Tag Archives: bar

The Wren

28 May


Location
: 1382 Danforth Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.thewrendanforth.com/

After seeing pictures of the various burger specials at the Wren roughly a billion times on Instagram over the last few months, my excitement level was pretty much at a fever pitch; it’s not easy to get me to venture too far east in Toronto (I’m lazy, you see), but for an amazing burger?  Yeah, I’ll go out of my way for that.

Alas, this place suffers from a very pronounced case of Sweet Jesus-itus — highly Instagrammable, but otherwise not particularly great.

I ordered the Backyard Burger, which is the most bare-bones burger they serve (they also have a much more Instagram-friendly creation called the Uncle Buck Burger, not to mention the veritable Instagram-catnip that is their rotating special).

The Backyard Burger comes topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, and mayo.

Sometimes, you can just look at a burger’s cross-section and know you’re in trouble.  If you can tell just by looking at a burger that the grind is too fine and it’s too densely packed, you’re in trouble.

And yeah, of course the grind was too fine and it was too densely packed, because just look at it.  Look at it and weep.

It was also cooked all the way to the wellest of well done, and was almost entirely moisture-free.  It wasn’t the worst patty I’ve ever had, but it was kinda unpleasant to eat.

The taste, while not offensive, was non-existent; there was no particular beefy or meaty flavour.  Aside from the subtle smokiness from the grill, it didn’t taste like anything.

Everything else was fine.  The burger comes topped with ketchup, mustard, and mayo, which is more condiment-heavy than I’d usually like.  Here, however, those condiments are actually fairly essential to provide the burger with some much-needed moisture.  I actually could have used more.

The bun, though a little bit too crackly on its exterior, was mostly quite good.  It help up to the patty and the toppings nicely, and didn’t overwhelm.

The fries were the clear (and only) highlight.  They were perfectly cooked and tossed with a seasoned salt that made them taste pretty great on their own — no dip required.

1.5 out of 4

The Wren - the outside The Wren - the restaurant The Wren - the burger The Wren - the burger The Wren - the burger

Hidden Burger

25 Sep

hidden
Location
: 22 Front Street West, Toronto
Website: http://www.hiddenburger.ca/

If nothing else, Hidden Burger certainly lives up to its name.  Tucked away in the Bottom Line, a sports bar near Union Station, there’s absolutely no signage for the place outside, and even when you get into the bar, it’s not immediately apparent that you’re in the right place.  It’s only when you walk through the place and go around a corner that you finally see it.

It strikes me as a thoroughly odd strategy to literally hide your restaurant and make random walk-ins completely impossible, but then what do I know about such things?  It’s either a genius marketing move or completely insane.

It’s mostly a take-out place, with only a few stools to sit across from the register.  They’ve got an admirably simple menu, with a cheeseburger (single or double), a veggie burger, and a weekly special, along with the requisite French fries.  I went with the cheeseburger, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and red onion.

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It’s a griddled burger, which ideally gets you a tasty, dark brown crust on the patty.  Often, the griddle isn’t quite hot enough and the crust isn’t particularly there.  But I actually had the opposite problem here, which I can’t say I’ve ever encountered in a burger cooked in this style.  The crust was coal black; it was burnt and it tasted burnt, with an acridly bitter flavour pervading every bite.  That griddle must have been insanely hot.

The patty was, not surprisingly, quite overdone, with a completely gray interior that was cooked all the way to the peak of well done.  It was actually still vaguely juicy, which was nice, but suffice it to say, it needed way less time on the griddle (and it was black on both sides, which makes me think it may have been intentional, as baffling as that seems).

The patty was also a bit too tightly packed and dense, but aside from that the texture was okay.

The flavour was decent enough (aside from the bitterness, of course). There was some mild beefiness, which is always nice.

As for the toppings, they suited the burger well, though the slice of American cheese wasn’t all the way melted, which is kind of crazy given how hot the cooking surface must have been.  And the soft, squishy bun suited the burger perfectly.

The fries were the resounding highlight. They were great — super crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.  They were particularly good with the optional jalapeno aioli, which costs 50 cents and is worth every penny.

2.5 out of 4

Hidden Burger - the hallway Hidden Burger - the restaurant Hidden Burger - the burger and fries Hidden Burger - the burger

Stein Burger and Koop

7 Dec

stein
Location
: 1285 Elgin Mills Road East, Richmond Hill
Websitehttp://www.steinburgerandkoop.com/

This was actually my second time going to Stein Burger and Koop.  It wasn’t my second time eating there, but it was my second time at the restaurant.  A couple of friends and I visited a few months ago; we were seated and handed menus, and then promptly ignored for the next half hour.  None of us were in a particularly confrontational mood, so we eventually just left, sad and burgerless.  The amazingly bad service (or non-existent, more accurately) would have been impressive if it weren’t so frustrating.

I guess everyone deserves a second chance, so I recently found myself back at the restaurant; the service was much better this time (well, there was service, which by default means it was better).

Stein Burger and Koop is essentially a sports bar, with mostly burgers and wings on the menu, and the usual generic selection of sandwiches and wraps to round things out.  I went with the Steinburger, which is no-frills with just lettuce, tomato, onion, and their “signature sauce.”

It’s a smashed and griddled burger, because apparently that’s the law.  Didn’t you hear?  They passed that law.  All burgers have to be smashed now.

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It’s fine.  There’s not much crust from the griddle, and the well-done burger was quite dry, but it was okay.  Nothing about it offended me.  There wasn’t much beefy flavour (or any flavour at all, really), but again, it was perfectly edible.

The toppings, too, were fine.  The onions were too strong for my taste (but then I find most raw onions too strong, so that’s on me) and the “signature sauce” basically tasted like plain mayo, but it all got the job done.

The soft, fresh bun was mostly okay, though it wasn’t quite up to the task at hand; even with the fairly dry patty, the bottom bun sogged up and was close to falling apart in the last few bites.

But whatever.  There are certainly worse burgers in the GTA.  You can eat here, I guess.  When you do, you’ll think to yourself “Yes, that was a burger I just ate.”  Then you’ll stand up, walk out the door, and never think about it again.  It will be consigned to the trash-dump of your memory, where all the hundreds of anonymous, unmemorable meals that you’ll eat throughout your lifetime will go to be forgotten about forever.

Maybe a few months later someone will ask you about it.  “You ate there, right?” they’ll ask, looking to you for some form of guidance.  “How was it?” You’ll rack your brain, straining to remember if you’ve ever even been there, let alone how the burger was.  This will be for naught.  It’s gone.  Nothing about that visit has remained.

On your deathbed, in that brief moment after your heart stops beating and your brain shuts down, a synapse — unused for decades — will suddenly fire.  You will remember that meal, that mediocre burger.  “Oh yeah, I guess I did eat there” you’ll think, and then darkness.

2.5 out of 4

Stein Burger and Koop - the restaurant Stein Burger and Koop - the inside Stein Burger and Koop - the burger and fries Stein Burger and Koop - the burger
Stein Burger & Koop on Urbanspoon

Tallboys Craft Beer House

27 Jul

tallboys
Location: 838 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: http://tallboyscraft.com/

I’ll admit that Tallboys was barely even on my radar before a few days ago.  I had vaguely heard of it, but with their seemingly single-minded focus on curating an impressive selection of beers, I had sort of figured that food would be an afterthought.  It didn’t even occur to me that they might have a hamburger worth eating.

But then, while browsing Instagram while watching a particularly boring episode of True Blood (seriously, how did that show get so terrible??  Did they replace their writing staff with a bunch of particularly dim-witted chimps?) I stumbled onto a picture of the burger at Tallboys.  It certainly grabbed my attention more than the shoddy episode I was watching.  It actually looked good.  Not perfunctory at all.

It didn’t take much more than that for me to find myself at Tallboys a few days later, scanning the menu (they have five burger choices, all double burgers with two four ounce patties) and quickly settling on the Classic: “lettuce, tomato, pickle & scallion mayo.”

Since I was driving I didn’t partake in their impressive beer selection; needless to say, if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s reason enough to visit.

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The main thing that caught my eye while browsing through Instagram was the awe-inducing crust on the patties.  When you cook a patty on a sufficiently hot griddle, you wind up with a dark crust that adds a ton of flavour and texture.   This seems like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of Toronto burger joints that griddle-cook their burger and still get this completely wrong.

The chef at Tallboys has clearly mastered this particular technique; the crust on their burgers is abundant and it is glorious.  Based on the pictures I saw on Instagram and the burgers both I and my dining companion were served, this is something the kitchen pulls off every time.  Good stuff.

The patties also had a really great, deeply satisfying beefy flavour that made this one of the tastier burgers I’ve had in quite a while.  It’s kind of amazing how big of a difference using good quality beef makes, but you can tell instantly that they’re using top-shelf stuff.

I do, unfortunately, have a couple of issues.  The texture is off; I think the beef has been a bit overhandled, making it denser than I’d like.  It’s also, like so many other burgers in the GTA, dryer than it should be.  It probably doesn’t help that it’s been cooked all the way to the end of well done, but even still it does retain a bit of juiciness.

Still, those are relatively minor complaints.  Though they do hold the burger back from greatness, it’s still pretty damn good.

The condiments are above average as well — the scallion mayo in particular adds a nice kick of flavour without ever overpowering the beef.

The bun deserves special mention.  Though it’s a bit too wide for the patties, it’s soft enough to not get in the way, and substantial enough to hold up very well to the patties and the condiments.  It also has this lightly crispy, subtly crackly exterior that’s pretty much irresistible.

As for the fries, aside from being ever-so-slightly undercooked, they were quite tasty.

Tallboys Craft Beer House - the outside Tallboys Craft Beer House - the menu Tallboys Craft Beer House - the restaurant Tallboys Craft Beer House - the burger and fries Tallboys Craft Beer House - the burger
Tallboys - Craft Beer House on Urbanspoon

The County General

8 Apr

county
Location
: 936 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://thecountygeneral.ca/

Given that the burger at the County General has received pretty much nothing but praise (including nabbing the number nine spot on Toronto Life’s list of the best burgers in the city), I’m a little bit surprised that it’s taken me this long to check it out.  But given my blistering biweekly update schedule, it can sometimes take me a while to get to a place I want to try.

The County General actually just opened a second location on the other side of Queen, so they’re obviously doing okay.  I tend to gravitate towards the west end of the city, so I visited the original.

The place was pretty much packed when my dining companion and I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, though we were able to grab a couple of seats at the bar.  We both ordered the 6oz. County Burger, which is described as follows on the menu: “Cumbraes Aged Beef, Mustard, Mayo, Pickle.”

They asked how each of us wanted it cooked, which is always a delightful question since the default in this city seems to be well done, and I prefer medium rare.

The grilled patty came out a perfect medium rare, and was absolutely outstanding.  Coarsely ground and juicy, it had an amazing texture and a really pronounced beefy flavour.  There is, however, a but.  A big but.

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BUT… the patty’s amazing flavour was largely diminished by an insanely overpowering horseradish mustard.  And I mean insane.  This was like horseradish mustard on steroids.  If this mustard were a person, it would be on a Hulk-esque rampage, flipping over cars and leveling buildings with one monstrous blow.

It was strong, is what I’m saying.

I typically like my condiments on the subtler side — to extend my “if it were a person” analogy, I like my condiments to be less Incredible Hulk, and more Lionel Richie.  But even my dining companion, who is typically unperturbed by such things, found the mustard to be overbearing.  He actually suggested that they should rename the hamburger to a horseradish sandwich with meat; sadly, this wasn’t even much of an exaggeration.

It’s a real shame, because that patty was pretty damn close to perfection.  It’s seriously good.  It was hard to tell, but in the few bites I got where there wasn’t as much of the mustard, it was very obvious that the burger was made with top-shelf meat.  Not to mention that it was cooked perfectly, and featured a really fresh bun that complimented it perfectly.  Without that mustard it is easily a top ten contender.  Probably even top five.  But the mustard kind of kills it, as much as it pains me to say so.

As for the fries, they too were well above average: crispy, perfectly cooked french fry goodness.

Seriously though, as much as I hated that mustard, don’t let it dissuade you from ordering this hamburger, which is otherwise one of the best in the city.  Just ask for the mustard on the side.  Or even better, not at all.  A burger this good has so much beefy flavour that any kind of mustard, even a non-radioactive-monster mustard, only serves to distract from what makes the burger so great in the first place.

The County General - the restaurant The County General - the bar The County General - the burger and fries The County General - the burger
The County General on Urbanspoon