The Loose Moose


Location: 146 Front Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://theloosemoose.ca/

The Loose Moose isn’t part of a chain (though it is owned by SIR Corp, the restaurant conglomerate behind places like Jack Astor’s, Canyon Creek, and Scaddabush), but it serves a prototypically lousy chain restaurant burger: it’s exceptionally dry, it features personality-free flavourless beef, and it’s just an absolute bummer to eat.

It’s the type of burger that gives burgers a bad name.  I could see someone who doesn’t eat a lot of of them ordering this, eating it, and then thinking “oh, I guess I don’t like hamburgers then?”  Because it’s so far removed from what makes a good burger so great that it’s almost like an entirely different dish.  It’s unpleasant.

I got the Classic Burger, which is completely no-frills, topped only with lettuce, tomato, and pickle.

This is going to be brief, because if they’re not going to put any effort into making it, I shouldn’t have to put any effort into writing about it.

The griddled patty had a decent amount of crust, but it was cooked way past well done, it was too finely ground, and it was just the driest thing in the history of dry.  It was brutal.  The flavour was fine, I guess (it was inoffensive, at least) but it was so incredibly dry that having to actually eat it was such a chore.

The toppings were okay, as was the bun (though it was a bit too dense).  Who cares, though?  That stupid jerk of a patty needs to take a long walk off a short pier.

As for the fries, they were ultra-generic frozen fries.  Because why not, right?  The restaurant’s on a very high-traffic section of Front Street, so I guess it’ll be busy regardless of how the food actually tastes.  So why not serve the most low-effort, cheapest garbage you can find?  People will eat it regardless, apparently!  It’s just good business.  I have a certain amount of grudging respect for that.  I just wish I didn’t have to suffer through eating there myself.

1 out of 4

The Loose Moose - the outside The Loose Moose - the restaurant The Loose Moose - the burger The Loose Moose - the burger

The Belsize Public House

The Belsize Public House
Location
: 535 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto
Websitehttps://thebelsize.pub/

As much as I love the griddle-smashed burgers that are so omnipresent in the GTA, it’s hard to resist a big, fat grilled burger.  But it’s much, much harder to find a really good burger cooked in that style, so when I heard that they serve a tasty one at The Belsize Public House, I was all over it.

They have a couple of burgers on their menu; there’s the Hoser Burger, which features peameal bacon and cheddar, and the no-frills Grilled Burger, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion.  As I’m wont to do, I went with the simpler of the two.

I’ve cut through so many burgers over the years that I can pretty much tell instantly if a burger is going to be iffy.  This one was suspiciously difficult to saw in half, and the alarm bells were going off in my head.  They were screaming.

The Belsize Public House

As I feared, it wasn’t very good.  The Belsize makes every mistake you can make to end up with an unsatisfying burger.  Literally every single one: the beef was clearly too lean, the texture of the grind was way too fine, the beef had been overhandled and was too tightly packed, and it was cooked all the way to the tippy tippy top of well done (if not a little bit further).  The meat was so dense.  It was a punishingly tough chew.  There was a vague amount of juiciness there, but not even close to enough to make any kind of impact.

The flavour wasn’t much better; aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure they had mixed salt and pepper right into the patty (it was distractingly peppery), the flavour of the beef was almost non-existent.  And what little flavour there was tasted vaguely off.  It wasn’t good.

The toppings were fine, and the fluffy bun was actually pretty perfect.  That patty, though…

I will say that my dining companion had the jerk pork sandwich and really enjoyed it, and the fries and the coleslaw that came with the burger were both quite tasty.  The fries, in particular, were seriously delicious, with an addictively crispy exterior and perfectly creamy interior.  So it’s possible that everything else coming out of the kitchen is tasty.  But they bungled that burger, and they bungled it hard.

1 out of 4

The Belsize Public House - the restaurant The Belsize Public House - the restaurant The Belsize Public House - the burger and fries The Belsize Public House - the burger

Marben — Round 2

Marben
Location: 488 Wellington Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.marben.ca/

Yes, I’ve actually reviewed Marben before, back in 2013.  Back then, they stuffed the patty with saucy braised short ribs, a practice that made me call that burger “less hamburger and more upscale sloppy joe.”

Now that they’ve started serving a more traditional burger with a regular un-stuffed beef patty, I figured a re-do was in order.

I was actually pretty excited to try it again.  The burger is quite well regarded, and now that it’s an actual hamburger instead of an odd Frankenstein creation, I figured it would be delicious.  I was all set for burger greatness.

I guess I should have left well enough alone.  As it turns out, the whole stuffing thing was actually hiding the burger’s deficiencies, which are now in plain view.  To paraphrase the late, great Roger Ebert: I hated hated hated hated hated this burger.  It was so bad.

It’s basically the same burger it was before, but with braised brisket on top instead of short rib in the middle.  From the menu: “beef fat brioche, aged cheddar, branston pickle, braised brisket.”

Marben

I’m going to cut right to the chase: the patty itself was horrible.  I’ve had a lot of overly dry burgers since starting this blog, and this might have been the most egregiously, ridiculously, unpleasantly Sahara dry.  I don’t think there was an ounce of moisture in it, despite only being cooked to a nice rosy-pink medium.

I don’t know what cut of beef they’re using in this thing, but it’s obviously all wrong.  It’s one of those burgers that’s so dry, as you’re chewing it you’re wondering, “how am I even going to swallow this??”  The waiter must have refiled my water about five times, because I had to keep drinking and drinking and drinking just to keep my mouth from completely drying out.

The beef was also too finely ground; combined with the dryness, the texture was a complete nightmare.  It made me want to hurl the burger across the restaurant, run out, and then never eat or review a hamburger again.

I was wondering if this was just a one-off issue, but the fact that the burger wasn’t even cooked past medium and was still this insanely dry (not to mention the overly fine grind) makes me think that they’re using beef that’s way, way, way too lean and then preparing it poorly.

The flavour was okay, at least — not particularly beefy, but pleasant enough.  But with that texture, it didn’t matter.

Everything else was fine, I guess.  The brisket was okay, but like the patty, it was dry — there will be absolutely no mistaking this version of the burger for a sloppy joe.  The other toppings were good, though the cheddar was so sparingly applied that if I hadn’t seen it, I would have never known it was there.

The bun was dry too, because why the hell not, right??  I’ve had worse, but I think it might have either been slightly overbaked or a day or two past its prime.

The fries were great, though.  So there’s that at least.

1 out of 4

Marben - the outside Marben - the restaurant Marben - the burger and fries Marben - the burger Marben - the burger

Oliver and Bonacini Cafe Grill

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

Doomie’s

doomies
Location
: 1263 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://doomiestoronto.com/

I honestly never thought that I’d be reviewing a veggie burger for this blog.  I mean, I try my best to avoid reviewing hamburgers made with any meat other than beef, so a veggie burger seemed completely out of the question.

Then I saw some pictures of the Big Mac clone at Doomie’s.  I kind of had to try it.

For the unaware, Doomie’s is an L.A. export whose M.O. is serving vegan versions of over-the-top junk food like chili cheese fries, chimichangas,  and of course, hamburgers.  “Vegan” and “health food” tend to go hand in hand, but I’m sure even vegans want to eat deep-fried junk every now and then.

I feel like I need to preface this review by saying that I went into Doomie’s with a completely open mind.  I realize that I’m a bit of a burger snob, but good food is good food.  If the veggie burger here were delicious, I’d be more than happy to sing its praises.

That being said?  This might be one of the worst hamburgers that I’ve had in my entire life.

I ordered the Big Mac clone, which isn’t technically on the menu.  The waitress jokingly pointed out that any resemblance to that particular burger is purely coincidental (since no one wants to incur the wrath of ol’ Ronald’s lawyers).  But it’s available if you ask for it.

doomiesA

It looks impressive, I’ll give it that. Aside from the fact that the watery sauce was leaking from the burger like blood from a gut-shot corpse, it looked impressively like the real deal.

Eating it was a challenge.  I’m not sure why the sauce was so thin, but it completely soaked through the bun and made the burger impossible to eat without a handful of napkins.  And the parts of the bun that weren’t soaked through with sauce?  They were either suffused with grease, or sogged up by mushy cheese (yes, mushy cheese — more on that in a bit).

Of course, eating this burger was also a challenge because of how gross it was.  I mean, let’s not beat around the bush.

Those veggie patties are going to haunt my dreams.  I just don’t think that food science is able to accurately replicate the taste and texture of beef.  If you’re going to serve a veggie burger, your best bet is to not even try, and just serve something in a patty shape that tastes good.

Doomie’s, sadly, tries to replicate beef.  The results are flat-out horrifying.

The veggie patties here have somehow managed to take everything I hate about frozen burgers, and magnified it tenfold.  That rubbery, vaguely hot-dog-like texture you get from really cheap frozen patties is here in spades, but where this patty goes horribly wrong is the flavour.  It just tastes off to a degree that’s downright surprising.  I don’t even know if I can describe that flavour, other than to say that it tastes like you left a frozen patty out in the sun until it turned suitably rancid.  It was flat-out disgusting.

Then there’s the cheese, which — though it actually tastes close enough to the type of processed cheese you’d find on a Big Mac — has that aforementioned mushy texture.  Imagine taking shredded up tissues and soaking them with cheese-flavoured water, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect.

The other toppings were all fine, aside from the watery sauce (which, to be fair, tasted pretty close to the real thing).  But when your burger features two patties as foul as these on unpleasantly sodden bread, the toppings are completely irrelevant.

As for the fries, they were battered — not my favourite — but for that style of fry, they were pretty good.

0.5 out of 4

Doomie's - the outside Doomie's - the menu Doomie's - the restaurant Doomie's - the burger and fries Doomie's - the burger

Piano Piano

piano
Location
: 88 Harbord Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.pianopianotherestaurant.com/

At the end of 2015, Chef Victor Barry shut down Splendido, a fine-dining destination that served meticulously-prepared multi-course meals. It was frequently named one of the best restaurants in the city, if not the entire country.

Early this year, Barry renovated the space and relaunched as Piano Piano, focusing on much more casual fare like pizza, pasta, and yes — a cheeseburger.  How could you not be excited by the idea of a hamburger prepared by one of the best chefs in the city?  How??

Well, I was excited.

And then the burger came and I got even more excited, because it looked perfect.  It’s pretty simple: two patties, two slices of cheese, lettuce, pickle, Dijonaisse.  But look at it though.  Those glistening patties, just the right size for the bun; the melty cheese; the dark, mahogany-brown crust from the griddle…  it’s what cheeseburger dreams are made of.

Or at least, it looked that way.

My struggle to cut the burger in half made it distressingly clear that something was amiss.  A good burger should be yielding and tender; cutting it should be like putting a hot knife through butter.  This was more like trying to saw into a particularly tough steak.

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This burger was so bad I almost can’t even believe it.  Like, how can a chef who is presumably as talented as Barry put out anything so horrible, let alone something as simple as a hamburger?  I can’t wrap my mind around it.

I will say that everything but the patty itself was pretty good — the gooey American cheese, the classic condiments, the fresh bun with just the right amount of sweetness and heft — it was all basically right where it should be.

The patty, on the other hand, was misguided on every level.  More pulverized than ground, it was tightly packed, tough, and horrible.  It also had an off-putting sausage-like consistency, possibly from having salt mixed in with the beef.  Between the unforgiving density of the beef and the oddly rubbery texture, it just didn’t want to get chewed.  It was kind of like eating hamburger-flavoured gum.

The taste wasn’t much better.  It was overwhelmingly peppery, which turns out to be a good thing, because this is beef that needs to be disguised with whatever you can throw at it.  It had a gamy, leftover meat flavour that was seemingly trying to compete with the texture to see which could be more awful.

Horrifying texture versus appalling flavour: whoever wins, we lose.

Oh, and did I mention that it costs twenty-two bucks?  Because it costs twenty-two bucks.  So not only is it gross, it’s probably one of the more expensive burgers in the city.  It’s easily — hands down — the worst hamburger that I’ve ever had from a high-end place like this.

Actually, it’s one of the worst burgers I’ve had in quite a while.

I think this might be the point in the review where you assume that I’m being way too picky.  It looks pretty good, you’re thinking.  How could it be that bad?

Okay.  Try it then.  I dare you.

As for the fries, they were the polar opposite of the hamburger.  They were amazing.  Though they’re a bit more thickly cut than I generally prefer, they were the perfect combination of crispy exterior and creamy interior.  Eating them with the hamburger is kind of like alternating between smelling a sweet, delicately fragrant flower with someone farting directly into your face.

1 out of 4

Piano Piano - the outside Piano Piano - the menu Piano Piano - the restaurant Piano Piano - the burger and fries Piano Piano - the burger Piano Piano - the burger

The Abbot Pub & Fare

abbot
Location: 3367 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://theabbot.ca/

I’m not gonna lie: though I have a vague recollection of reading something positive about the burger at the Abbot, I decided to review this place almost entirely because of its proximity to the Rolling Pin, a bakery that specializes in elaborately decadent doughnuts. Two birds, one stone, and all that jazz.

(The doughnuts were great, by the way.)

Though I came at lunch and could have ordered the brunch burger, I went with the standard hamburger, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion. You can also get optional stuff like cheese or caramelized onions for an extra charge, but I kept it simple.

In the spirit of not beating around the bush, I’ll say that this was not a good hamburger and you should absolutely never order it. But I guess I should elaborate a bit?

abbotA

It’s a meatloaf burger, and a particularly strong one at that. This isn’t necessarily the worst thing ever, but oh man it was strong. The odour of garlic and spices hit me almost as soon as the plate was set down in front of me. My dining companion could smell it from across the table, which should tell you something.

This, of course, means that the flavour of the beef itself was completely gone, but if that were the burger’s only problem, it wouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker.

It wasn’t the burger’s only problem.

Worse was the hamburger’s texture, which despite being grilled and cooked to well done, was a particularly off-putting combination of mushy and stringy. I’ve reviewed mushy burgers before, but this was the worst one yet. By far.  It was the stringiness that really got me, with a texture that was soft but refused to get fully chewed, like a trying to eat wet fabric.  It was unpleasant enough that I got a bit more than halfway through and had to throw in the towel.  It’s not that I couldn’t finish it; I’ve had worse.  But I really didn’t want to.

Everything else was fine, though the bottom layer of the bun was weirdly crispy, making the burger harder to eat (and cut in half) than it needed to be.

As for the fries, they were pretty good.  They’re nothing anyone is going to lose their minds over, but they were slightly above average.

1 out of 4

The Abbot Pub and Fare - the outside The Abbot Pub and Fare - the restaurant The Abbot Pub and Fare - the burger and fries The Abbot Pub and Fare - the burger