounce, and an eight ounce hamburger.  Knowing that I would probably want as little of this burger as possible, I went with the four ounce.  I selected my toppings (pickles, tomato, and Hero Certified Sauce), received a number, and waited.  A few minutes later I had my tray and took a seat.

The first thing I noticed is how odd the patty looks; pallid and wrinkly, it’s clear just looking at it that it’s a frozen burger.  It looks like the most unappealing frozen burger you’ve ever seen, only with its deficiencies multiplied ten-fold.

I cut the burger in half, and again, it was obvious that something was amiss.  Thanks to this blog I’ve cut through quite a few burgers, and I’ve never felt anything like this; it was rubbery and tough, like trying to cut through a piece of calamari.  Any idea that I might be pleasantly surprised was completely out the window at this point.  Even still, I was unprepared.  I took a bite and grimaced.

It’s the worst burger I’ve ever had.

I’ll say that again, because it bears repeating: it is quite literally the worst hamburger I’ve ever had in my entire life, and I say that as someone who has eaten a lot of burgers in his lifetime.

I’m not even sure where to start.  The texture, I suppose.  It was horrific.  Chewy and rubbery in the worst way imaginable, it was completely alien from anything even remotely resembling real, fresh beef.  All frozen burgers suffer from some degree of chewiness, but never this bad.  It was disgusting, to be perfectly blunt.

Then there was the taste.  Zero beefiness, and not even much saltiness — not much of anything, other than a rancid, turned-meat flavour.  My dining companion took a bite and described it as fishy, and I can’t say I particularly disagree.  Again: disgusting.

Seriously, take a closer look at this burger:

That is not how ground beef is supposed to look.

The toppings were fine, and the bun was a little bit too dense but mostly fine, but it’s all completely moot; this burger could have featured the greatest, most delicious bun and toppings of all time and it still would have been a complete wash.  I was hungry, and for the first time in the history of this blog (and in my life, I’m pretty sure) I couldn’t finish my hamburger.  I didn’t want to finish it.  It was so gross.

I honestly didn’t believe it was possible for a burger to be this bad.  When I was able (and willing) to eat the entire burger from BBQ Express, I assumed that there would simply never be a burger so bad that I couldn’t finish it.  I assumed that even the worst burger in the world had some nugget of desirability, some small appeal, even if only in its deepest reaches.

I was wrong.  There is nothing appealing about the burger at Hero Certified Burgers.   It is where dreams go to die.  It is a shriveled disc of pure despair, from which all hope is forever lost.  If there is a hell, then it is what they serve there, all the time, no exceptions.

It’s bad, basically.  Inedible.  It should be avoided under all circumstances.

Not that it matters, because you should never go to this place for any reason ever, but the fries were pretty good.  They were crispy on the outside and nicely fluffy on the inside, though it’s obvious that they prepare the fries in the same oil that they use for the onion rings — oil which hasn’t been changed in a long, long time.  How am I so sure?  The fries tasted like onion rings.  Not just a little bit like onion rings; blatantly so.  It was bizarre, but surprisingly tasty (though since it is merely the result of Hero Burgers’ incompetence — seriously, change the oil every now and then — I can’t even give them credit for it).

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Location4242 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke

Magoo’s is another one of those neighbourhood joints that really packs them in; pretty much any time you go, the place will be filled with  families, couples, and other locals looking for their burger fix.  It’s been around since 1987, which makes it relatively new compared to old-school places like Apache or Johnny’s, but it’s still been around for more than long enough to develop a loyal following.

And, I’m sorry to say, like most old-school burger joints, it trades more on nostalgia than taste; it’s just not that good.

I ordered the Magourmet hamburger (which is their six ounce burger; there’s also a four ounce option on the menu) as a combo with fries and a soda, and it came up to about ten bucks.

The layout was much like most old-school burger joints; you order, then when the burger’s ready, you pick your toppings from behind the glass.  I went with pickles, tomato, and Magoo Sauce, which the menu describes as “Mayo/Garlic.”

The grilled burger is meatloaf-style, with other stuff mixed in with the beef.  It has a generic meatloaf burger taste; it essentially tastes like whatever spices they’ve mixed in, without much meaty flavour (if any).  The lack of any beefy flavour is odd, because it’s not one of the stronger meatloaf burgers that I’ve had, which makes me think that the quality of the beef isn’t all that great.

It’s also surprisingly dry.  They boast that they use “100% lean ground beef,” which I’m pretty sure isn’t even possible — and even if it were, it certainly isn’t something to be proud of in the context of a hamburger.  Either way, it’s clear that the beef is too lean, resulting in an unpleasantly dry burger.  It also had a somewhat unusual texture; I suspect that perhaps the beef has been ground too finely.

The toppings were fine.  The Magoo Sauce was as advertised, and was a decent roasted garlic mayo.  The dense, chewy bun, however, was far too substantial for the burger at hand, and completely threw off the bun-to-beef ratio.

As for the fries, they were fine.  They were perfectly tasty, though there was nothing special or memorable about them.

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Woody’s Burgers

Location3795 Lake Shore Boulevard West, Etobicoke

A few years ago, before Toronto’s recent burger boom in which The Burger’s Priest et al came in to show everyone how it’s done, places like Woody’s were pretty much the norm.  Yes, Woody’s is relatively new, but with its good-but-not-great meatloaf-style burgers, it’s more reflective of Toronto’s old burger scene than what we’ve got now.

Woody’s is a small place just off of Brown’s Line in Etobicoke.  They’ve got a small seating area, and a fairly large patio for when the weather’s nice.  They sell a number of different types of burgers (turkey, chicken, bison, etc), including a bunch of customized burgers with names like Coronary, Tokyo, and California.

As is fairly clear by now, I like to keep it simple, particularly when I’m reviewing a burger; I’m reviewing the burger itself, not the toppings.  I went with the plain burger topped with tomato, pickles, and mayo.  As a combo with a soda and fries, it came out to about ten bucks.  I ordered, was given a pager that would go off when my order was ready, and sat down.

They advertise a twenty minute wait for their burgers, and they weren’t kidding.  “We’re not fast food,” the menu boasts, “we’re good food.” Umm… I guess?

I wasn’t looking at my watch, but I’m pretty sure it was about twenty minutes before the pager lit up and started vibrating.  I turned it in, requested my toppings from behind the glass, and sat down with my food.

Like I mentioned earlier in the review, the burger isn’t bad.  It’s a meatloaf burger, and they definitely aren’t shy with the seasonings.  There’s zero beefy flavour here, which is a shame because they proudly claim that they only use local, farm-raised cattle, and I have no reason not to believe them.  Why go through all the trouble of getting above-average beef only to obscure it with a bunch of other gunk?  It’s baffling.

Though the beef flavour was completely absent, the burger had a nice texture that was devoid of the sausage-like chewiness that some meatloaf burgers tend to have.  The well done burger also retained a decent amount of juciness, even if it wasn’t exactly the juciest burger I’ve had (I should note, however, that my dining companion found his burger to be almost inedibly dry, and proclaimed it to be one of the worst burgers he’s eaten in Toronto).

Woody’s cooks all of their burgers on a wood-burning grill (hence the name), which imparts a nicely smoky flavour onto the patty.  However, as much as I appreciate a crispy crust on a well-cooked burger,  the crunchy, charred exterior here goes a little bit too far.  There’s nothing worse than a gray, under-seared burger; this is the other extreme.

The fresh, sesame seed bun complimented the burger quite well, though it was far too big for the patty, leaving a wide ring of bread overhang.  It’s pretty clear that they shape their patties to the size of the bun, without bothering to compensate for the shrinkage that occurs while cooking.

As for the fries, they were a tad undercooked, but were otherwise pretty tasty.  They had some kind of seasoned salt on them, which was sparingly applied (unlike, say, at Five Guys) and which definitely complimented the fries quite well.

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