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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Fancy Franks


Location: 326 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://fancyfranks.com/

Though the hot dogs are clearly the thing to order here (they are fancy, after all), there is a burger on the menu at Fancy Franks.

You can get a single cheeseburger, a double cheeseburger, a bacon cheeseburger, or a Fancy Patty, which comes with lettuce, chicken bacon, and Fancy sauce.  I went simple with the single cheeseburger, and had it topped with tomato, pickles, and mayo.

There’s nothing that particularly stands out about it, but it’s a solid burger.  I have very few complaints.

As you’d expect, it’s a smashed and griddled burger, and it’s nicely prepared.  There’s an impressive amount of crust from the griddle (maybe even a little too much?  It’s slightly crunchier than you’d like), and the American cheese is satisfyingly gooey.  And while the flavour of the patty isn’t particularly beefy, it’s not unpleasant.

It’s cooked to well done and then some, however; while I wouldn’t call it dry, it’s not particularly juicy, either.  The grind is also slightly too fine, but otherwise everything is pretty much where it should be.  It’s a tasty burger.

The condiments were standard issue (though the mayo was globbed on a little bit too enthusiastically), and the soft, lightly toasted sesame seed bun was supermarket fare — but it works.

As for the fries, they were a little bit oily and weren’t quite as crispy as they should have been, but they were still tasty enough.

3 out of 4

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Momofuku Kojin

Momofuku Kojin
Location: 190 University Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://kojin.momofuku.com/

I actually really liked Momofuku Daisho (including, of course, the burger, though their brunch was also quite delicious).  Alas, both it and the more upscale Shoto shut down earlier this year to make way for Kojin, which is essentially Momofuku’s take on a steakhouse.

Considering how meat-based the menu is, I had very, very high hopes for their hamburger.  And indeed, it is (almost) as delicious as you’d hope.  Almost!  But I have a few nitpicks, because I’m me so of course I have a few nitpicks.

One of the bigger issues is obvious as soon as you take a look at the burger; it’s got these big, ridiculous Gruyere cheese wings.  In theory, these things should be amazing.  You can just snap them off and then eat them as a side dish, which is what I did.  They’re like big fat cheese chips.  They’re great.

The problem is inside the burger.  The cheese was obviously cooked separately from the patty and then placed on top after it had melted.  So the whole thing is crispy, not just the edges.

Momofuku Kojin

I shouldn’t even have to say this, but the cheese on a cheeseburger needs to be gooey and to melt into all of the crags and crevices of the patty.  It shouldn’t be crunchy.  That’s just… what is that??

Even worse: because of how much moisture there is inside the burger from the juicy patty and all of the sauce, the once-crispy cheese sogs up, and is actually more chewy than anything else.  It’s weird and hard and wrong.  I removed it altogether in the second half of my burger, and it came right off (which is how you know something is seriously amiss — the cheese and the patty should meld into one.  They should be inseparable).

The burger is also topped with pickles, braised onions, and garlic mayo.  The toppings are mostly quite good, though the mayo is way stronger than it needs to be.  It takes away from the amazing flavour of the beef.

Because yes, the beef is pretty special.  It’s cooked to a perfect rare, it’s extremely juicy, it has a great amount of crust from the griddle, and an intensely beefy flavour that’s beyond satisfying.  It’s really obvious that they’re using great quality beef, because the flavour is spectacular.

My only issue with the patty — and it’s a minor one — is that the grind is a little bit too coarse.  I think it might even be hand-chopped rather than ground.  It’s certainly delicious, but it has a substantial, steaky chew; it comes dangerously close to tipping the scales from hamburger to steak sandwich.  It never quite gets there, but it’s a tad closer than I’d like.  I want my hamburger to taste like a hamburger.  If I wanted a steak sandwich, I’d order a steak sandwich.

Still, it’s so delicious that it’s hard to complain too much.  I have a lot of little issues with the burger, but that patty is so damn good that they all just fade away.  It’s amazing.

Okay, one more complaint: the bun.  It’s actually very good, but it’s quite soft and it just isn’t up to the task.  The very juicy, saucy burger defeated it.   By the last few bites it had pretty much disintegrated into mush.  The burger clearly needs something with a bit more heft and sturdiness.

It comes with a couple of enormous onion rings and ranch dipping sauce instead of fries.  They’re not the best onion rings I’ve ever had, but they’re nicely cooked and tasty.

Oh, also: it’s seriously expensive at 25 bucks.  It doesn’t feel overpriced because of how amazing the beef is, but I think it needed to be mentioned.

3.5 out of 4

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Burger Fighter

Burger Fighter
Location: 1181 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/Burger-Fighter-Hot-Shawarma-187553741995504/

I must have driven by Burger Fighter a few dozen times, but I never gave it a second thought until it was featured on the @zachdoesburgers Instagram account (you should probably be following him, along with @burgerlab_to if you like burgers and you’re on Instagram).

Burger Fighter is an extremely unassuming hamburger/shawarma restaurant, so it’s easy enough to assume the burger is going to be lousy (Nader’s Middle Eastern Grill & Bakery in Mississauga comes to mind).

The burger is not lousy.  It’s actually quite good!  Not only that, it’s ridiculously inexpensive — I ordered the lunch special, which comes with a cheeseburger, a generous amount of fries, and a drink for $7.99.  Even McDonald’s isn’t that cheap.  That’s nuts.

Burger Fighter

And it’s a good quality burger.  It’s certainly not the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had — the flavour could have been a bit beefier, I wish there were more crust from the griddle, and the American cheese wasn’t quite as gooey as it should have been.  But the grind is nice and coarse, it hasn’t been overhandled, and it’s quite juicy despite being cooked all the way to well done.

It has a pleasant (if somewhat mild) beefy flavour that’s sadly obscured by the many toppings (they globbed on an obscene amount of ketchup and mayo, along with the usual lettuce, tomato, and pickles).

The bun, too, could have been better; it was a bit too dense and much too big for the patty, resulting in a bun-to-beef ratio that’s way off.

But for the price, and for how unimpressive the place looks from the outside, it’s a shockingly good burger.  I actually quite enjoyed it, and the fries were downright excellent.

3 out of 4

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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

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Burgers Park


Location: 10 William Sylvester Drive, North York
Websitehttp://burgerspark.ca/

Are you familiar with Shake Shack, the very popular chain of New York-based burger joints?  Someone at Burgers Park sure is — the style of burger, the paper wrapper it comes in, the crinkle-cut fries, the hot dogs, the milkshakes, the logo, and even the faux-park setting (the original Shake Shack is in Madison Square Park in New York) are all Shake Shack through and through.

BlogTO’s profile of the place states that the owners claim that the similarities to Shake Shake are coincidental.  Anything is possible, I suppose, but if that’s a coincidence it’s like the winning the lottery of coincidences.  Feels like a long-shot.

But don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying this is a bad thing.  Shake Shack is beloved.  If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.  We’re never going to get a Shake Shack location in Toronto, so we may as well get a homage.

And it’s really good!  If it hadn’t been great then the whole thing might have felt sad, but clearly, Burgers Park is ready to roll with the big boys.

I ordered the Park Burger, which is a classic griddled cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato, sauteed onions, and dijonnaise.

The patty is great.  Like the one at Gold Standard, it’s cooked with mustard on the griddle, but unlike that one, the mustard flavour isn’t overbearing.  There’s just enough of it to compliment — but not overwhelm — the beef.

I wish the flavour were a bit beefier, but it’s otherwise pretty much perfect.  The crust is dark and impressive, the grind and the texture are exactly where they should be, and it’s prodigiously juicy despite being cooked all the way to well done.

Obligatory beautiful crust close-up:

The toppings are all great, too, particularly the gooey American cheese and the griddled onions.  The onions probably either needed to be cooked a bit longer or sliced a bit thinner, but they were still quite tasty.  I think griddled onions might be the perfect burger topping.  There’s just something about their flavour that compliments a good burger patty so perfectly.

The soft, fresh, toasted bun was also quite good, holding up to the juicy patty and the toppings without adding too much heft.

As for the crinkle-cut fries, something about their flavour was ever-so-slightly off, but they were otherwise nice and crispy on the outside, with a pleasantly creamy interior.

3.5 out of 4

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