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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The Opera House Grill

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Location
: 737 Queen Street East, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/theoperahousegrill/

I’m going to keep this one relatively brief.  If you’ve read my recent rant about the Opera House Grill’s inclusion on Toronto Life’s new list of the city’s 25 best burgers, then you already pretty much know what I think about this burger: it’s made with a frozen patty, and it doesn’t belong within a million miles of any kind of “best of” list.

Still, that’s not to say that it’s the worst thing ever.  It’s actually pretty okay, as far as frozen burgers go.  The Shaggy Burger (the one that made Toronto Life’s list) is an impressively ridiculous behemoth of a burger.  Piled high with sweet griddled onions, crispy onion rings, bacon, tsatziki, and a healthy mound of cheddar cheese, not to mention the standard burger toppings like lettuce, pickles, and tomato, it’s pretty much the definition of a kitchen sink burger.

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And I won’t lie: it’s pretty good in the middle.  It’s topping overload, but everything in the pile is fairly tasty, and it all tastes pretty good together.  The big mound of shredded cheddar cheese never quite melts as much as it needs to, but aside from that the toppings are solid.

Where the burger really falls apart (figuratively — the bun held up surprisingly well to all the toppings) is around the perimeter of the burger, where all of the many condiments begin to fade away. That’s when you really taste that hot-doggy, mediocre frozen patty, and realize that greatness is simply never going to be in this burger’s vocabulary.

As for the fries, they clearly came out of the same freezer as the burger patty, and were about as middling as you’d expect.

2 out of 4

The Opera House Grill - the outside The Opera House Grill - the restaurant The Opera House Grill - the Shaggy burger The Opera House Grill - the Shaggy Burger The Opera House Grill - the Shaggy 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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El Furniture Warehouse

warehouse
Location
: 410 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/ElFurnitureTO

In case you’re not familiar with the place, El Furniture Warehouse’s whole shtick is that every item on the menu costs five bucks (or more accurately, $4.95).  Yes, all the appetizers, mains, and desserts are five bucks.

As you can imagine, it’s a popular place — I went on a Saturday afternoon, and it was pretty much packed.  The vibe seemed a little bit forced, like they were trying really, really hard to be hip, including a purposely unfinished design with a hodgepodge of ephemera on the walls, servers with piercings and tattoos aplenty, and the requisite uncomfortably loud music (how much of a curmudgeon do I sound like right now?).

As for the food?  Surprisingly enough, it’s not horrible.

It’s not particularly good, mind you — but considering what they charge, it could have been a whole lot worse (it certainly doesn’t seem to be any worse than a place like Kelsey’s or Boston Pizza, where the prices are double if not triple what they’re charging here).

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I’m not sure the quality of the food even matters at these prices, but I’ll note that the burger is frozen and industrially produced.  The patties are a bit higher quality than usual (similar to what they serve at Zet’s), so that’s good at least.  It’s not quite as hot-doggy as some, and actually does have some vague beef flavour.  Still, no one will be confusing it for anything but what it is: a cheapo burger that can claim to be edible, but not much more.

There are three burgers on the menu, but the waitress helpfully pointed me in the direction of The Works, their signature hamburger: “maple bacon, cheddar, crispy onion strings, macho sauce, shredded lettuce and tomato on a toasted Brioche bun.”

The toppings were all actually pretty decent — the macho sauce was some kind of garlic mayo, and everything else was pretty good, including the fresh, slightly sweet brioche bun.  With a better patty it could have actually been not bad, but that patty does bring the whole thing down several pegs.

Still, for five bucks including fries (i.e. cheaper than fast food), it might be worth a vague recommendation, provided you know what you’re getting into.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, however, to hear that the fries also aren’t that great; like the burger, they obviously originated in a factory many, many miles away, followed by a long stay in a freezer.  They’re pretty bland, but again, I’ve had worse.

2 out of 4

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Stoney’s Bread Company

stoneys
Location
http://www.stoneysbreadcompany.com/
Website1045 The Queensway, Etobicoke

After a few years of success in their original Oakville location (including being featured on the Canadian photocopy of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, You Gotta Eat Here), Stoney’s Bread Company is expanding.  I’ve been to the original location a few times and quite enjoyed it, so I was obviously pretty happy to hear they were coming a bit closer to home.

I didn’t even realize they had a burger.  I went because I wanted to check out the new location, but then I saw the hamburger on the menu and it was game over.  Do I want a burger?  Yes.  The answer to that question is always yes.

The burger is not-so-descriptively described on the menu as a “house made 6 oz. premium beef burger.”  I guess the toppings aren’t set in stone.

The version I got, at least, is definitely a kitchen sink burger.   Between the generous pile of sweet caramelized onions, the salty bacon, the sharp cheddar cheese, and all the other toppings (lettuce, pickles, and some kind of mayo I think), there’s a lot going on here.  It’s a bit of a mess.  A tasty mess, but a mess regardless.

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Sadly, it’s not the beefiest tasting burger ever.  In fact, I’d say there’s pretty much zero beefy flavour here, though this is the type of burger that’s so voluminously topped that the patty itself is almost just a vehicle for the toppings.  It’s also a meatloaf burger, with stuff mixed into the patty — but again, the hamburger is so topping-heavy that it barely makes a difference either way.

But yes, it is tasty.  I’ve had kitchen sink burgers where the toppings seem willy-nilly and the flavours never really cohere in any meaningful way, but here it all works: the saltiness of the cheddar and bacon is offset by the sweetness of the onions, and the richness of it all is cut by vinegary bite of the pickles.

The patty is almost an afterthought in this medley of flavours, but it’s substantial enough that it isn’t entirely drowned out.  it is, however, a bit on the mushy side (a frequent issue with meatloaf burgers), but thankfully this isn’t nearly as egregious as it can sometimes be.  It’s also a bit too finely ground, but the texture of the patty is otherwise mostly where it should be, with a decent amount of juiciness despite being cooked to well done.

The bun was okay; it was substantial enough to (mostly) hold up to the extremely messy burger, but it was untoasted and cold.  Not room temperature; cold, like it had been kept in the fridge.  That was a bit unpleasant, but the rest of the burger quickly warmed it up.

I will say that unless you’re seriously in the mood for a burger, it’s not what I’d order here.  I’ve also had a couple of the sandwiches and the pizzas, and though I liked the burger, it was the weakest thing I’ve tried.  The slow-roasted lamb sandwich in particular was quite delicious.

The burger comes with a side of baked potato wedges, and some kind of spicy mayo to dip them in.  They were fine: well cooked, but nothing to write home about.

2.5 out of 4

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The Gabardine

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Location
: 372 Bay Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.thegabardine.com/

The list giveth, and the list taketh away.  I am referring, of course, to Toronto Life’s list of the 25 best burgers in the city, which seems to be guiding quite a few of my burger choices recently.    I had a pretty awful experience at that list’s number 23 restaurant, The Queen and Beaver, which made me wary of its choices.  The Harbord Room was much, much better, however.  This made me much more inclined to trust the list.

I’m wary again.  Boy, that list is hit-and-miss.  Yikes.

The Gabardine is, bizarrely, closed on the weekends, which might be why it’s taken me so long to check it out.  It’s a fairly small room, but it’s cozy, and they seem to be doing well.

The burger, as per the menu: “sirloin bacon cheeseburger with aioli, tomato, lettuce & fries.”

I’ve mentioned it before, but sirloin is an absurd cut of beef to make a hamburger out of.  I know why some restaurants do it, because it sounds fancy — hey, sirloin is steak, right?  It must be good!

Well, no.  Sirloin is super lean, and pretty much all of a burger’s juiciness comes from fat.  No fat = dry burger.

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To the Gabardine’s credit, they at least don’t cook the burger all the way to well done, which would absolutely guarantee that a burger made from beef as lean as sirloin will be dry.  The grilled burger I received was cooked to medium, with a little bit of pink in the middle; this helped negate some of the dryness. It was still quite dry, no doubt about it, but they at least tried to serve up something worth eating.

Much, much more problematic was the burger’s texture.  It was finely ground to an almost criminal extent, giving it a dense, oddly mealy texture that I found quite unappealing.  It was as if they ran the beef through a meat grinder, and then ran it through again.  Then again, then again.  Then one more time.  Then, hey, what the heck, once more, let’s make sure it has the most off-putting texture possible.  Between that and the lean beef, this was a burger that required a lot of chewing.  I felt like a spittoon should have been provided.

It tasted okay, but with the abundant, sharp cheddar and the salty bacon, there was zero flavour from the beef.  Like, none at all.  The cheddar flavour so thoroughly dominated the weakly-flavoured beef that it was like chewing on some kind of beef/cheese hybrid.  It was like science had created a new substance that has the texture of beef, but the taste of cheese.

I liked the bun, I’ll say that.  Very delicately crispy on the outside, but fresh, soft and pliant on the inside, it was pretty great.  If it could talk, it would have expressed its sadness to be part of such a sub-par burger, but it’s okay: I don’t blame you, bun. You did your best.  You brought your A-game.

Also bringing their A-game?  The fries.   Man, those were good fries.  I’m baffled as to how the same kitchen puts out fries that great and a burger that middling.  The universe is mysterious.

The Gabardine - the outside The Gabardine - the restaurant The Gabardine - the burger and fries The Gabardine - the burger
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Burger Legend

legend
Location
: 236 Queen Street South, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/BurgerLegend

I don’t typically find myself in Streetsville, but when I heard a new burger joint had opened there, I figured I’d head over and give it a shot.  Burger Legend apparently started as a food truck, and I guess it did well enough to justify a stand-alone restaurant.

It’s a fairly small place, and kind of oddly laid out (it feels like there’s a lot of empty space where more tables could be put).  It’s also weirdly quiet, which is a little bit off-putting.

They have a handful of burger choices on the menu, but The Great One is labeled as their signature item, so that’s what I went with.  It’s topped with cheddar cheese, maple smoked bacon, mixed greens, tomato, and Bawss Sauce.

It’s a solid burger.  Like with most of the new burger joints opening in the GTA, it’s a smashed/griddled burger.  The beef is coarsely ground, it’s not too densely packed, and it has a little bit of crust from the griddle; it definitely has a pretty good texture.  It’s not the juiciest burger I’ve ever had, but it certainly isn’t dry, either.  It also has a decently beefy flavour. It’s pretty good.

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The burger patty came piping hot, which means they probably aren’t giving it any time to rest after cooking.  Not sure if that would make a huge difference in this case, but it’s worth noting.

The very thickly cut maple bacon tastes okay, but it’s completely overwhelming as a topping on a hamburger.  Aside from its sheer thickness, it has an exceptionally strong maple flavour — it basically tastes like they dunked it in maple syrup immediately prior to serving.  On the burger, it’s all you can taste.  I removed it almost immediately (and even then, the maple flavour lingered).

The Bawss sauce, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as overwhelming as the bacon — pretty much the opposite, actually.  It was so subtle that neither my dining companion nor I could figure out what it actually tasted like, other than that it was mayo-based.  I typically like plain mayo on my burger, so this certainly wasn’t an issue for me.

The burger comes with both sides of the bun toasted on the griddle; it almost appears as though they toasted the assembled hamburger whole on the grill, as though it were a grilled cheese sandwich.  It’s an interesting touch, though it does lead to a less photogenic (and messier) hamburger.

All in all it’s a pretty tasty hamburger, though if you’re not already in the vicinity of Streetsville, it’s not particularly worth going out of your way for.

As for the chunky fries, they were decent enough — though they were a bit soggy, and a touch undercooked in the middle.

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