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

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Food Dudes

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

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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

opera
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

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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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