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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Gold Standard

Gold Standard
Location
: 385 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://thefed.ca/goldstandard/

Though the term “slider” has come to mean any little sandwich on a bun, it used to refer to a very specific type of hamburger where onions, beef, and bun all mingle together in a way that can be downright magical.  I’ve decried the absence of this style of burger in the GTA a few times over the years; most recently, in my review for Broncos Slider Bar, I predicted that we’d never get a true slider joint in the city.

Well, I’m happy to say that I was wrong.  Gold Standard, a tiny little take-out window just off of Roncesvalles, serves a Telway-style burger — a variation on a slider that originated in Detroit.

And while it’s not quite as delicious as I might have hoped, I’m very, very glad that it exists.

The burgers here feature a diminutive patty that’s been cooked with a generous amount of thinly shaved onions, which allows the beef and the onions to cook together, and for the flavours to mingle (they remain completely distinct from one another, however — this is a far cry from a meatloaf burger).  They also put a pre-cooking application of mustard directly on the patty and/or griddle to amp up the flavour.  It’s served with gooey american cheese and pickles, and comes tightly wrapped in foil so that the bun absorbs some of the flavour from the beef and the onions.

It’s a very respectable slider, but alas, nothing about it got my heart rate up.  The best part is the interplay between the beef and the griddled onions; that is a boffo flavour combination, and Gold Standard executes it perfectly.  The gooey melted cheese was also quite good, if a bit too salty.

The patty was solid — it had a good texture and it wasn’t too tightly packed — but it could have been beefier and juicier.  It wasn’t exactly dry, but it wasn’t particularly juicy, either, and the beefy flavour was more muted than I’d like.  It doesn’t help that the mustard was surprisingly intense, and dominated all of the other flavours in the hamburger.

The bun was probably the weakest part.  That’s a shame, because the soft beef-and-onion infused bun is a big part of the appeal of this style of hamburger.  I’m pretty sure that it started out as a good-quality bun, but it had been so thoroughly mashed down and squashed into oblivion that all of the fluffiness had been compressed right out of it.  It had the approximate texture of a really dense marshmallow.  It wasn’t completely unappealing, but it was firm and chewy in a way that was odd and off-putting.

This would normally be the part of the review where I talk about the fries.  There aren’t any. There are only three things on the menu at Gold Standard: the burger, a breakfast sandwich, and a vegetarian sandwich (or vegan?  I honestly didn’t even read that portion of the menu).

3 out of 4

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Zeal Burgers


Location
1926 Weston Road, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/zealburgers/

Wow. That’s really all I can say about what they’re serving at Zeal Burgers. Wow.

Okay, I can (and will) say a lot more about it than that, but “wow” seems like the most pertinent, because wow. I can’t remember the last time I was so blown away by a hamburger.

I feel like if this place weren’t so far out of the way, and if it weren’t in such a sketchy area, everybody would be talking about it. It’s a damn shame I didn’t eat this burger a few weeks ago, because I just posted my list of the top ten hamburgers in the city, and this clearly should have been on there. Based on my one visit, it’s a top ten contender for sure. Maybe even top five.

The burgers come either pre-topped or customizable, with an impressive list of cheeses and condiments to choose from. I went with the Z Burger, which is a double cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion strings, and Z Sauce.

The patties were absolutely glorious. They were smashed and griddled, because of course they were. I’m pretty sure every burger joint that’s opened in the last five years or so cooks burgers in this style. I could complain, but when a burger is this good, it feels like it would be absurd to do so.

I mean, how can I complain about this style of cookery when it produces a deep brown crust like this? Look at it:

That’s a thing of beauty. That takes my breath away.

And the flavour was amazing. It was an absolute explosion of satisfyingly beefy flavour, and it was seasoned with just the right amount of salt. It was perfect. It was cooked all the way to well done, which is unfortunate, and yet it was still abundantly juicy. The texture was great, too, with a nice course grind that obviously hasn’t been overhandled.

The cheese was gooey melted American, as it should be. Sometimes two slices of American in a double cheeseburger can be a bit overwhelming, but it was just right here. I think the slices might have been slightly thinner than the norm, and the patties were slightly thicker. Whatever it was, it was perfect.

The other toppings were great, too. The Z Sauce was the usual tangy mayo, and the lettuce, tomato, and pickles were all fresh and tasty. The crispy onion strings didn’t really add all that much, but they didn’t detract, either.

The standard-issue sesame seed bun was nothing special (and it was ever-so-slightly too wide for the patties), but it was fresh and lightly toasted, and suited the burger well.

As for the fries, they were outstanding. Are you surprised? Anyone who can make a burger that’s this good clearly knows what they’re doing. They’re not going to mess up the fries.

4 out of 4

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Northern Maverick Brewing Co.


Location
: 115 Bathurst Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://northernmaverick.ca/

I told myself I wasn’t going to trust Toronto Life again after the great frozen burger fiasco of 2015 (a quick recap: they included a frozen, industrially-produced burger in their list of the 25 best burgers in the city back in 2015 and made smoke come out of my ears like a cartoon character).

But when they specifically mentioned the greatness of the burger at Northern Maverick Brewing Co. in their recent list of the best new restaurants in the city, I couldn’t ignore it.  That’s like catnip for me.  I can’t resist.  I’m physically incapable.

(They also recently published my list of the ten best burgers in the city, so I guess they’re not all bad.)

I like Toronto Life, but they should clearly stop trying to recommend burgers, because they are terrible at it.

The burger here was an absolute disaster.  The menu certainly makes it sound good: “dry-aged house ground chuck, housemade bacon, house smoked cheese, house pickle” (they sure like the word “house,” don’t they?).

I’m going to start with the bun, because holy crap that bun was so profoundly awful that I’m having a hard time believing that it even happened.  Like, did I really eat that?  Or was it some kind of bizarre nightmare?

I knew I was in trouble immediately, because I almost couldn’t even cut through it with the knife they provided.  It was dense and impenetrable and horrible.

It made it really difficult to actually eat the hamburger — it was so dense and unyielding that it had zero give.  You couldn’t compress it down even a little bit, and it’s big, so I had to open my jaw as wide as it would go, and it was barely enough.

The flavour was fine — it was slightly too sweet, but otherwise okay — but the texture was a complete disaster.  It was closer to stale pound cake than to a traditional bun.  It overwhelmed everything.  It was the worst.

The patty, sadly, wasn’t much better.  It had a decent beefy flavour and a nice amount of crust from the griddle, but it was immediately apparent that the beef they were using was way too lean, because the well-done patty was dry AF.  I can’t remember the last time I had a burger that dry. Between that and the stupid bun, it required so much chewing.

The toppings were fine, at least. I was a bit worried that the smoked cheese would be overwhelming, but it was pleasantly mild and melty.

But it’s irrelevant. That bun. That patty. The horror.

Oh, and the fries were of the ultra-generic frozen variety, so how this place wound up on a major magazine’s list of the best restaurants of the year is truly baffling.

1.5 out of 4

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