Archive | May, 2013

White Squirrel Snack Shop

20 May

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Location
507 Queen Street West, Toronto
UPDATE: Tragically, this place is no more. It has been replaced by another burger joint, P&L Burger.
Websitehttp://whitesquirrelcoffee.com/

To say that the hamburger at White Squirrel Snack Shop was a pleasant surprise would be a pretty huge understatement.  The place just opened a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve already been hearing some good things about the burger — but I still wasn’t expecting anything particularly great.

White Squirrel is an offshoot of a coffee shop, which doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence for their burger, but oh my god.  Oh my god, that burger.  Oh my god.

The restaurant is weirdly narrow, with a few seats along the wall and a couple of tables at the end.  It was pretty empty when I went, but if the place gets popular (and I expect it will with a burger this good) it might be tricky to get a seat.

The grungy, minimalist industrial decor doesn’t do the place any favours, but this is really a pop in, pop out restaurant rather than a place you’ll linger, so it’s not a big deal.  And seriously, if you’re going to serve a burger this good, you could serve it to me in a gas station bathroom and I’d eat it with a big smile on my face.  So who cares what the place looks like.

The restaurant is laid out so that you order from the man behind the bar, pay, then when your food is ready someone in the kitchen yells out your name and you pick it up.

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Here’s what the menu says about the Snack Shop Burger: “1/2 lb. house-ground chuck, caramelized onion, pickles, Dijon, steamed egg bun.”

The amazing patty is grilled to perfection, with a good amount of satisfyingly crispy char from the grill, but not so much that it overwhelms the burger.  It’s cooked to a perfect medium, with a pleasingly pink interior.

The chuck is coarsely ground and loosely packed, and unlike so many burgers in the city, it is fantastically juicy.  Seasoned with nothing but salt and pepper to let the beefy flavour shine through, it’s pretty outstanding.

The soft, rich caramelized onions compliment the burger perfectly, as do the pickles.

The Dijon mustard, on the other hand, is  superfluous.  It basically works with the burger, but its flavour is a little bit too assertive.  The pickles do a perfectly fine job of cutting the richness of the juicy patty and the onions; mustard only serves to detract from the gloriousness of this hamburger.  It is a small detraction, but a detraction nonetheless.

I have some minor quibbles with the bun as well.  Slightly sweet, soft, and fresh, it is a great bun for the most part.  However, it is slightly too chewy and substantial, which, like the mustard, detracts slightly from the gloriousness of the hamburger.   Again, it is not a large issue, but when you serve a burger this magnificent, even the smallest of imperfections will be magnified.

I also got a small order of fries, which were fine, if nothing too memorable.  They actually seemed like they had the potential to be above average, but they were slightly undercooked and a bit soggy.

But that burger… that burger.  It was so good.  I honestly think it’s one of the best burgers I’ve had in the city.  Rich, beefy, juicy, and just amazingly tasty, it’s the kind of burger that dreams are made of.  It lingered in my mind for the rest of the afternoon.  It lodged itself in my brain and refused to let go.  I need another.

Interestingly, White Squirrel Snack Shop is maybe a two minute walk from the soon-to-open third location of The Burger’s Priest.  Which means that this small stretch of Queen has become a burger lover’s paradise: a perfect griddled burger and a perfect grilled burger within mere steps of each other.  Who could ask for anything more?

White Squirrel Snack Shop - the outside White Squirrel Snack Shop - the restaurant White Squirrel Snack Shop - the restaurant White Squirrel Snack Shop - the fries White Squirrel Snack Shop - the burger White Squirrel Snack Shop - the burger
White Squirrel Snack Shop on Urbanspoon

The Lakeview

5 May

lakeview
Location
1132 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://thelakeviewrestaurant.ca/

The Lakeview was just featured on the popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, which probably explains why it was so packed when I checked it out on a recent Sunday afternoon.  Though the burger wasn’t one of the items sampled by Guy Fieri, I figured I’d give it a shot.

This, it turns out, was a blunder.  If you go to a restaurant featured on that show, you should probably get what Guy gets.  Or, just skip The Lakeview altogether.  That’ll work too.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Why should you skip The Lakeview?  Read on, friend.  Read on.

The Lakeview was originally opened in 1932, and its charmingly retro diner decor is probably the best thing about it.  I think it’s likely a big reason for its inclusion in DDD.

They have a few burgers on the menu, but as per my general policy, I went with the namesake item: The Lakeview, topped with “Peameal, Melted Cheddar, Grilled Portobello, Onion Ring + Fixings.”

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It took a while to arrive (like I said, the place was packed), but it came looking impressively large and fairly appealing.  A big red flag went up when I struggled to cut it in half; my knife was just barely sharp enough to make it through the despairingly tough patty.

Still, I took a bite hoping for the best; the burger quickly took those hopes, smashed them against the wall and stomped on them for good measure.  This was not a tasty burger.

The first thing that hit me? Not only is this a meatloaf burger, it’s an especially meatloafy meatloaf burger.  The spices and whatever other junk they mix in there completely knock you back.  I honestly don’t even think they should be allowed to call this a hamburger.  It is a meatloaf sandwich, plain and simple.

If you served this “hamburger” to an American, they’d laugh in your face.  Here’s an analogy that I think pretty much sums it up: the Lakeview’s burger is to a real, American-style hamburger what chop suey is to real Chinese food.  It is imitation; a photocopy of a photocopy.

That’s not to say that an imitation can’t be tasty.  A meatloaf sandwich can be perfectly delicious.  This, however, was not.

It was absurdly dry, for one thing.  Make sure you’ve got a big glass of water handy when you eat this, because it’ll suck the moisture right out of your mouth.  The patty is way too tightly packed, too lean, and overcooked.  The grilled burger was also over-charred and blackened in spots.  Burger jerky, essentially.

I normally like my burgers sparsely topped, and this is the opposite of that.  In this case, however, the myriad of toppings are a godsend; they’re the only things keeping your mouth lubricated against the assault of the mouth-drying patty.

Between the peameal bacon, the cheddar, the onion ring, and the mushroom (not to mention the lettuce, tomato, and pickle) there is a hell of a lot going on here.  Unlike the burger at The Samuel J. Moore, however, the toppings are good and the flavours all meld together in a somewhat cohesive fashion, so that was good at least.  The toppings didn’t taste bad, I’ll give it that.  But they still weren’t enough to save the insipid patty.

The sesame seed bun bun was too wide for the task at hand, resulting in a fair amount of bun remaining after the patty was but a memory.  The dry bun was also a bit more on the stale side than I would have liked.

The burger came with a side of fries and a salad.  The salad had clearly been dressed far too long in advance, and was vaguely mushy and kind of horrible.  The fries, on the other hand, were surprisingly decent and easily the highlight of the meal.

I will note that my dining companion had one of the items featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (the freedom toast — essentially a peameal grilled cheese sandwich with French toast for bread), which he quite enjoyed.  So if you absolutely have to go to the Lakeview, stick with what Guy ate; if someone offers you the burger, run screaming in the other direction.

The Lakeview - the outside The Lakeview - the restaurant The Lakeview - the menu The Lakeview - the burger and fries (and salad) The Lakeview - the burger The Lakeview - the burger
Lakeview on Urbanspoon