Hambrgr

HambrgrLocation: 207 Ottawa Street North, Hamilton
Website: https://www.hambrgr.ca/

I don’t want to bury the lede: yes, Hambrgr is in Hamilton.  It’s far.  I’ve never reviewed a hamburger outside of the GTA for this blog, but after seeing Hambrgr on John Catucci’s new Food Network show, Big Food Bucket List, I kinda had to try it.

While I was mulling over whether I wanted to expand this blog’s range into Hamilton, I discovered that something called the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (or GTHA) exists.  I’m not making this up; it has a Wikipedia page.  That was really all the excuse I needed.

And seriously: watch that segment on Big Food Bucket List and tell me you don’t immediately want to check that place out.  I dare you.

Hambrgr

I’m happy to say that it is absolutely, positively worth the drive to Hamilton.  It’s so damn good.

The burger from the show is the #HamOnt: “double 1/4lb patties,  grilled onions, ‘merican cheese, mustard glazed bacon, brgr sauce, iceberg.”

Sadly, my pictures turned out terribly — the lighting in the restaurant is a bit wonky, so in the photos, the griddled patties look like they’ve been completely blackened.  They were not completely blackened.

You’ll just have to take my word for it: they were perfect.  They had an absolutely amazing dark brown crust.

Hambrgr

They also tasted fantastic; they were profoundly juicy despite being cooked to medium well, with a thunderclap of satisfying beefy flavour.  According to the show, they’re made from a blend of chuck, inside round, and navel.  Unlike so many burgers in the GTA, you can tell that a great deal of thought was put into the blend they used.  It’s juicy and flavourful in a way that puts most burger joints to shame.

The patties were maybe a bit too finely ground and tightly packed — they’re ever-so-slightly tougher than they should be, but that’s a very minor complaint.  Considering how superlative they are in every other way, that’s easy to overlook.

Hambrgr

The toppings are just as good.  The gooey American cheese is perfect, griddled onions are always welcome on a burger, and the shredded lettuce adds some nice crunch and freshness.  Then there’s the mustard-glazed bacon, which is honestly kind of ingenious.  The zippy flavour from the mustard enhances the bacon and helps to cut through the burger’s richness, but doesn’t overwhelm the burger the way mustard as a condiment does.

The bun is great, too.  I mean, it’s all great.  If you have a car, it’s totally worth the drive to Hamilton.  And if you don’t…  I dunno, take the bus, I guess?  Just get over there.  It’s worth it.

Hambrgr

As for the fries, I ordered the half & half, which comes with regular and sweet potato fries.  It also comes with two dipping sauces: ketchup and sambal mayo.  The fries are very good, and that sambal mayo makes them even better.  It’s a great dip; it’s spicy, zesty, and addictive.

2.5 out of 4

Gladiator Burger & Steak


Location: 6039 Erin Mills Parkway, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/GladiatorBurgers/

Here’s a complaint I’m pretty sure I’ve never made before: the burger at Gladiator Burger has too much beef.  It’s too beefy.

Is that even a thing?  I feel like Peter in that episode of Family Guy where he lies about going to the doctor and claims he was told he was “in too good of shape.”  That’s not a thing, is it?

I ordered the Gladiator Burger: “two beef patties, beef bacon, two slices Canadian cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, tomato, lettuce, pickles & Gladiator aioli.”

The menu says that the patties are six ounces each, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually closer to eight.  They’re enormous.

I actually had a surprisingly hard time cutting it in half, because the burger was almost as tall as the plastic knife.  The knife went about 80 percent of the way in. It was nuts.

Too much beef or not, however: it’s a very good burger.

Gladiator Burger

The patties had a decent amount of crust from the griddle and a mild but satisfying beefy flavour.  The texture was great; the grind was nice and coarse, and they weren’t too tightly packed.

They were cooked all the way to well done, and I wish they were a little bit juicier, but they were quite good.  They were top-notch patties.

It’s clearly too much beef, though.  It should have either been a single, or had two smaller patties.  It’s good quality beef, but it would have needed to be phenomenal for me to want that much of it.  It’s overwhelming.  It’s the equivalent of ordering a triple (or a quadruple) at a regular burger joint.  It’s excessive.

Everything else was solid. The crispy beef bacon (which I’m pretty sure was deep fried) was satisfying, the cheddar was nice and melty (though American would have been preferable), and the griddled onions suit the burger perfectly.  The Gladiator aioli was the standard tangy mayo.

The bun was quite good as well, holding up nicely to the enormous burger without being too dense or substantial.

I should reiterate that it was a really, really good burger; it’s easily the best burger in Mississauga, though that’s not exactly a tall mountain to climb.  I just wish there were a little bit less of it.  I won’t say that I was not entertained, but I could have been more entertained (what, did you think I was going to get through this whole review without a strained Gladiator reference?  Come on). It’s also a bit pricey at almost twenty bucks for a combo — but then it’s like a pound of decent quality beef, so I guess the price makes sense.

As for the fries, they had a mild stale oil flavour, but were otherwise really good.

3.5 out of 4

Gladiator Burger - the outside Gladiator Burger - the restaurant Gladiator Burger - the burger and fries Gladiator Burger - the burger

Northern Maverick Brewing Co.


Location
: 115 Bathurst Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://northernmaverick.ca/

I told myself I wasn’t going to trust Toronto Life again after the great frozen burger fiasco of 2015 (a quick recap: they included a frozen, industrially-produced burger in their list of the 25 best burgers in the city back in 2015 and made smoke come out of my ears like a cartoon character).

But when they specifically mentioned the greatness of the burger at Northern Maverick Brewing Co. in their recent list of the best new restaurants in the city, I couldn’t ignore it.  That’s like catnip for me.  I can’t resist.  I’m physically incapable.

(They also recently published my list of the ten best burgers in the city, so I guess they’re not all bad.)

I like Toronto Life, but they should clearly stop trying to recommend burgers, because they are terrible at it.

The burger here was an absolute disaster.  The menu certainly makes it sound good: “dry-aged house ground chuck, housemade bacon, house smoked cheese, house pickle” (they sure like the word “house,” don’t they?).

I’m going to start with the bun, because holy crap that bun was so profoundly awful that I’m having a hard time believing that it even happened.  Like, did I really eat that?  Or was it some kind of bizarre nightmare?

I knew I was in trouble immediately, because I almost couldn’t even cut through it with the knife they provided.  It was dense and impenetrable and horrible.

It made it really difficult to actually eat the hamburger — it was so dense and unyielding that it had zero give.  You couldn’t compress it down even a little bit, and it’s big, so I had to open my jaw as wide as it would go, and it was barely enough.

The flavour was fine — it was slightly too sweet, but otherwise okay — but the texture was a complete disaster.  It was closer to stale pound cake than to a traditional bun.  It overwhelmed everything.  It was the worst.

The patty, sadly, wasn’t much better.  It had a decent beefy flavour and a nice amount of crust from the griddle, but it was immediately apparent that the beef they were using was way too lean, because the well-done patty was dry AF.  I can’t remember the last time I had a burger that dry. Between that and the stupid bun, it required so much chewing.

The toppings were fine, at least. I was a bit worried that the smoked cheese would be overwhelming, but it was pleasantly mild and melty.

But it’s irrelevant. That bun. That patty. The horror.

Oh, and the fries were of the ultra-generic frozen variety, so how this place wound up on a major magazine’s list of the best restaurants of the year is truly baffling.

1.5 out of 4

Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the outside Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the restaurant Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the burger Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the burger Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the burger

Oliver and Bonacini Cafe Grill

oliver
Location
: 33 Yonge Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.oliverbonacini.com/Yonge-Front.aspx

The last burger I tried from an O&B joint was thoroughly forgettable, but when I found myself at Café Grill, I figured, sure, why not?  I’m here, the burger is here, let’s do this.

(And I did debate whether I should even be reviewing more than one O&B restaurant, or if all their locations count as one big chain.  But since each menu seems to be completely different, I think they’re all fair game.)

Though I approach each burger I eat hoping for the best, I sort of figured the burger here would be much like the one I had from O&B Canteen — passable, but mediocre.

As it turns out, I was longing for the comparative delights of “passable, but mediocre.”

olivera

The Café Grill calls their hamburger the Smashed Ground Chuck Burger, and it comes topped with “housemade BBQ sauce, bacon, cheddar, iceberg lettuce, special sauce.”

I rant about overly dry patties all the time on this blog, and I really don’t feel like doing it again right now.  I’ll just say this: the griddled patty was punishingly gray throughout and was devoid of anything even resembling moisture.  It was also really substantial, making each mouthful a bit of an ordeal.

It actually tasted pretty okay, but since it had the approximate texture of a bunch of mashed-up saltines held together with glue, does it matter?

And though the bun was a bit over-toasted and more dense than it needed to be, the toppings were all tasty enough.  But again: dry saltines.  Glue.  Agony.

Oh, and it also cost 19 bucks, putting it on the more expensive end of burgers in the GTA.

As for the thickly-cut fries, they were quite good.  Nothing too special, but they were solid French fries.

1.5 out of 4

Oliver and Bonacini Cafe Grill - the restaurant Oliver and Bonacini Cafe Grill - the restaurant Oliver and Bonacini Cafe Grill - the burger and fries Oliver and Bonacini Cafe Grill - the burger

Cactus Club Cafe

cactus
Location
: 77 Adelaide Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.cactusclubcafe.com/location/first-canadian-place/

Cactus Club Cafe, like Earl’s and Joey before it, is the latest Western Canadian upscale casual chain to make its way to Toronto.  A great burger from a chain like this is kind of like Bigfoot — some people claim it exists, but I haven’t seen any compelling evidence myself.  But in his (mostly unfavourable) review of this place in the Globe and Mail, Chris Nuttall-Smith singled out the burger as “a wide, deliciously sloppy mess.”  Okay.  Sold.

There are actually two burgers on the menu — the Feenie Burger, and the Cheddar Bacon burger.  As far as I can tell the two burgers are identical, save for the presence of mushrooms on the Feenie.  But that burger (created by celebrity chef Rob Feenie) is the one referenced in Nuttall-Smith’s review, so that’s what I ordered.

There’s a ridiculous amount of stuff on the burger.  Aside from the aforementioned mushrooms, it’s topped with aged cheddar, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickles, red relish, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard.  I’m actually kind of surprised that Feenie wanted to put his name on this burger, because it’s essentially like going to Harvey’s and asking for everything.  It might be tasty, but it’s more like a random hodge-podge of stuff than a chef-crafted creation.  In particular, the vinegary-sweet combination of the abundant ketchup and mustard are easily the dominant flavours here.

cactusA

As for the mushrooms that apparently warrant Rob Feenie slapping his name on the burger?  There’s so much else going on that I literally couldn’t even tell they were there.

Still, it’s a pretty good hamburger.  The patty has a bit of crust from the griddle, and in the rare bites where you get a taste of the beef without too much else getting in the way, it has a pretty decent flavour.  It’s also fairly juicy, with a nice coarse grind that hasn’t been overhandled.  It makes me a bit sad that it’s completely overwhelmed by the voluminous toppings (Nuttall-Smith called the patty “somewhat irrelevant” in his review, which is apt), but tasty is tasty.  Sometimes it’s best not to overthink it.

As for the fries, they were lightly battered, cardboardy, and personality-free.  They couldn’t have been more obviously from a bag if they came with a big lighted sign that said “FROM THE FREEZER.”

3 out of 4

Cactus Club Cafe - the outside Cactus Club Cafe - restaurant Cactus Club Cafe - the burger Cactus Club Cafe - the burger

Montecito

montecito
Location
: 299 Adelaide Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.montecitorestaurant.ca/

Montecito is the brainchild of Canadian-born director Ivan Reitman (who also had a strong hand in the TIFF Lightbox around the corner).  That said, the question is whether it’s more Ghostbusters, or My Super-Ex Girlfriend.  Twins, or Six Days Seven Nights?

I’d heard good things about the burger (which is described simply on the menu as “milk bun, bacon, fontina”), so I had high hopes.

I won’t lie — I got pretty excited when the hamburger showed up. It was picture perfect: glistening patty, toppings just so, and a perfectly proportionate bun (with the sesame seeds so evenly spaced it looked like they were placed individually).  It’s easily one of the most immaculate looking burgers I’ve been served recently. It was photoshoot-ready.

I got a little bit less impressed when I cut into the burger, revealing a well done patty that was fully gray from edge to edge.

montecitoA

I got even less impressed when I took a bite.  Certainly, it’s not a bad hamburger, but it’s sort of like meeting someone who’s supermodel-attractive, only for them to turn out to be a hardcore Trump supporter.  You might be able to make it work for a while, but there’s no future there and you know it.

I will say that the patty, despite how well done it was (and it was cooked right to the very edge of well done) remained somewhat juicy; they must have actually started with beef with an appropriate fat ratio, which is always delightful.  But the patty was very tightly packed, so it was a little bit too tough, despite its juiciness.

It also didn’t have much of a beefy flavour, though in that regard the very salty toppings were a pretty serious impediment.  Between the salty cheese, the salty bacon, the mayo, and the seasoning on the patty itself, it’s salt overload.  It makes it nearly impossible to taste the beef, which doesn’t exactly have an assertive flavour to start with.

The buttery toasted bun was mostly pretty great, though I think it was toasted for a few seconds too long, giving the surface a bit more of an in-your-face crunch than you want on a hamburger.

It’s too bad, because seriously, look at that thing.  That looks like it should be the best burger ever, but a few serious hiccups hold it back from being anything much better than good.

It comes with a side of salad and a small bowl of house-made chips, both of which were quite tasty.

3 out of 4

Montecito - the outside Montecito - the restaurant Montecito - the burger Montecito - the burger, chips, and salad Montecito - the burger

Rose and Sons Swan

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