488 Wellington Street West, Toronto

After the recent Pizzaburger fiasco (which I reviewed at A Hamburger Today), I kind of felt like going for a safer bet.  The awfulness of that Pizzaburger will haunt my dreams.  I needed something that actually tasted good.

So I decided to take another gander at Toronto Life’s list of the best burgers in the city, and wound up at Marben — home of Toronto’s second best burger, by their approximation.

The menu was actually fairly interesting, but of course, I was there with a purpose.  I zeroed in on John’s Burger, described on the menu as coming with “Branston Pickle, braised beef short-ribs, aged cheddar, coleslaw, fries.”

(For the unaware — and I know I was — Branston Pickle is, as per Wikipedia, “a jarred pickled chutney.”  It’s a British thing, apparently.)

This is not a traditional hamburger.  Similar to Daniel Buloud’s famous burger, which is sadly not available at his Toronto outpost, the patty is stuffed with braised short ribs.  This addition changes the hamburger’s essential character, and naturally, takes away from its burgeriness.


Is that a bad thing?  It’s up to you, I suppose.  I certainly can’t deny that the final product is good, though whether this modification is severe enough to make a burger no longer a burger is up for debate.

The short rib has some kind of Worcestershire-esque sauce, which is tasty enough, if somewhat overpowering.

This means that the centre of the burger, which is chock-full of the saucy, shredded short rib, is less hamburger and more upscale sloppy joe.

The short rib-less outer edges is where this tastes more like a traditional hamburger.  These parts are good, but not great.

The beef is obviously of a fairly good quality, with a mildly beefy flavour.   But it’s a little bit too tightly packed and dense (I would imagine that it would be difficult to stuff a patty with short ribs without overhandling the beef).  This, combined with beef that is a bit on the lean side, results in an unfortunately dry burger.  This is not particularly noticeable in the centre, where the medium rare ground beef mingles with the saucy short ribs, but around the edges it is clearly an issue.

The rest of the burger is quite good; the cheese and the soft, toasted bun compliment the patty very well.

When the burger arrived, I was a bit shocked by how small it is.  It’s certainly not the largest hamburger in the city, but combined with the generous portion of fries, there is no risk that you’ll leave here hungry.

And those fries are seriously delicious.  They’re the polar opposite of the mediocre frozen fries I was recently served at Boston Pizza; they’re crispy, potatoey, and amazingly addictive.

As for Toronto Life’s proclamation that this is the second best burger in the city?  No.  I seriously doubt it would be in my top 20 at all, let alone number two.  It’s certainly tasty, but it’s a bit too bastardized for my tastes — and even setting that aside, it has too many issues to be considered an upper-echelon burger.

Marben - the restaurant Marben - the menu Marben - the open kitchen Marben - the restaurant Marben - John's Burger and fries Marben - John's Burger Marben - John's Burger
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The Drake

1150 Queen Street West, Toronto

It occurred to me recently that, though I’ve mentioned Toronto Life’s semi-recent list of the 25 best burgers in the city on the blog before, I’ve never actually used its suggestions to determine my next review.  I guess I have a hard time taking a list of the best hamburgers seriously that features an elk burger and a lamb burger (not to mention at least a couple of meatloaf burgers, and perhaps most egregiously, the mediocre-at-best Apache Burgers).

But I was struggling to figure out the next place I wanted to review, and I thought I may as well give Toronto Life a shot.

So I wound up at The Drake, a boutique hotel with a fairly popular restaurant on its first floor, and (of course) a burger on the menu — number 20 in the city, as per Toronto Life.

The Drake Burger is described as having “cheddar, Perth Bacon, Russian dressing, pickle + hand cut fries.”


Okay, Toronto Life, you win.  I guess I should be taking your list a bit more seriously, because this was a pretty damn good burger.

It only takes one bite to realize that they’re clearly using very good quality beef.  The patty has that distinctively satisfying beefy flavour that tells you that someone in the kitchen knows where to get the good stuff.

The grilled burger is a little bit too tightly packed, with beef that is slightly too lean.  I’ve certainly had juicier burgers — but  I can forgive a somewhat dry burger when it tastes this good, and when it at least has a bit of juiciness to it, which this does.

It’s also, sadly, a little bit busier than I’d like.  Between the peppery bacon, the tangy thousand island, and the sharp cheddar, there’s a lot of assertive flavours competing for your palate’s attention.  It’s a tasty combo, no doubt about it, but with a burger this good, I’m generally of the opinion that less is more.  But of course, compared to the failure pile at The Samuel J. Moore, it’s positively heavenly, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

The fresh sesame seed bun did a good job of holding up to the burger and was quite good.  Good too were the crispy, perfectly cooked fries.  Actually, no.  Like the burger, they were better than good.  They were pretty great.

So yes, to quote Seinfeld, The Drake is great.  How could you not like The Drake?

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The Drake Hotel on Urbanspoon