Archive | December, 2015

The Opera House Grill

20 Dec

opera
Location
: 737 Queen Street East, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/theoperahousegrill/

I’m going to keep this one relatively brief.  If you’ve read my recent rant about the Opera House Grill’s inclusion on Toronto Life’s new list of the city’s 25 best burgers, then you already pretty much know what I think about this burger: it’s made with a frozen patty, and it doesn’t belong within a million miles of any kind of “best of” list.

Still, that’s not to say that it’s the worst thing ever.  It’s actually pretty okay, as far as frozen burgers go.  The Shaggy Burger (the one that made Toronto Life’s list) is an impressively ridiculous behemoth of a burger.  Piled high with sweet griddled onions, crispy onion rings, bacon, tsatziki, and a healthy mound of cheddar cheese, not to mention the standard burger toppings like lettuce, pickles, and tomato, it’s pretty much the definition of a kitchen sink burger.

operaA

And I won’t lie: it’s pretty good in the middle.  It’s topping overload, but everything in the pile is fairly tasty, and it all tastes pretty good together.  The big mound of shredded cheddar cheese never quite melts as much as it needs to, but aside from that the toppings are solid.

Where the burger really falls apart (figuratively — the bun held up surprisingly well to all the toppings) is around the perimeter of the burger, where all of the many condiments begin to fade away. That’s when you really taste that hot-doggy, mediocre frozen patty, and realize that greatness is simply never going to be in this burger’s vocabulary.

As for the fries, they clearly came out of the same freezer as the burger patty, and were about as middling as you’d expect.

2 out of 4

The Opera House Grill - the outside The Opera House Grill - the restaurant The Opera House Grill - the Shaggy burger The Opera House Grill - the Shaggy Burger The Opera House Grill - the Shaggy Burger

Rose and Sons Swan

6 Dec

swan
Location
: 892 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.roseandsonsswan.com/

Magnificent.  That’s really the only word I can think of to describe the awe-inspiringly delicious burger they serve at the Swan.  I wanna be very clear about this right up front, so that if you’re just skimming this review you know what’s what: this is one of the best burgers in the city.  You need to try it.

Swan, for the unaware, is a venerable diner that went under and was promptly snatched up by Rose and Sons’ Anthony Rose. Though they apparently had some pretty serious kinks to work out in their first couple of months of operation, if this burger is anything to go by, they’ve solved the hell out of whatever problems they had.

When I ordered, the waitress asked if I was okay with medium rare, which to me is right up there with “would you like some free ice cream?” in the pantheon of great questions.  Medium rare is the perfect way to cook a burger, so yeah, I’m okay with that.

The menu describes the banquet burger as coming with “house ground chuck, perth pork bacon, Ontario cheddar, brioche bun, lettuce, tomato, onion & pickle,” and oh man.  It’s all hits, no misses. Perfection.

swanA

I have to start with that patty, which was everything you’d want it to be. Cooked somewhere between medium rare and rare with a nice sheen of crust from the griddle, it had a magnificently beefy flavour and the perfect balance of substance and tenderness.  I wanted to bust into the kitchen and shake the chef’s hand; he knows his way around a burger, that’s for sure.  I haven’t had one this flavour-packed and richly satisfying since Bymark — all without the extra-large price tag or the uncomfortably stuffy room.

It’s topped with with a generous piece of thickly cut, smoky, and unctuously rich bacon, which kicked up the tastiness without ever getting in the way.

Alarmingly, on first glance the slice of cheddar cheese appeared to be completely unmelted, but on the inside it was gooey enough to satisfy.  Some cheddar can be a little bit too sharp for a hamburger, but I think it should be pretty clear by now that this kitchen isn’t going to make a rookie mistake like that; the cheese here was nice and mild, just as it should be.

Also just as it should be?  The fresh, lightly toasted and fluffy brioche bun, which gave the burger a perfect beef-to-bun ratio.

There were a handful of condiments on the side; I spread a very moderate amount of the garlicky aioli on the top bun, but everything else is completely unnecessary.  The balance of cheese, bacon, and the magnificent patty is already perfect; mess with it at your own peril.

The fries were pretty great too, because of course they were.   If you’re making a burger this great, I’m pretty sure you’re not going to mess up the fries.

I’m really excited to go back and try the burger again, because if it’s consistently this good?  It’s a very strong contender for the best hamburger in the city.  This, as you can imagine, is not a claim that I make lightly.

4 out of 4

Rose and Sons Swan - the restaurant Rose and Sons Swan - the restaurant Rose and Sons Swan - the menu Rose and Sons Swan - the burger and fries Rose and Sons Swan - the burger

Toronto Life’s New List of the 25 Best Burgers in the City is a Joke

6 Dec

tolife2015
Incendiary headline, I know.  Here’s why.

Toronto Life recently unveiled a brand new list of the 25 best burgers in the city, to compliment the one they published back in 2012.  I was looking through it the other day, and something caught my eye: the Opera House Grill’s Shaggy burger — Toronto Life’s 25th best burger in the city — looked suspiciously like it came out of a box.

I figured that couldn’t possibly be the case, but I went there just to check.

The burger was indeed made with a frozen, industrially-produced patty.  You know, the ones with a rubbery, hot-dog-like texture and a generic, vaguely unpleasant meaty flavour?  Yeah, one of those.  It’s very close if not identical to the ones they serve at distinguished eateries like Cineplex movie theatres and El Furniture Warehouse (the restaurant where everything costs five bucks).

That’s one of the best burgers in the city, apparently.

This is the equivalent of ranking the best movies of all time and including Paul Blart: Mall Cop, or ranking the best bands and including the Baha Men, or ranking the best shows and including Suddenly Susan.

Bringing this back to food, it would be like including a dish sauced with Prego in a list of the best bowls of pasta in the city, or including a Pinty’s product among the best fried chicken, or including Taco Bell among the best taco joints.

I’m belabouring the point, but I feel like I need to make why this is so egregious and galling to me crystal clear.

I’d imagine that the author of the list was won over by the impressively voluminous pile of toppings — tasty stuff like griddled onions, bacon, and onion rings —  and didn’t know enough or care enough to realize that the burger patty itself (i.e. the entire reason to eat a hamburger) was so shoddy.

Of course, publications like Toronto Life have always been more about the toppings than anything else — in fact, the cursory, one-sentence-at-best treatment that the patty gets in most mainstream burger reviews is a big part of why I started this blog in the first place.  But even by that standard, this is absurd.

I’m a burger snob, I know.  You’re probably thinking, “what the hell is he getting so worked up about??” But to me, once you’ve called something that I can buy in the freezer section at No Frills one of the best burgers in the city, that’s that.  You’ve lost all credibility.

So yeah, I’m done, Toronto Life. I guess I’ll miss out on your next hot tip: this little place called Manchu Wok that serves the best Chinese food in the city.