Portland Variety


Location
: 587 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.portlandvariety.com/

I often feel like a broken record writing burger reviews.  I’ve written almost 200 of these things at this point, and there are only so many ways you can describe a hamburger before you start repeating yourself (and repeating yourself, and repeating yourself).

Of course, the vast majority of people reading any given review will have popped in based on a Google search; they’ll read the review they came for, and that’s that.  Those people have no idea how repetitive these reviews can be, which, oddly, makes me feel a little bit better about the whole thing.

But if you’re one of the much smaller group of people who have read a bunch of these reviews… get ready for some greatest hits.  These complaints are all going to seem pretty familiar.

And yes, it’s mostly complaints, sadly.  Though I’ve actually heard very good things about the burger at Portland Variety, the one I was served wasn’t particularly good.

The PV Burger, per the restaurant’s menu: “House made milk bun, smoked applewood cheddar, zucchini pickle, gherkin aioli, cassava frites.”

The main problem?  The texture.  The patty was way, way too finely ground and tightly packed (I’ve never made that complaint before, right guys??).  It wasn’t too bad around the medium-well middle, but the well done edges were dry, dense, and chewy.  It has that saltine effect, where you feel like you need to take a drink of water between each bite to prevent your mouth from completely drying out.

Otherwise, the burger is either fine or slightly better than fine. Aside from the aforementioned issues, the patty was decent enough (if a bit too peppery), with a mild beefy flavour and a decent amount of juiciness (at least around the middle).  If it weren’t for the fine grind and the dense texture, it would have been a solid burger.

This would be the part of the review where I’d mention if it was griddled or grilled, but to be honest, despite the fact that it’s only been a few hours since I ate it, I’ve already forgotten.  It wasn’t particularly memorable.

As for the toppings, the pickles were fine, and the cheddar was probably a bit too strong, but it was melty and tasty.  The “gherkin aioli” basically just tasted like a grainy mustard.  It wasn’t bad — I generally find mustard a little overpowering on a burger, but this had a nice zing without getting in the way.

The bun was great.  It was easily the best part of the burger.  It was soft and fresh, with the perfect amount of substance.

The cassava fries were interesting.  They were mostly quite tasty, with a very crispy exterior and a creamy, slightly chewy interior.  But one of them featured a papery skin I couldn’t bite through, and the mayo-based dipping sauce was seriously bland, with a broken emulsion that made it unpleasantly greasy.

2 out of 4

Portland Variety - the restaurant Portland Variety - the restaurant Portland Variety - the burger Portland Variety - the burger

Fancy Franks


Location: 326 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://fancyfranks.com/

Though the hot dogs are clearly the thing to order here (they are fancy, after all), there is a burger on the menu at Fancy Franks.

You can get a single cheeseburger, a double cheeseburger, a bacon cheeseburger, or a Fancy Patty, which comes with lettuce, chicken bacon, and Fancy sauce.  I went simple with the single cheeseburger, and had it topped with tomato, pickles, and mayo.

There’s nothing that particularly stands out about it, but it’s a solid burger.  I have very few complaints.

As you’d expect, it’s a smashed and griddled burger, and it’s nicely prepared.  There’s an impressive amount of crust from the griddle (maybe even a little too much?  It’s slightly crunchier than you’d like), and the American cheese is satisfyingly gooey.  And while the flavour of the patty isn’t particularly beefy, it’s not unpleasant.

It’s cooked to well done and then some, however; while I wouldn’t call it dry, it’s not particularly juicy, either.  The grind is also slightly too fine, but otherwise everything is pretty much where it should be.  It’s a tasty burger.

The condiments were standard issue (though the mayo was globbed on a little bit too enthusiastically), and the soft, lightly toasted sesame seed bun was supermarket fare — but it works.

As for the fries, they were a little bit oily and weren’t quite as crispy as they should have been, but they were still tasty enough.

3 out of 4

Fancy Franks - the outside Fancy Franks - the restaurant Fancy Franks - the fries Fancy Franks - the cheeseburger Fancy Franks - the cheeseburger

Momofuku Kojin

Momofuku Kojin
Location: 190 University Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://kojin.momofuku.com/

I actually really liked Momofuku Daisho (including, of course, the burger, though their brunch was also quite delicious).  Alas, both it and the more upscale Shoto shut down earlier this year to make way for Kojin, which is essentially Momofuku’s take on a steakhouse.

Considering how meat-based the menu is, I had very, very high hopes for their hamburger.  And indeed, it is (almost) as delicious as you’d hope.  Almost!  But I have a few nitpicks, because I’m me so of course I have a few nitpicks.

One of the bigger issues is obvious as soon as you take a look at the burger; it’s got these big, ridiculous Gruyere cheese wings.  In theory, these things should be amazing.  You can just snap them off and then eat them as a side dish, which is what I did.  They’re like big fat cheese chips.  They’re great.

The problem is inside the burger.  The cheese was obviously cooked separately from the patty and then placed on top after it had melted.  So the whole thing is crispy, not just the edges.

Momofuku Kojin

I shouldn’t even have to say this, but the cheese on a cheeseburger needs to be gooey and to melt into all of the crags and crevices of the patty.  It shouldn’t be crunchy.  That’s just… what is that??

Even worse: because of how much moisture there is inside the burger from the juicy patty and all of the sauce, the once-crispy cheese sogs up, and is actually more chewy than anything else.  It’s weird and hard and wrong.  I removed it altogether in the second half of my burger, and it came right off (which is how you know something is seriously amiss — the cheese and the patty should meld into one.  They should be inseparable).

The burger is also topped with pickles, braised onions, and garlic mayo.  The toppings are mostly quite good, though the mayo is way stronger than it needs to be.  It takes away from the amazing flavour of the beef.

Because yes, the beef is pretty special.  It’s cooked to a perfect rare, it’s extremely juicy, it has a great amount of crust from the griddle, and an intensely beefy flavour that’s beyond satisfying.  It’s really obvious that they’re using great quality beef, because the flavour is spectacular.

My only issue with the patty — and it’s a minor one — is that the grind is a little bit too coarse.  I think it might even be hand-chopped rather than ground.  It’s certainly delicious, but it has a substantial, steaky chew; it comes dangerously close to tipping the scales from hamburger to steak sandwich.  It never quite gets there, but it’s a tad closer than I’d like.  I want my hamburger to taste like a hamburger.  If I wanted a steak sandwich, I’d order a steak sandwich.

Still, it’s so delicious that it’s hard to complain too much.  I have a lot of little issues with the burger, but that patty is so damn good that they all just fade away.  It’s amazing.

Okay, one more complaint: the bun.  It’s actually very good, but it’s quite soft and it just isn’t up to the task.  The very juicy, saucy burger defeated it.   By the last few bites it had pretty much disintegrated into mush.  The burger clearly needs something with a bit more heft and sturdiness.

It comes with a couple of enormous onion rings and ranch dipping sauce instead of fries.  They’re not the best onion rings I’ve ever had, but they’re nicely cooked and tasty.

Oh, also: it’s seriously expensive at 25 bucks.  It doesn’t feel overpriced because of how amazing the beef is, but I think it needed to be mentioned.

3.5 out of 4

Momofuku Kojin - the outside Momofuku Kojin - the restaurant Momofuku Kojin - the pickled fruits/veggies Momofuku Kojin - the onion rings Momofuku Kojin - the burger Momofuku Kojin - the burger