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.