Hambrgr

HambrgrLocation: 207 Ottawa Street North, Hamilton
Website: https://www.hambrgr.ca/

I don’t want to bury the lede: yes, Hambrgr is in Hamilton.  It’s far.  I’ve never reviewed a hamburger outside of the GTA for this blog, but after seeing Hambrgr on John Catucci’s new Food Network show, Big Food Bucket List, I kinda had to try it.

While I was mulling over whether I wanted to expand this blog’s range into Hamilton, I discovered that something called the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (or GTHA) exists.  I’m not making this up; it has a Wikipedia page.  That was really all the excuse I needed.

And seriously: watch that segment on Big Food Bucket List and tell me you don’t immediately want to check that place out.  I dare you.

Hambrgr

I’m happy to say that it is absolutely, positively worth the drive to Hamilton.  It’s so damn good.

The burger from the show is the #HamOnt: “double 1/4lb patties,  grilled onions, ‘merican cheese, mustard glazed bacon, brgr sauce, iceberg.”

Sadly, my pictures turned out terribly — the lighting in the restaurant is a bit wonky, so in the photos, the griddled patties look like they’ve been completely blackened.  They were not completely blackened.

You’ll just have to take my word for it: they were perfect.  They had an absolutely amazing dark brown crust.

Hambrgr

They also tasted fantastic; they were profoundly juicy despite being cooked to medium well, with a thunderclap of satisfying beefy flavour.  According to the show, they’re made from a blend of chuck, inside round, and navel.  Unlike so many burgers in the GTA, you can tell that a great deal of thought was put into the blend they used.  It’s juicy and flavourful in a way that puts most burger joints to shame.

The patties were maybe a bit too finely ground and tightly packed — they’re ever-so-slightly tougher than they should be, but that’s a very minor complaint.  Considering how superlative they are in every other way, that’s easy to overlook.

Hambrgr

The toppings are just as good.  The gooey American cheese is perfect, griddled onions are always welcome on a burger, and the shredded lettuce adds some nice crunch and freshness.  Then there’s the mustard-glazed bacon, which is honestly kind of ingenious.  The zippy flavour from the mustard enhances the bacon and helps to cut through the burger’s richness, but doesn’t overwhelm the burger the way mustard as a condiment does.

The bun is great, too.  I mean, it’s all great.  If you have a car, it’s totally worth the drive to Hamilton.  And if you don’t…  I dunno, take the bus, I guess?  Just get over there.  It’s worth it.

Hambrgr

As for the fries, I ordered the half & half, which comes with regular and sweet potato fries.  It also comes with two dipping sauces: ketchup and sambal mayo.  The fries are very good, and that sambal mayo makes them even better.  It’s a great dip; it’s spicy, zesty, and addictive.

2.5 out of 4

Grill Gate

Grill GateLocation: 832 Sheppard Avenue West, North York
Website: https://grillgate.ca/

Grill Gate serves the type of burger I should love.  If nothing else, it’s actually different than the smashed-and-griddled cheeseburgers that have become the city’s de facto burger style over the last decade or so.  That alone is kind of delightful.

And for the most part, what they’re serving here is tasty.  I ordered the simplest option, the Gourmet Cheezeburger, which comes with a mix of American cheese and mozzarella, special sauce, and onion chips.

Grill Gate

As you’d guess from the name of the restaurant, it’s grilled rather than griddled, which is a refreshing change of pace from pretty much every other burger in the city.  The eight ounce patty has a nice heft to it, and holds up to the grilling quite nicely — there’s a good amount of char and a pleasant smoky flavour from the grill, which is quite enjoyable.  The patty is cooked all they way to well done, but still reasonably juicy.

So what’s the problem?  It’s a meatloaf burger, and a very meatloafy one at that.  The spicing here is front and centre.  It doesn’t taste like a hamburger to me; not even a little bit.

Grill Gate

Actually, in this case, I shouldn’t call it a meatloaf burger; the way it’s spiced, it would be more apt to call it a kofta burger.  It tastes a lot like a kofta kebab.  Which isn’t the worst thing in the world — I quite like kofta kebabs!  But you can’t put one on a bun and call it a hamburger.  It’s tasty in a completely different way.

Other than that, it’s decent enough for what it is.  It could be juicier, and the meat is a bit too tightly packed and tough, but it’s not bad.  There is, of course, zero beefy flavour — the spices are absolutely the star of the show.

Grill Gate

The cheese isn’t bad.  A mixture of American and mozzarella is a bit odd, but mostly, it works.  It’s a bit plasticky, even by the standards of American, but it’s also gooey and satisfying.

Then there’s the special sauce and the onion chips, and to be completely honest, I have no idea what they tasted like.  I forgot to take note of them (this is my first burger review in several months, so I guess I’m a bit rusty), and neither stood out to me at all.  It’s possible they weren’t there.  It’s also possible they were overwhelmed by the very assertively spiced patty.  I’m not sure.

I liked the bun.  It was weirdly crispy on the bottom, but other than that it was nice and fluffy.  It looks a bit big, but the bun-to-patty ratio was perfect.

Grill Gate

As for the fries, they’re great.  They’re battered fries, which I’m normally not crazy about, but these are surprisingly tasty.  They were perfectly fried — they might have been the crispiest fries I’ve ever had, but they never tipped the scales and became overly crunchy.  They’re also topped with a zippy, parsley-infused sauce that compliments them perfectly.  They were easily the highlight of the meal.

2.5 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

Extra Burger

Extra BurgerLocation: 1357 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.extraburger.ca/

Another day, another smashed-and-griddled burger in Toronto.  At some point, this city’s obsession with the thin, griddled patty (to the exclusion of every other type of burger) will cool down.

We’re not there yet.

Not that I’m complaining — well, not entirely, at least.  Though a little more variety would be nice, there’s a reason this style of patty is so popular.  It’s damn good.

Extra Burger

But there’s something to be said for the satisfying meatiness of a thicker patty, and for the smokiness that you get from the grill.  I love chocolate cake, but other flavours of cake are good too, you know?

But I digress.  Extra burger is an especially bare-bones burger joint; the menu consists entirely of a cheeseburger, a double cheeseburger, and fries.  They have a few stools where you can sit, but mostly, it’s take-out only.

I ordered the double, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, special sauce (well, they call it special sauce, but it looked and tasted like plain mayo to me), and two slices of American cheese.

Extra Burger

The burger certainly looks impressive; their griddling technique is exactly as it should be, with an impressive amount of dark brown crust on the exterior of each patty.  And the burger is well proportioned and photogenic.

Alas, though it’s a solid burger, it’s not quite as good as it looks.  The well done patties are nicely juicy, but the beef is finely ground and overhandled, resulting in a burger that isn’t nearly as tender as it should be.

It’s also bland; the meat has a very neutral flavour that, while certainly not unpleasant, lacks the beefy punch that you’re looking for in a top shelf hamburger.

Extra Burger

It’s otherwise very good — the gooey American cheese is perfect, the bun is soft and fresh, and the toppings are all on point (particularly the zippy, thickly cut pickle slices that I’m assuming they make in-house).

As for the fries, they’re okay.  They’re crinkle-cut, and they’re seasoned with a spice blend that brings them a nice flavour without overwhelming.  But they were slightly underdone, with an unpleasantly chalky interior.

3 out of 4

Scaddabush

ScaddabushLocation: 155 York Boulevard, Richmond Hill
Websitehttps://www.scaddabush.com

I’ve mentioned on another blog that Scaddabush is one of the better chains in Canada.  That continues to be true.  I even enjoyed the burger!  Considering that my reaction to the hamburger at chains like this tends to range from “that was extremely mediocre” to “that was so bad it makes me angry,” I was shocked at how much I enjoyed what they served here.

Scaddabush

It’s not, however, a traditional hamburger.  The Italian Burger, per their menu: “Hand-pressed Certified Angus Beef ground chuck, fresh mozzarella, arugula, bruschetta, balsamic reduction, basil pesto aioli, focaccia bun.”

There’s so much going on here that the patty itself almost feels like an afterthought.

Between the very garlicky pesto aioli, the sweet balsamic glaze, the peppery arugula, the chunky bruschetta topping, and the thick slice of fresh mozzarella, the beef is basically just another condiment.  You could slide it right out and it would barely make a difference.

Scaddabush

I’m normally not a huge fan of over-condimented hamburgers, but it’s hard to deny that what they’re serving here is tasty.  All of the toppings are quite good and compliment each other very well, and the substantial, slightly chewy bun does a great job of holding it all together.

But what about the patty itself?  It’s there, and it’s fine.  The texture is slightly sausagey, and it doesn’t have a particularly beefy flavour (not that it makes a difference with all of the other stuff going on here), but it’s otherwise a solid burger patty.

Scaddabush

It basically just adds some meatiness — this thing is all about the toppings.

As for the fries, they basically tasted like a lightly battered version of what they serve at McDonald’s.  They’re not particularly great, but I’ve had worse.

3 out of 4

Gladiator Burger & Steak


Location: 6039 Erin Mills Parkway, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/GladiatorBurgers/

Here’s a complaint I’m pretty sure I’ve never made before: the burger at Gladiator Burger has too much beef.  It’s too beefy.

Is that even a thing?  I feel like Peter in that episode of Family Guy where he lies about going to the doctor and claims he was told he was “in too good of shape.”  That’s not a thing, is it?

I ordered the Gladiator Burger: “two beef patties, beef bacon, two slices Canadian cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, tomato, lettuce, pickles & Gladiator aioli.”

The menu says that the patties are six ounces each, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually closer to eight.  They’re enormous.

I actually had a surprisingly hard time cutting it in half, because the burger was almost as tall as the plastic knife.  The knife went about 80 percent of the way in. It was nuts.

Too much beef or not, however: it’s a very good burger.

Gladiator Burger

The patties had a decent amount of crust from the griddle and a mild but satisfying beefy flavour.  The texture was great; the grind was nice and coarse, and they weren’t too tightly packed.

They were cooked all the way to well done, and I wish they were a little bit juicier, but they were quite good.  They were top-notch patties.

It’s clearly too much beef, though.  It should have either been a single, or had two smaller patties.  It’s good quality beef, but it would have needed to be phenomenal for me to want that much of it.  It’s overwhelming.  It’s the equivalent of ordering a triple (or a quadruple) at a regular burger joint.  It’s excessive.

Everything else was solid. The crispy beef bacon (which I’m pretty sure was deep fried) was satisfying, the cheddar was nice and melty (though American would have been preferable), and the griddled onions suit the burger perfectly.  The Gladiator aioli was the standard tangy mayo.

The bun was quite good as well, holding up nicely to the enormous burger without being too dense or substantial.

I should reiterate that it was a really, really good burger; it’s easily the best burger in Mississauga, though that’s not exactly a tall mountain to climb.  I just wish there were a little bit less of it.  I won’t say that I was not entertained, but I could have been more entertained (what, did you think I was going to get through this whole review without a strained Gladiator reference?  Come on). It’s also a bit pricey at almost twenty bucks for a combo — but then it’s like a pound of decent quality beef, so I guess the price makes sense.

As for the fries, they had a mild stale oil flavour, but were otherwise really good.

3.5 out of 4

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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

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