Chili’s

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Location21 Colossus Drive, Woodbridge
Websitehttp://www.chilis-ontario.com/

I was actually kind of excited when Chili’s opened here back in 2009.  It was a much darker time for a hamburger lover in the GTA; this was pre-Burger’s Priest, Holy Chuck, and the many other burger joints serving quality smashed and griddle-cooked burgers in Toronto.  It was surprisingly difficult to find a decent hamburger cooked in this style.  Almost impossible.  Like I said, it was a dark time.

Chili’s serves through-and-through American food, and of course, this includes a classic diner-style griddled hamburger.  Or at least, it did.  Now?  Not so much.

But when they first opened here, Chili’s served a pretty decent burger.  It wasn’t anything too great, but this being 2009, a griddled burger made with fresh beef and without any onions or spices mixed in was a rare treat.

Fast forward to now.  At some point, the higher-ups at Chili’s must have taken a look at their Canadian competition — dreck like Boston Pizza, Kelsey’s, and Montana’s — and realized that Canadians have very low standards when it comes to casual chain restaurants.  So they switched over from making their burgers fresh to serving prefabricated frozen hamburgers.

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On my most recent visit I ordered the bacon cheeseburger, and it was obvious just looking at it that it was a frozen burger.  It was even more obvious when I tasted it: with its chewy, hot doggy texture and its generically salty, non-beefy flavour, there was absolutely no mistaking it for anything but a frozen patty.  It was pretty bad.

The cheese and bacon were both fine, though they did nothing to disguise the off-putting patty.  The bun, too, was fine (if a bit dense), but again — there is nothing that can disguise that patty.

The burger came with a side of fries that were perfectly okay, but a bit ho-hum.

To me, the unfortunate changeover from fresh to frozen burgers sends a fairly clear message to Canadians.  Chili’s is basically saying “Yeah, we could spend a little bit extra and make our hamburgers with fresh beef, like we used to.  But you people will eat whatever garbage we put in front of you, so why should we?”  And when you look around at the casual chain restaurant landscape, they might just be right.  We will eat whatever garbage they put in front of us; there’s just no other way to explain the baffling success of the execrable Boston Pizza, among others.

Chili's - the burger and fries Chili's - the burger Chili's - the burger
Chili's Grill & Bar (Colossus) on Urbanspoon
(Images of the inside and outside of the restaurant above captured from this video on YouTube. For some reason it completely slipped my mind to take these pictures myself.  Whoops!)

Jack Astor’s

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Location1900 The Queensway, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://www.jackastors.com/

This is going to be a short one.  It’s hard to write all that much about a burger that so conclusively straddles that middle ground between good and bad, and that is exactly where this burger falls.  “Meh” is pretty much the perfect word to describe it.

Jack Astor’s is a casual chain restaurant, and as expected from a restaurant such as this, there are burgers on the menu.  I wasn’t expecting much, and I got pretty much exactly what I expected:  a perfectly edible hamburger that is almost instantly forgettable.

I ordered “The Classic,” which is their no-frills burger topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion (which I removed), and mayo.

The burger was fine.  This being a chain place, I had feared that they might serve a frozen burger or a meatloaf burger, but this was thankfully not the case.

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There are a couple of fairly significant issues that keep this burger firmly in the “meh” category.  First, and most predictably, the burger is too dry.  I know I sound like a broken record here; apparently wanting a hamburger to be juicy in Toronto is an unreasonable request, which is actually kind of maddening. But no, I’m not going to get into another rant about overcooking and acceptable fat percentages.  Not for you, Jack Astor’s.  Not for you.

And yes, the burger is overcooked, which just compounds the dryness issue.  The grilled patty is a bit over-charred, resulting in a burger that is a bit too crunchy in spots.  It’s also a little bit too tightly packed and dense, which makes it a tough chew.

The second issue is that it’s a bit bland.  The beef is obviously not the greatest, and while it tastes okay, it doesn’t taste like much.  Add in the fact that if it was seasoned with salt and pepper, I couldn’t taste it, and you’ve got a pretty bland burger.

Otherwise, the toppings were fine, and the fresh brioche bun, though slightly over-toasted, suited the burger well.

All in all, it’s not a bad hamburger — it’s just aggressively unmemorable.

As for the fries, though a tad on the soggy side, they were otherwise quite good.

Jack Astor's - the outside Jack Astor's - the restaurant Jack Astor's - the burger and fries Jack Astor's - the burger Jack Astor's - the burger
Jack Astor's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon