Maison Selby

Maison SelbyLocation: 592 Sherbourne Street, Toronto

As far as I’m concerned, a great burger doesn’t need much when it comes to toppings.  Is the the patty made from good quality beef?  Is it juicy?  If the answer to both of those questions is yes (and the answer to both of those questions should always be yes), then please just step out of the way and let the burger do its thing.

Sure, throw a couple of toppings on there that enhance or compliment the beef — but that’s it.  A lot of chefs tend to overthink it or want to put their own stamp on a tried-and-true dish.  Don’t do that.  The beef is the star.  It’s been the star for over a hundred years.  You’re not better than that kind of history.  If the toppings are getting in the way of what makes a burger great, you’re doing it wrong.

Maison Selby

Of course, I probably should have known that something called a “French Onion Beef Chuck Burger” would be over-condimented.   But how could I resist?  French onion soup is delicious.  Hamburgers are delicious.  Surely combining the two should be delicious?

And yeah, it kinda is.  That’s the thing.  This was a Tasty Burger.  But it was all about the toppings.

Maison Selby

In my defense, caramelized onions and gooey cheese are both a hamburger’s best friend, so I had high hopes for this.  But the sharp Gruyère was way too assertive, as was the voluminous pile of rich, flavourful onions (not to mention the dijonnaise, which adds another strong flavour into the mix).

It’s too bad, because the patty was decent.  The waiter asked if medium was okay, but it actually came out closer to medium rare — a delightful surprise.  And it was quite juicy.  But even aside from the fact that it was way over-condimented, the quality of the beef itself was only so-so.

Maison Selby

That’s pretty much moot, however — the only way I was able to tell what the patty tasted like was by specifically pulling out a piece so I could try it on its own.  Underneath all of those assertive toppings, the patty is more about its texture than anything else.  And the texture is great.

I don’t know.  I’m probably just being a curmudgeon and/or a burger snob.  I enjoyed eating the burger at Maison Selby.  It tastes good.  But for all the creativity on display, is it better than a plain burger that’s well prepared and made with great quality beef?  No.  No it is not.

As for the fries, they could have been fresher, but were otherwise quite tasty.  In particular, the herby aioli that comes on the side is fantastic.

3 out of 4

Maison Fou Brasserie

: 2197 Bloor Street West, Toronto

Maybe getting a hamburger at a through-and-through French restaurant like this one isn’t the best idea ever — but inspired by my recent great experience at Collete Grand Cafe, I figured I’d try my luck.

The Fou Burger is described as “house ground beef, smoked cheddar, house bacon, garlic aioli, pickles.”

I actually got pretty excited when they asked me how I wanted my burger cooked.  I asked for medium rare; the burger came closer to medium well.  I understand that this is most people’s preference when it comes to a burger, but then why ask?

Still, it was far from overcooked, and it was actually quite juicy.  But the patty was a tough chew — I think the grind was probably a bit too coarse (which certainly isn’t a complaint that I usually make), and it was way too tightly packed.

Even more problematic was the flavour; I don’t know if they mixed  pepper in with the patty or merely blanketed the surface with the stuff, but it was absolutely overwhelmed with a peppery flavour.  It was pepper all the way through, with almost no beefy flavour at all — just pepper, pepper, pepper (pepper pepper pepper).  It was intense.

Everything else was pretty good, though.  I was a little bit worried that the smoked cheddar would overwhelm the patty (not that it would be possible to overwhelm that pepper explosion), but it was so sparingly applied that I honestly couldn’t even tell that it was there.  And though the very strongly flavoured garlic aioli probably would have been overpowering under normal circumstances, that clearly wasn’t an issue here.

The very fresh bun had a subtle sweetness, and just enough heft to hold up to the burger.  It was great.

As for the fries, they were quite tasty.  They come with a generous amount of the aforementioned garlic aioli for dipping, and man, that stuff is good.  As long as you don’t mind tasting garlic for the rest of the day, it’s pretty much dipping sauce perfection.

2.5 out of 4

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Hidden Burger

: 22 Front Street West, Toronto

If nothing else, Hidden Burger certainly lives up to its name.  Tucked away in the Bottom Line, a sports bar near Union Station, there’s absolutely no signage for the place outside, and even when you get into the bar, it’s not immediately apparent that you’re in the right place.  It’s only when you walk through the place and go around a corner that you finally see it.

It strikes me as a thoroughly odd strategy to literally hide your restaurant and make random walk-ins completely impossible, but then what do I know about such things?  It’s either a genius marketing move or completely insane.

It’s mostly a take-out place, with only a few stools to sit across from the register.  They’ve got an admirably simple menu, with a cheeseburger (single or double), a veggie burger, and a weekly special, along with the requisite French fries.  I went with the cheeseburger, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and red onion.


It’s a griddled burger, which ideally gets you a tasty, dark brown crust on the patty.  Often, the griddle isn’t quite hot enough and the crust isn’t particularly there.  But I actually had the opposite problem here, which I can’t say I’ve ever encountered in a burger cooked in this style.  The crust was coal black; it was burnt and it tasted burnt, with an acridly bitter flavour pervading every bite.  That griddle must have been insanely hot.

The patty was, not surprisingly, quite overdone, with a completely gray interior that was cooked all the way to the peak of well done.  It was actually still vaguely juicy, which was nice, but suffice it to say, it needed way less time on the griddle (and it was black on both sides, which makes me think it may have been intentional, as baffling as that seems).

The patty was also a bit too tightly packed and dense, but aside from that the texture was okay.

The flavour was decent enough (aside from the bitterness, of course). There was some mild beefiness, which is always nice.

As for the toppings, they suited the burger well, though the slice of American cheese wasn’t all the way melted, which is kind of crazy given how hot the cooking surface must have been.  And the soft, squishy bun suited the burger perfectly.

The fries were the resounding highlight. They were great — super crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.  They were particularly good with the optional jalapeno aioli, which costs 50 cents and is worth every penny.

2.5 out of 4

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