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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

Fran’s Restaurant

frans
Location: 20 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.fransrestaurant.com/

I was perusing the menu at Fran’s with no particular desire to order the burger — but then something caught my eye.  On the menu, they claim to have invented the banquet burger.  A banquet burger, for the unaware, is another name for a bacon cheeseburger.

I’m a little bit skeptical that the bacon cheeseburger was created at a diner in Toronto; I’d say it’s more likely that they invented the term banquet burger, but hey, who knows?

Either way, they’ve clearly been serving it for a long, long time (they’ve been around since the ’40s), so I figured I’d be remiss in my burger blogging duties if I didn’t give it a try.

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The menu also states that they make their burger patties with a “special blend of spices and seasoning.”  I’m generally not a fan of burgers with stuff mixed into the patties, so I’m not going to lie: I was skeptical. But you know what? Sometimes places like this can surprise you.

This was not one of those times.

It’s so meatloafy.  Like, crazy meatloafy.  I could talk about how strongly spiced it is, how the flavour of the beef is completely gone. I could talk about how it’s ground way too finely, and has a texture that’s closer to sausage than to hamburger.  I could talk about how a burger like this completely misses the point of what makes a burger so great in the first place.  I could talk about all that, but instead:

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The banquet part of this burger is actually the highlight; the creamy mild cheddar is nicely melty and gooey, and the thick-cut bacon was way above average.  Too bad they’re both resting atop a mediocre patty.

The fries are even worse. At least they put some effort into the burger, even if that effort is ill advised. The fries are just bottom-of-the-barrel frozen fries.  I am continually baffled by how terrible frozen fries like this continue to be served at restaurants.  They taste so lousy, and really, is it that hard to cut a potato into strips?  Get out of here.

1.5 out of 4

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