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.
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.