Location: 143 Danforth Avenue, Toronto

There are a handful places that I’ve been meaning to review since I started this blog, that for one reason or another, I just haven’t gotten around to yet.  Until today, Allen’s was on top of that list.  Widely regarded as one of the heavyweights in Toronto’s burger landscape, no Toronto burger blog is complete without a visit to this particular pub.

Allen’s has been around since the late ’80s, and thus predates the recent burger craze by many, many years.   Allen’s has been pumping out burgers since the chefs at a place like Burger’s Priest were still reading Nintendo Power and learning their ABCs.  Unlike most old-school burger joints in this city, however, Allen’s serves fantastic hamburgers.  Better than fantastic.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s clear just looking at the menu that Allen’s is serious about their  hamburgers.  There’s a whole paragraph in the menu dedicated to the provenance of the beef and the care they take in making their hamburgers (their use of high quality beef, butchered on site is why they are allowed to circumvent Toronto’s so-called law requiring hamburgers to be cooked to well done).  Of course, anyone can put a bunch of superlatives in their menu and still serve a crappy burger.  Deeds, as they say, speak louder than words.

When I ordered, I was asked how I wanted the burger cooked, which always delights me: I’m partial to hamburgers cooked to medium rare, so I find the endless parade of well-done-and-beyond patties served by Toronto’s burger joints to be a bit wearisome.  I’m okay with burgers cooked to well done (I couldn’t run this blog if I weren’t), but in my opinion the flavour of beef begins to diminish when it’s cooked much beyond medium.  That’s not to mention, of course, the dryness issue.


The burgers served here are pub style: grilled, and much larger and more substantial than the griddled, fast food style burgers of a place like Burger’s Priest.

It’s a fantastic burger.  Juicy, nicely seasoned with just salt and pepper and with a richly complex beefy flavour that easy rivals any hamburger I’ve eaten in this city (or anywhere else, for that matter), it is dangerously close to burger perfection.  It’s the type of burger that surprises you with every bite, because it’s so damn tasty.  It’s the type of burger that makes you more and more sad as you eat it, because you know it will eventually be finished.  It’s the type of burger that you wish all burgers could be.

I do have some small quibbles, which are mostly cosmetic.  Grilled burgers tend to bulge in the middle, a phenomenon that is easily combated by placing a small dimple in the centre of the uncooked patty (go here for a detailed analysis on why this happens).   They are clearly not doing that here.  A burger like this also needs to be shaped a bit wider than the bun to compensate for shrinkage, another small oversight that could improve this burger.  As it stands, there was a decent amount of bun overhang, which left me with some bread left on my plate after the patty itself was finished.

These are small issues that won’t prevent me from proclaiming this to be one of the best burgers in the city, but they are issues nonetheless.

The aforementioned sesame seed bun, aside from being a little bit too wide for the burger, was fresh and suited the patty well.  The burger comes with mustard, relish, pickles, tomato, lettuce, and onion — all on the side.  Which is good, because this is a burger that really doesn’t need a whole lot of condimenting.  My recommendation would be to leave most of that stuff on the side; a hamburger this tasty doesn’t need much else.

It doesn’t come with fries (or any other sides, for that matter), so I ordered some.  Like the burger, they’re pretty damn good.  Thick cut fries like the ones they serve here are tougher to pull off; they wind up, more often than not, a little undercooked and dense in the middle.  These fries, however, were perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  They’re unsalted, but a salt grinder is provided.

Did I mention that the hamburger they serve at Allen’s is a very strong contender for the best burger in the city?  I did?  Well let me say it again: this is a very strong contender for the best burger in the city.  Eat it.  And if you already have, eat it again, because it is awesome, and you deserve more awesomeness in your life.

Allen's - the restaurant Allen's - the menu Allen's - the bar Allen's - the condiments Allen's - the burger and fries Allen's - the burger Allen's - the burger
Allen's on the Danforth on Urbanspoon

Barque Smokehouse

299 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto

I’ve eaten a lot of bad burgers for this blog, but I don’t think any has disappointed me as much as the one from Barque.  Though I hadn’t heard a whole lot about their burger,  I’ve heard pretty much nothing but good things about the restaurant itself, and certainly went in with high hopes for their hamburger.  One of the best burgers I’ve had recently has been from Stack, another Southern-style BBQ place with a burger on the menu.  I had hoped for similar greatness from Barque.

Spoiler alert: this wasn’t a great burger.  Heck, I would have settled for good.  But this wasn’t even that.

Before I get to the hamburger, let me talk about the service, which was surprisingly poor.  I showed up at around one on a Sunday afternoon and the place was packed, so they are clearly doing okay, despite the lacklustre service and food.   We wound up sitting at the bar, which wouldn’t have been my choice, but was fine.

Less fine was the way we were completely ignored after our order was taken for the entire 45 minutes it took for our food to come.  Even less fine was the fact that I received a beef brisket sandwich with a salad on the side, despite the fact that I ordered a burger and fries.  So my dining companion and I wound up taking turns watching each other eat.


But this is a burger review, so let me talk about the burger.  As horrible as the experience was up to that point, I was completely ready for it to be redeemed by an amazing burger.  Sadly, no such redemption was in the cards that day.

I came during Barque’s brunch service, so I ordered the Brunch Burger, which is described as being topped with “Caramelized onions, gruyere, pickles, onion ring.”  It’s a bit more topping-heavy than I typically like for a burger that I’m reviewing, but I’m okay with making an exception every now and then.

It’s a meatloaf burger, and though the seasoning wasn’t particularly strong, it was still enough to completely wipe out whatever beefy flavour the (presumably low quality) beef might have once had.

Much, much more problematic was the burger’s downright repulsive texture, which was puzzlingly and off-puttingly mushy despite being cooked to well done and fully gray throughout.  I have no idea what was going on there — perhaps the meat had been ground too finely, or perhaps it was the stuff they mixed in, but the hamburger was inarguably a textural disaster.

As for the toppings: though I typically like caramelized onions on a burger, here their soft texture only emphasized the patty’s mushiness, and was highly unwelcome.  Same goes for the melty gruyere cheese.  The onion ring was fine, as was the fresh brioche bun, but there isn’t much that would have been able to save that weird, squishy patty.

The fries, too, were kind of puzzling.  They were completely dried out and crunchy, and bore a striking resemblance to a larger version of Hickory Sticks.  I’m honestly not sure if this was intentional or if they were simply overcooked.  They weren’t awful, but I didn’t have any particular desire to eat more than a handful.

I should probably note that when the bill came the hamburger had been comped, so at least they were willing to acknowledge that the service was fairly disastrous.

Barque - the restaurant Barque - the burger Barque - the burger Barque - the fries
Barque Smokehouse on Urbanspoon
(Image of the sign in the header photo courtesy of alanosaur on flickr.  I was going to take the photo on my way out, but I guess I was in such a rush to get out of there that it completely slipped my mind.)