Archive | June, 2014

The Gabardine

29 Jun

gab
Location
: 372 Bay Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.thegabardine.com/

The list giveth, and the list taketh away.  I am referring, of course, to Toronto Life’s list of the 25 best burgers in the city, which seems to be guiding quite a few of my burger choices recently.    I had a pretty awful experience at that list’s number 23 restaurant, The Queen and Beaver, which made me wary of its choices.  The Harbord Room was much, much better, however.  This made me much more inclined to trust the list.

I’m wary again.  Boy, that list is hit-and-miss.  Yikes.

The Gabardine is, bizarrely, closed on the weekends, which might be why it’s taken me so long to check it out.  It’s a fairly small room, but it’s cozy, and they seem to be doing well.

The burger, as per the menu: “sirloin bacon cheeseburger with aioli, tomato, lettuce & fries.”

I’ve mentioned it before, but sirloin is an absurd cut of beef to make a hamburger out of.  I know why some restaurants do it, because it sounds fancy — hey, sirloin is steak, right?  It must be good!

Well, no.  Sirloin is super lean, and pretty much all of a burger’s juiciness comes from fat.  No fat = dry burger.

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To the Gabardine’s credit, they at least don’t cook the burger all the way to well done, which would absolutely guarantee that a burger made from beef as lean as sirloin will be dry.  The grilled burger I received was cooked to medium, with a little bit of pink in the middle; this helped negate some of the dryness. It was still quite dry, no doubt about it, but they at least tried to serve up something worth eating.

Much, much more problematic was the burger’s texture.  It was finely ground to an almost criminal extent, giving it a dense, oddly mealy texture that I found quite unappealing.  It was as if they ran the beef through a meat grinder, and then ran it through again.  Then again, then again.  Then one more time.  Then, hey, what the heck, once more, let’s make sure it has the most off-putting texture possible.  Between that and the lean beef, this was a burger that required a lot of chewing.  I felt like a spittoon should have been provided.

It tasted okay, but with the abundant, sharp cheddar and the salty bacon, there was zero flavour from the beef.  Like, none at all.  The cheddar flavour so thoroughly dominated the weakly-flavoured beef that it was like chewing on some kind of beef/cheese hybrid.  It was like science had created a new substance that has the texture of beef, but the taste of cheese.

I liked the bun, I’ll say that.  Very delicately crispy on the outside, but fresh, soft and pliant on the inside, it was pretty great.  If it could talk, it would have expressed its sadness to be part of such a sub-par burger, but it’s okay: I don’t blame you, bun. You did your best.  You brought your A-game.

Also bringing their A-game?  The fries.   Man, those were good fries.  I’m baffled as to how the same kitchen puts out fries that great and a burger that middling.  The universe is mysterious.

The Gabardine - the outside The Gabardine - the restaurant The Gabardine - the burger and fries The Gabardine - the burger
The Gabardine on Urbanspoon

The Harbord Room

22 Jun

harbord
Location
: 89 Harbord Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.theharbordroom.com/

I was a little bit wary of Toronto Life’s list of the best burgers in Toronto after my most recent experience with one of their choices.  The Queen and Beaver served a muddled mess of a burger that was part steak sandwich, part hamburger, and all failure.  It was Toronto Life’s 23rd best burger in the city.

The Harbord Room, however, has drawn raves for its burger from all corners, and is the number one pick on Toronto Life’s list.  So: a much safer bet.  I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to check it out, honestly.

They sell a lot of burgers.  Of the people sitting around me, pretty much everyone got the hamburger.  Which pretty much makes it a burger joint at heart; my kind of place.

The menu describes the burger as follows: “Dry Aged ‘West Grey Farms’ Beef Burger – Sharp Cheddar, Caramelized Onions on an Egg Bun with Fries & Slaw.”  It’s 17 bucks, which is actually not bad for the amount and value of food you get.

What the menu doesn’t mention, however, is the sharply lemony aioli that cuts through the burger’s other flavours like a laser.  My dining companion and I noticed it immediately: why is this burger so lemony?  It packs a punch, and I really, really wish I had asked for my burger without it.

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The grilled patty came cooked to a perfect medium rare.  I guess you could get them to cook it differently, but why would you?

Sadly, the flavour wasn’t quite as knock-me-back beefy as I had hoped; it didn’t have any of the rich, complex flavour you associate with dry-aged beef (or at least if it did, it was completely overpowered by the aioli).  Still, there certainly was some beefy flavour there, and it was clear enough that they were using above average meat.  Perhaps my expectations were too high.

Though the medium rare parts in the middle were quite juicy, the more well-cooked edges were a bit drier than I’d like.  It’s likely that the beef is a little bit too lean, and maybe slightly too tightly packed, but I’ve certainly had worse.

The cheese was creamy and fully melted and the onions were perfectly caramelized, but that aioli aggressively elbowed its way to the front of the line, overpowering everything else and rendering most of the burger’s other flavours moot.  The sesame seed bun, however, was perfect: pillowy and super fresh, with the perfect amount of density to hold up to the substantial burger without ever getting in the way.

So no, it’s not exactly the burger of my dreams; I certainly wouldn’t pick it as my personal favourite burger in Toronto, but I don’t begrudge Toronto Life for picking it as theirs.  It’s quite good.

As for the fries, they were pretty much perfect.  Seriously: they weren’t as hot as they probably should have been, but were otherwise right up there with the best fries I’ve ever had.  The aioli, though clearly overpowering as a burger condiment, was outstanding as a dip for fries, as was the tangy house-made ketchup.

The Harbord Room - the restaurant The Harbord Room - the patio The Harbord Room - the burger The Harbord Room - the burger and fries The Harbord Room - the burger
The Harbord Room on Urbanspoon

Brock Sandwich

15 Jun

brock
Location
1260 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://brocksandwich.ca/

Sometimes I wonder if it’s even possible for me to get to every burger in the city that I want to review. The list of burger joints I still need to check out is fairly voluminous, not to mention the new places that open regularly. And of course, there are the non-burger-joint restaurants that serve noteworthy hamburgers. But I’ll keep rolling that rock up the hill, because there are worse things in life than feeling compelled to eat a bunch of hamburgers.

Enter Brock Sandwich. It’s not a burger place, but I’ve been hearing good things about their burger since they opened last year (including mention in blogTO’s list of the best cheeseburgers in the city).

It’s mostly a take-out place. I was lucky enough to snag one of the few tables, but if they’re busy (and they do seem to be busy) eating in will be a challenge.

The burger, as per their menu: “House Ground Beef, Smoked Tomato Jam, Mustard, Mayo, Lettuce, Onion.” The menu doesn’t specify the cheese, which I think is a white cheddar of some sort.

There is a lot of stuff on this burger. I’m a less-is-more guy when it comes to burgers, but I’m not anti-toppings, either. If it tastes good, it tastes good.

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Though the toppings here are all fine, they never quite cohere into something special — it just tastes like a burger with a lot of toppings. They get in the way of the beef without really justifying themselves to any meaningful degree. They’re certainly not bad; they’re just nothing particularly special.

The griddled patty is good, but again, not great. It actually has a fairly satisfying flavour (though it’s tough to tell with all that other stuff), and it’s juicy and not overcooked. But the texture is off. It has a slightly chewy, sausagey texture. It’s the type of texture that you typically find in a meatloaf burger — but I’m pretty sure there aren’t any spices or any of the other stuff typical of a meatloaf burger mixed into the patty.

So how to account for that texture? I suspect that they mix salt right into the beef, something that can have a profound impact on a burger’s texture, though it’s hard to be too sure.

It’s not a deal-breaker — it’s still pretty tasty — but it’s a shame that what could otherwise be an above average patty has such a noticeable defect.

As for the fries, they were seasoned with paprika or something similar, and were quite tasty. They were a tad on the soggy side, but were still quite stellar — especially when dipped in the restaurant’s amazing malt vinegar mayo.

I should note that my dining companion had the fried chicken sandwich, and it looked amazing.  I wish I had taken a picture because it was maybe the most perfect-looking fried chicken sandwich that I’ve ever seen.  And apparently it was as good as it looked, because my dining companion proclaimed it to be the second-best fried chicken sandwich he has ever eaten (the best, apparently, being the Beastwich — it’s tough to top that one).

Brock Sandwich - the menu Brock Sandwich - the restaurant Brock Sandwich - the burger Brock Sandwich - the burger
Brock Sandwich on Urbanspoon

Fatburger

8 Jun

fat
Location
10 Disera Drive, Unit 120, Thornhill
Websitehttp://www.fatburgercanada.com/

Fatburger is the latest American burger chain to open their doors in the GTA.    Five Guys is pretty well entrenched at this point, we just got Hwy 55, and Carl’s Jr. is right around the corner.  I’m still waiting for Steak ‘n Shake, Shake Shack, or In-N-Out (fat chance on that one), but we’re doing pretty well as far as fast food burger choices go.

The setup is somewhat similar to Five Guys, but instead of calling out your number when the food is ready, they bring it to your table.

Unlike Five Guys, they have a bunch of elaborately topped burgers on the menu; I went with the Original Fatburger, which comes with lettuce, tomato, mustard, relish, onion (which I skipped, because nuts to onions) and pickles.

Like pretty much every burger joint opening in the GTA these days, the patty is griddle-cooked.  There was some signage on the table proudly proclaiming that they “use the leanest beef around,” which had me concerned that the patty was going to be yet another overly dry burger (just go through the archives if you’d care to read me railing against the tragically common issue of overly lean beef and dried-out burger patties).

Thankfully, the well done burger was actually fairly juicy, so the sign is clearly not particularly accurate — and this is one case where I’m very happy for a restaurant’s claim to be completely untrue.  Lean burgers are nothing to be proud of, or to aim for.

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The patty actually has a pretty great texture; it’s loosely packed, coarsely ground, and fairly juicy.  A more pronounced crust from the griddle would have been nice, but it wasn’t entirely crustless.

My biggest issue is that the flavour of the beef itself was a bit lacking.  It definitely wasn’t bad, but it had that distinctively muddled, not-entirely-appealing flavour that you get from so-so quality beef.  It was fine, but it is a bit of a shame; with slightly tastier beef, this could have been a top-tier hamburger.

The burger was more busily-topped than I normally like, but since the flavour of the beef wasn’t exactly stellar, I was actually pretty happy to have a handful of condiments to smooth things out.  This is not a burger to get plain; in fact if I ever go back I’ll likely opt for cheese as well.

The toppings were all pretty standard, and were fine.  The most noteworthy was the lettuce; it’s a round, whole slice of iceberg that gives the burger a satisfying crunch.  I’ve had lettuce served like this at burger joints in the States, but I don’t think I’ve ever had it in Toronto.  I like it.

The bun was slightly on the dense side, but it was fresh and suited the burger fairly well.

As for the fries, they were pretty bad.  They were McCain (the clearly marked boxes were in full view), and tasted like the blandest, frozeniest frozen fries that I’ve ever had.

Fatburger - the outside Fatburger - the restaurant Fatburger - the burger and fries Fatburger - the burger
Fatburger on Urbanspoon

The Queen and Beaver Public House

1 Jun

queen
Location
: 35 Elm Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://queenandbeaverpub.ca/

The burger at the Queen and Beaver is… different.  My dining companion noted that my brow was furrowed for pretty much the entire time I was eating it, which is true. It’s an odd one.  I don’t know how to classify it.

The Queen and Beaver has actually been on my radar for a while now, at least since Toronto Life included it on their list of the best burgers in Toronto back in 2012.

It’s a cozy restaurant with food that’s a bit more ambitious than standard pub fare.  This ambition extends to the burger, and sadly, I think their reach exceeds their grasp.

The patty is hand chopped, which means that instead of putting the beef through a grinder like with a traditional hamburger, it’s chopped by hand until the resultant bits are small enough to be formed into a patty.

It’s odd.  The waitress informed me that they suggest medium rare, which was fine by me, that being my preference and all.  And the grilled patty was cooked to a perfect medium rare, but… it didn’t taste like a hamburger.  The hand-chopped patty was formed out of discernibly large chunks of beef, with the effect being that the whole thing tasted like bits of steak that had been mashed into the shape of a hamburger.

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Honestly, I’m loathe to even call it a hamburger — it tastes more like a steak sandwich.  But if it looks like a burger, is called a burger, and has appeared on a list of the best burgers in Toronto…  I guess it’s a hamburger, or at least I should treat it as such.

Sadly, whatever it is, it’s pretty much ruined by an extreme case of over-seasoning.  Along with the bits of steak, there are onions, spices, and something else with a very strong flavour added into the mix (Worcestershire sauce?  HP?  I’m not sure).  Whatever it is, it is very, very strong.  They are presumably using good quality beef (the steep $18 dollar price tag would certainly indicate this), but thanks to all the junk they’ve got mixed in there, it doesn’t have even one iota of beefy flavour.  Maybe it’s a hamburger and maybe it’s a steak sandwich, but either one of those without any beefy flavour is unquestionably a failure.

It comes topped with some thickly sliced bacon which, though it tastes pretty good, is mushy and quite possibly the least crispy bacon I’ve ever had.  There wasn’t even a hint of crispiness — it may as well have been boiled.  Cheese was proffered, but I elected to go without (and I’m glad I did — there’s already more than enough going on here without adding another flavour to further muddle things).

The fresh sesame seed bun was quite good, I’ll give it that.  Kinda sad that the best thing I have to say about this hamburger is that the bun is good, but here we are.  Suffice it to say, I disagree with Toronto Life’s assertion that this is one of the best burgers in Toronto.  I doubt it would be in my top 100, let alone top 25.

The fries were tasty, however.   Thickly cut and maybe a touch underdone, they were otherwise quite good.

The Queen and Beaver Public House - the restaurant The Queen and Beaver Public House - the restaurant The Queen and Beaver Public House - the burger and fries The Queen and Beaver Public House - the burger
Queen and Beaver Public House on Urbanspoon