Tag Archives: bacon

Northern Maverick Brewing Co.

29 Apr


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

20 Nov

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.”

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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

The Federal

6 Nov

federal
Location
: 1438 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Website: http://thefed.ca/

This was actually my second attempt to try the burger at the Federal — the first time, it was so busy that I wound up at Royale’s Luncheonette instead (which turned out to be a pretty pleasant surprise).

It was actually really busy again, so I think it’s safe to say that you have to be prepared to wait if you want to try this place.  But you know that expression about the wisdom of the crowd?  Yeah, that definitely applies here.  Turns out there’s a reason the Federal is so busy.

Their burger is dubbed the Four Guys burger, and is described as “griddle-smashed beef, bacon, pickles, american cheese, caramelized onion, lettuce, mustard, special sauce.”

With a really good burger, all it takes is one bite to know that you’re dealing with something special, and that was clearly the case here.  One bite, and yeah, there was that really distinctive flavour you only get from really good quality beef.  That’s a flavour that’s way harder to come by in Toronto than you’d think.  It’s a face-punch of beefiness that immediately tells you that you’re in good hands.

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The texture of the beef was pretty great, too — though it could have used a bit more crust from the griddle, the medium well patty was otherwise stellar.  It was coarsely ground, loosely packed, and was nice and tender without ever tipping the scales into soft or mushy territory.  It was great.

But it’s actually really impressive that the burger’s beefy flavour managed to be as prominent as it was, because there was so much going on here. Between the sweet caramelized onions, the salty bacon and cheese, the vinegary pickles and mustard, and the tangy special sauce, the burger was kind of a mess.  A tasty mess, don’t get me wrong, but there’s definitely more going on here than I typically prefer.

It’s hard to fault the burger too much, though; my problem with a heavily-topped burger is usually that the flavour of the beef has been overwhelmed.  But here, that great beefy flavour is front and centre, minimizing that issue to an impressive degree.

The soft, toasted bun had enough substance to hold up to all those toppings, but was light enough to stay in the background, which is exactly where it should be.  So yeah, all around a pretty impressive burger.

I came at brunch, and instead of fries the burger came with a side of potato rosti and a really simple salad.  The rosti had a great layer of crispy goodness on the outside and was nice and creamy within; however, I don’t think it was seasoned at all.  It was pretty bland.

3.5 out of 4

The Federal - the sign The Federal - the menu The Federal - the restaurant The Federal - the burger The Federal - the burger

Cactus Club Cafe

10 Apr

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

Food Dudes

14 Feb

dudes
Location
: It’s a truck, so check Twitter to see where they’re parked
Websitehttp://www.thefooddudes.com/

Food trucks have really livened up events like the Canadian International Auto Show, which is currently going on at the Convention Centre.  Suddenly, the food options are a bit more interesting than a warmed over slice of pizza or a sad hot dog.

There are a couple of trucks at the show this year, both with a burger on the menu (the other one is Hank Daddy’s Barbecue).  I went with Food Dudes, which was probably a mistake.

The Truck Burger sounds appealing enough; their menu describes it as “chopped steak, aged cheddar, chili pickled onions, arugula, bacon mayo, pomme frites, brioche.”

It might have been a pretty good burger, if it weren’t for whatever the hell is going on with the patty, which has an odd, downright alien texture.  It was chewy, dense, and bizarre, like the ground beef had melted and congealed, trying its best to reassemble itself back into one solid mass.  Maybe I’m overly picky (okay, definitely), but in this case I have photographic proof.  I mean, look at the picture of this burger’s cross-section.  I’ve seen the insides of many, many hamburgers over the last few years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

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I’d say the burger is meatloafy (there’s definitely all kinds of flavouring mixed in), but I’ve never had meatloaf with this texture; it was somewhere between a sausage and Spam.  It was kind of insane how weird it was.

The menu calls the patty “chopped steak,” and maybe this is the culprit?  Chopping rather than grinding beef is ostensibly meant to give the burger a more coarse, steaky texture — but they seem to achieved the absolute opposite effect here.  Maybe instead of putting the beef through a grinder, they instead threw it into a food processor and ran it until the meat became a fine paste?  Or they chopped it by hand, and chopped it and chopped it and chopped it, until they wound up with the aforementioned paste?  I really don’t know how else to account for that texture.

It actually tasted okay, though between the assertive bacon mayo, the sharp cheddar, all the spices mixed into the beef, and the insane texture, I honestly don’t think I would have guessed this was a hamburger if I had eaten it blindfolded.  I don’t even know if I would have pegged the meat as beef, given how thoroughly disguised it was by the other flavours and that oddball spongy/chewy/gummy texture.

The patty was otherwise kinda juicy and not overcooked, so it’s a real shame that they did whatever it is that they did to it.  The toppings were pretty good too, if a bit overwhelming; I particularly liked the crispy potato strings, which added a nice crunch without being too assertive.  I also quite liked the fresh brioche bun.

But that patty.  That patty…

2 out of 4

Food Dudes - the truck Food Dudes - the truck Food Dudes - the burger Food Dudes - the burger Food Dudes - the burger