Location1585 The Queensway, Etobicoke

If you live in Ontario (and since you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you do), odds are that you’ve been to Lick’s.  They’re fairly omnipresent, and they’ve been around for ages.  At one time, a visit to Lick’s meant the promise of above-average burgers in a casual, fast-food style setting.  Though they’ve always served meatloaf-style burgers (not my favourite), they were, at one time, pretty darn good.  Their success was justified.

That was a long time ago.

I’m not sure about the exact moment of their decline, but it probably would have been at some point around when they started selling frozen Lick’s-branded patties in supermarkets.  These frozen patties, I would imagine, are the same ones they serve in their restaurants.  And like all frozen patties, they’re not very good.

At the very least, the employees weren’t singing.  For those of you fortunate enough to have never been subjected to this aural assault, the employees at Lick’s used to sing ’50s pop songs while they cooked up the burgers and fries.  Loudly.  And very far off key.  It was unpleasant enough that it made me second-guess going to Lick’s, even back when it was good.  Thankfully, they seem to have ended this policy, as my ears have been unmolested on my last couple of visits.

I ordered a homeburger combo (their standard hamburger) with fries and a soda, waited, picked out my toppings from behind the glass, and sat down.

What’s there to say about the current Lick’s hamburger?  It’s a frozen burger and it tastes like a frozen burger. I could end the review right there, but I will say a few words.

It’s a strongly salty burger with that distinctive rubbery chewiness you’d expect from a patty of its ilk.  To its credit, it does have a slightly beefier flavour than you’d expect, though it is mostly drowned out by the hot dog-esque chewiness/saltiness and the other spices.

I ordered the burger with pickles, tomatoes, and Guk, a mayonnaise-based sauce that Lick’s also sells in supermarkets.  The sauce is fine, though its flavour is overwhelmed by the strong patty.  The toasted sesame seed bun was fresh, and complimented the burger well.

The fries, like the burger, have gone downhill.  Though they were once above average, they’re now pale and lifeless — bland and vaguely unpleasant.  I ate a few and felt no need to subject myself to more.

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Lick's Homeburgers & Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Royal Meats Barbeque

Location: 710 Kipling Avenue, Etobicoke

I debated whether or not to even write this review.  Royal Meats serves a burger that is, without question, untraditional.  There’s a quote from an interview with Aaron Sorkin, of all people, that seems apropos:

Waitress: Our soup today is New ­England–style clam chowder. And a tuna burger is also available.

A tuna burger? That’s a phony hamburger.

Waitress: It’s really very nice!

You can’t just smash anything into a patty shape and call it a burger, a turkey burger, a tofu burger, a tuna burger.

Aaron Sorkin has a point (which is a sentence I never thought I’d write on this blog); I’m willing to accept that the burgers at a place like Goody’s or Woody’s are legitimate burgers, despite my belief that a true hamburger should be nothing but ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper, because they are at least made entirely out of beef.  The ersatz burgers at Royal Meats, however, with their mixture of veal, pork, onions and other spices, are much harder to accept as a legitimate hamburger.

So the question is: do I review it?  Is it hamburgery enough to warrant inclusion in this blog?  If it were a tuna burger or a turkey burger, the answer would be much more straightforward; those are clearly not hamburgers, or at the very least are in a very different category than the burgers I review on this blog.

The Royal Meats burger, on the other hand, is close enough to a legitimate hamburger to straddle the line between faux burgers and the real deal.

But if it looks like a burger and it’s called a burger, then I suppose it’s fair game to judge it like a hamburger.

Royal Meats is a Balkan place, which helps to explain the unorthodox burger.  They’ve got two of them on the menu: half pound, and one pound.  I ordered the half pound, was given a pager that would go off when the burger was ready, and sat down.  Several minutes later, my burger was ready; I got it topped with lettuce, tomato, and the house sauce– a reddish white spread that tastes of onions, peppers, and some kind of soft cheese.

Whether or not it’s a hamburger is up for debate, but it is tasty, there’s no doubt about that.  Veal is generally fairly mild, so most of the flavour here comes from the pork, as well as the onions and seasonings mixed into the burger.  It tastes more like a sausage flattened into a patty shape than a hamburger, but it’s definitely satisfying for what it is.

It’s also quite juicy, with a nice texture and a decent amount of flavour imparted from the grill.  The bun, too, differs from a traditional hamburger.   Called a lepinya bun, it’s denser and chewier than your typical hamburger bun, with a yeasty flavour that’s reminiscent of sourdough.  It suits the burger well.

As for the unique house sauce, it would overpower a traditional burger, but this burger’s more assertive flavours easily stand up to this aggressive spread.

The lightly battered fries are clearly frozen, and they have a processed flavour that is strongly reminiscent of Pringles.  They were decent enough, though I felt no need to finish them.

Going back to my original quandary, I now wonder how to rate this burger.  Taken on its own merits, it probably deserves three out of four.  It’s good.  But as a hamburger, it’s kind of a failure (if it is a hamburger at all).  This being a hamburger blog, I’m compelled to give this burger my lowest passing grade: two-and-a-half out of four.

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Royal Meats BBQ on Urbanspoon