Station Bar & Kitchen

Station Bar & KitchenLocation: 866 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: http://www.stationcafe.ca/

The burger at Station Bar & Kitchen is solid.  I’ve had better and I’ve definitely had worse.  Nothing about it particularly stands out, but if you’re looking for a hamburger, it’s there.  It exists, and it won’t make you sad.

I know that’s faint praise, but what are you going to do?  Not every burger can be a home run.

Station Bar & Kitchen

The “Station Cheese Burger,” per their menu: “7 ounce beef brisket patty ground in-house with our secret spice mix, on a toasted brioche burger bun with house made burger sauce and a slice of melted cheddar.  Topped with lettuce, tomato and onions.”

The reference to a spice mix had me worried; this has been discussed ad nauseam on this blog, but once you mix spices directly into a hamburger patty, it starts losing its essential burgeriness.  It becomes meatloaf.

Station Bar & Kitchen

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here.  Though I think they had mixed spices into the patty, it was done subtly enough that it wasn’t particularly an issue.

The griddled, medium-well patty was pretty decent — most notably, it was juicy, and the texture of the grind was pretty much exactly where it should be.  It also had some crust from the griddle.  It’s a solid patty.

Station Bar & Kitchen

I wish the beef itself had more flavour, however.  The flavour certainly isn’t bad, but there’s such a distinct lack of beefiness that I briefly wondered if pork was involved.

Everything else was pretty good, from the nicely toasted bun to the zesty mayo-based burger sauce and the mild, melty cheddar.

As for the fries, they’re quite tasty, and come with a little container of gravy that makes for a delightful dipping sauce.

3 out of 4

Burgers n’ Fries Forever

Burgers n' Fries ForeverLocation: 182 Ossington Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://burgersnfriesforever.com/

I mentioned in my last review that smashed-and-griddled burgers are a dime a dozen in Toronto.  On one hand, that’s a bummer — there so many other varieties of hamburger, but you’d basically never know it judging by the city’s burger joints.

On the other hand, there are a bunch of really great choices out there for a smashed burger.  Which means we no longer have to settle for anything less than great.

Burgers n' Fries Forever

This definitely wasn’t the case a few years ago.  If you look at my very first review, for Johnny Rockets back in 2011 (which no longer exists in Ontario outside of a location in Windsor), you’ll notice that I cut it a lot of slack — this style of burger was still something of a rarity in the city.

Today, on the other hand?  If you’re serving a smashed-and-griddled burger: be great or GTFO.

Burgers n’ Fries Forever is not great.

Burgers n' Fries Forever

I got the BFF2, which is a double cheeseburger that comes topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, beef bacon, and BFF sauce.

Though the patty actually looks really impressive, with a nice amount of crust, it has a bunch of issues that hold it back from being much better than okay.

The biggest problem is the texture: the grind is way too fine and it’s too tightly packed.  You can tell just by looking at it.  If the cross-section of a burger patty is a uniform slab of gray, you know you’ve got problems.  A burger should have crags and crannies.  It should have texture.  If it’s basically just one monolithic slab of beef that’s trying its best to re-form into a steak, it’s going to be a bummer to eat.  It’s going to be tough.

And yes, it was tough.  It was vaguely juicy, but it was still a tough chew.

Burgers n' Fries Forever

The flavour was okay, at least, if nothing particularly special.

The toppings were a bit of an issue, too.  The cheese was cheddar rather than American; that’s not my favourite (I find it a bit too overwhelming), but that’s more of a personal preference thing.  Your mileage my vary.  It was nice and gooey, so no complaints there.

The beef bacon was iffy.  I don’t have anything against this variety of bacon (in fact, the best burger I’ve had recently featured beef bacon), but the stuff here was chewy and tough to bite through.

The BFF sauce was lost among the burger’s other flavours.  I couldn’t even tell you what it tasted like.  Everything else was fine, including the sweet, fluffy bun.

As for the fries, they were the clear highlight.  They were perfectly cooked, with an addictive crispy/creamy contrast and a really great flavour.  The combo comes with a dipping sauce; I went with the kimchi mayo, which complimented the fries very well.

2 out of 4

Portland Variety


Location
: 587 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.portlandvariety.com/

I often feel like a broken record writing burger reviews.  I’ve written almost 200 of these things at this point, and there are only so many ways you can describe a hamburger before you start repeating yourself (and repeating yourself, and repeating yourself).

Of course, the vast majority of people reading any given review will have popped in based on a Google search; they’ll read the review they came for, and that’s that.  Those people have no idea how repetitive these reviews can be, which, oddly, makes me feel a little bit better about the whole thing.

But if you’re one of the much smaller group of people who have read a bunch of these reviews… get ready for some greatest hits.  These complaints are all going to seem pretty familiar.

And yes, it’s mostly complaints, sadly.  Though I’ve actually heard very good things about the burger at Portland Variety, the one I was served wasn’t particularly good.

The PV Burger, per the restaurant’s menu: “House made milk bun, smoked applewood cheddar, zucchini pickle, gherkin aioli, cassava frites.”

The main problem?  The texture.  The patty was way, way too finely ground and tightly packed (I’ve never made that complaint before, right guys??).  It wasn’t too bad around the medium-well middle, but the well done edges were dry, dense, and chewy.  It has that saltine effect, where you feel like you need to take a drink of water between each bite to prevent your mouth from completely drying out.

Otherwise, the burger is either fine or slightly better than fine. Aside from the aforementioned issues, the patty was decent enough (if a bit too peppery), with a mild beefy flavour and a decent amount of juiciness (at least around the middle).  If it weren’t for the fine grind and the dense texture, it would have been a solid burger.

This would be the part of the review where I’d mention if it was griddled or grilled, but to be honest, despite the fact that it’s only been a few hours since I ate it, I’ve already forgotten.  It wasn’t particularly memorable.

As for the toppings, the pickles were fine, and the cheddar was probably a bit too strong, but it was melty and tasty.  The “gherkin aioli” basically just tasted like a grainy mustard.  It wasn’t bad — I generally find mustard a little overpowering on a burger, but this had a nice zing without getting in the way.

The bun was great.  It was easily the best part of the burger.  It was soft and fresh, with the perfect amount of substance.

The cassava fries were interesting.  They were mostly quite tasty, with a very crispy exterior and a creamy, slightly chewy interior.  But one of them featured a papery skin I couldn’t bite through, and the mayo-based dipping sauce was seriously bland, with a broken emulsion that made it unpleasantly greasy.

2 out of 4

Portland Variety - the restaurant Portland Variety - the restaurant Portland Variety - the burger Portland Variety - 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

Maison Fou Brasserie


Location
: 2197 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.maisonfou.ca/

Maybe getting a hamburger at a through-and-through French restaurant like this one isn’t the best idea ever — but inspired by my recent great experience at Collete Grand Cafe, I figured I’d try my luck.

The Fou Burger is described as “house ground beef, smoked cheddar, house bacon, garlic aioli, pickles.”

I actually got pretty excited when they asked me how I wanted my burger cooked.  I asked for medium rare; the burger came closer to medium well.  I understand that this is most people’s preference when it comes to a burger, but then why ask?

Still, it was far from overcooked, and it was actually quite juicy.  But the patty was a tough chew — I think the grind was probably a bit too coarse (which certainly isn’t a complaint that I usually make), and it was way too tightly packed.

Even more problematic was the flavour; I don’t know if they mixed  pepper in with the patty or merely blanketed the surface with the stuff, but it was absolutely overwhelmed with a peppery flavour.  It was pepper all the way through, with almost no beefy flavour at all — just pepper, pepper, pepper (pepper pepper pepper).  It was intense.

Everything else was pretty good, though.  I was a little bit worried that the smoked cheddar would overwhelm the patty (not that it would be possible to overwhelm that pepper explosion), but it was so sparingly applied that I honestly couldn’t even tell that it was there.  And though the very strongly flavoured garlic aioli probably would have been overpowering under normal circumstances, that clearly wasn’t an issue here.

The very fresh bun had a subtle sweetness, and just enough heft to hold up to the burger.  It was great.

As for the fries, they were quite tasty.  They come with a generous amount of the aforementioned garlic aioli for dipping, and man, that stuff is good.  As long as you don’t mind tasting garlic for the rest of the day, it’s pretty much dipping sauce perfection.

2.5 out of 4

Maison Fou - the restaurant Maison Fou - the restaurant Maison Fou - the brunch menu Maison Fou - the burger and fries Maison Fou - the burger

lbs.


Location
: 100 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://lbstoronto.com/

You know when you’re watching a movie, and it kind of sucks, but the lead actor is clearly trying really hard and actually giving a great performance? And it’s a shame, because all of that quality acting is wasted on such a middling film? That’s pretty much how I feel about the burger at lbs.

Not that the burger is even particularly bad; it’s actually fairly good. But it could have very, very easily been great.

The lbs burger, as per the menu: “6oz brisket + aged cheddar + bacon rasher + kozlicks mustard + house pickles + brioche bun.”

If nothing else, the patty is amazing; extending my strained “great actor in a bad movie” metaphor to this hamburger, the patty is the actor. It’s so, so good.

It’s cooked to a nice pink medium with an enviable amount of crust from the griddle. That crust isn’t just for show, either; it adds a great amount of crispiness that contrasts very nicely with the tender beef. And the beef itself is coarsely ground and loosely packed — the texture is perfect.

It’s also super juicy, with a ridiculously satisfying wallop of buttery, beefy flavour.

It’s a great patty, no doubt about it. Everything else, on the other hand…

There’s way, way, way too much going on. Between the very liberally applied strong mustard, the abundant sharp cheddar, the vinegary pickles, and the sweet caramelized onions (which are unmentioned on the menu, but quite abundant), the amazing flavour of the patty is absolutely buried. It’s gone. It never had a chance.

And that cheese. Yikes. There’s so damn much of it, it’s so intensely flavoured, and it’s completely cold and unmelted. It’s just a big old slab of cold, crumbly cheese that absolutely dominates the hamburger’s other flavours.  It drops trou and takes a metaphorical dump all over that magnificent patty. Even if it were melted, it would have been too much and too strong — but unmelted? Unmelted it’s ruinous.

I’ve ranted about cold cheese on a burger a few times before, so I won’t do it again. I’ll just say that clammy, unmelted cheese on a hamburger is horrible, and if you’re serving a burger like this, you should feel horrible. It almost single-handedly ruins this hamburger.

There’s also a thin slice of back bacon, which is fine, but it’s completely overwhelmed by the burger’s stronger flavours.  I could barely even taste it.

Then there’s the bun, which in theory is great — soft, fresh, and slightly sweet. But the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink burger has way too much going on; the soft bun just can’t handle it. By the last few bites, it had almost completely disintegrated into sodden mush.

Still, as much as this burger bums me out, it was good; I enjoyed it.  It’s a bit on the pricey side at 22 bucks, but the quality of the patty was so good that I can still easily recommend it, but with a big, fat asterisk.*

The fries also make this easy to recommend.  They’re crispy, creamy, salty, and perfect.  They’re some of the best fries I’ve had in a while.

*The toppings try their best to ruin it.

3 out of 4

Lbs. - the outside Lbs. - the restaurant Lbs. - the burger Lbs. - the burger

Colette Grand Cafe

colette
Location
: 550 Wellington Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.colettetoronto.com/

You wouldn’t think Colette Grand Cafe — which is mostly about brunch, and pastries, and classic French food like duck confit and moules frites — would have a great burger.  It must just be there because a burger is obligatory on pretty much every menu, right?

Wrong.

The burger at Colette Grand Cafe (which is kind of insufferably named “L’Hamburger”) is indeed pretty great.  The menu describes it as coming topped with “farmhouse cheddar, pepper bacon, tomato jam, bibb lettuce, dijonnaise.”

It’s always a good sign when they ask you how you want your burger cooked; I went with medium rare, and yep, the burger came cooked medium rare.

colettea

I’ll get the worst out of the way first: normally I’d mention whether the patty was griddled or grilled, but in this case I’m honestly not sure.  There was pretty much zero browning on the surface of the patty, so it’s tough to say.  That’s certainly not a good thing, but the patty was otherwise pretty tasty, with a good texture and a mild beefy flavour.

I also quite liked the melty, mild cheddar cheese — places like this are often inclined to get a bit too fancy for their own good, and wind up with a cheese that overpowers the patty.  That wasn’t the case here.

It’s hard to go wrong with bacon, and the smoky, thickly-sliced version on this burger didn’t disappoint.

The dijonnaise, on the other hand, was a bit overpowering.  Probably a good idea to ask for that on the side.

The other condiments were all solid, including pickled onions, which the menu doesn’t mention (it’s a fairly rich burger, so some form of pickle is certainly welcome to help balance that out).  And the sesame seed bun was slightly sweet, fresh, and held up nicely to the fairly substantial hamburger.

As for the thinly-cut fries, they were a tad soggy, but were otherwise pretty tasty, with a tinge of rosemary and a dipping sauce that was packed with even more rosemary flavour (yeah, they really love rosemary on their fries here, apparently).

3.5 out of 4

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