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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RH Courtyard Cafe


Location
: 3401 Dufferin Street, North York (inside Yorkdale)
Website: None

That was a pleasant surprise.  I wasn’t even planning on eating here — we were supposed to go to the Cheesecake Factory, but the wait was well over an hour despite the fact that it was before noon on a random weekday afternoon.  I figured those types of crowds would have died down by now, but apparently people love the Cheesecake Factory far more than I anticipated.

I had a vague recollection of seeing a photo of the burger at Restoration Hardware (which is also in Yorkdale) and thinking it looked pretty good, so I figured, sure — I’m here, I want a burger, why not?

Yes, Restoration Hardware — the furniture store — has a restaurant, and they serve a burger.  I suppose odder things have happened.

Odder things, such as the burger at a furniture store’s restaurant actually being pretty good.

The RH Burger, per the menu: “sharp American, pickles, onion, dijonnaise, lettuce, tomato.”

I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it.  That’s not to say it was great, but it had a basically decent texture, it was juicy, the flavour was okay, and all of the toppings were solid.  The cheese was nice and gooey and the onions were finely diced and not overwhelming.  The tomato and lettuce were on the side, which is where they remained — they were completely unnecessary.

It was far from perfect, of course — there was almost no crust from the griddle, the well-done beef was too dense with a slightly chewy texture, and they seasoned it with way too much pepper.  But again, it’s a restaurant in a furniture store.  It very easily could have been dry and tasteless and horrible, but I actually quite enjoyed eating it.

As for the fries, they were even better than the hamburger — particularly when dipped in the intensely garlicky mayo that comes on the side.  That stuff was potent.  It actually reminded quite a bit of the garlic sauce that you sometimes get with shawarma.  It bordered on being too strong, but it never went there.  It was irresistible.

3 out of 4

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Resto Boemo


Location
: 111 Richmond Street West, Toronto (in the Assembly Chef’s Hall)
Websitehttps://www.instagram.com/restoboemo/

Since getting back into town a couple of months ago, I’ve been hearing literally nothing but great things about the burger at Resto Boemo.  The more I heard, the more I was drawn to it like a magnet to… a more powerful magnet?  One of those really strong electromagnets?  (This metaphor has really gone off the rails, like a train that’s been derailed by a really strong magnet.  Okay, I’ll stop now.)

You can choose from either single or double, but other than that there’s just one burger on the menu, and it’s a no-frills cheeseburger: American cheese, lettuce, onion, pickles, and some kind of special sauce.

It’s a good burger, but alas, not a great one.  There are a few things holding it back from being truly special, like a magnet that’s not quite powerful enough to stick, slowly sliding down the fridge door.

But first, the good: it’s smashed and griddle-cooked (because apparently there’s no other way to cook a burger as far as Toronto chefs are concerned), with an impressive amount of crust on its exterior.  The patties are cooked to a perfect medium, with a blushingly pink interior, and a really satisfying amount of juiciness.  That’s not to mention the beefy flavour, which was impressive and pronounced.

I also quite liked the toppings, especially the thinly-shaved onions — they added a mild oniony flavour without overwhelming, as raw onions are prone to do.  And the gooey, melty American cheese is the perfect accompaniment to this style of cheeseburger.

Oh, and I really liked the bun, too.  It was soft, mildly sweet, and had just the right amount of heft to stand up to the messy burger.  It was actually pretty great.

Yeah, there was a lot about this burger that I really liked.

But, while the patties were nice and juicy, they were also a bit too tightly packed, which made them tougher than they should have been.  And the texture was ever-so-slightly off, with a very subtle sausage-like chew.  I suspect they’re either salting the patties too far in advance, or mixing salt right in with the meat.

And speaking of salt, between the salty American cheese and the salt on the patties themselves, the sodium level here is a little bit intense.  It’s not a huge issue, but it’s there.

As for the fries, they looked and tasted a lot like what they serve at McDonald’s — but not as good.  The exterior was slightly too crispy, and the interior was off-puttingly dry.  It was a turn-off, like two magnets with the same poles pushing each other away.

3 out of 4

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State & Main Kitchen & Bar


Location
: 396 The East Mall, Etobicoke
Websitehttps://www.stateandmain.ca/

I’m not gonna lie: my expectations for the burger at State & Main were quite low.  Is there something lower than low?  Like, in the basement?  My expectations were way down in the basement.

I mean, why wouldn’t they be?  Casual chain restaurants like this one typically serve a burger that’s uninspired, to put it kindly, and I really didn’t have any reason to think that State & Main would be any different.

I’m happy to say that I was dead wrong.  Not that the burger here was anything to get too excited about, but it was actually pretty good.

I ordered the Main, which is a double cheeseburger made with American cheese, and topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, and State sauce.

The patties weren’t bad at all, though I’m honestly not sure if they were griddled or grilled.  It was odd; they looked griddled, but tasted grilled, with that slightly smoky, charred flavour that you typically only get from the grill.  So…  I don’t know (I’ve eaten something like three hamburgers in the last six months, so I guess my burger sense is a bit rusty).

They were solid patties: they had a nice crust from the griddle and/or grill (??), they were slightly juicy, and they had a pleasant flavour.  Yes, they were a little densely packed, they could have been beefier and juicier, and it would have been nice if they weren’t so uniformly gray throughout — but they could have been much, much worse.

The toppings were quite good too, particularly the gooey, melty American cheese. 

I’d tell you about the State sauce, but I honestly don’t remember what it tasted like (did I mention that I’m a bit rusty at this burger reviewing thing?  Because clearly I am).  I feel like it’s safe to assume it was just the typical Big Mac-esque sauce that you usually find on burgers like this.

The bun was slightly too dense, but since this was a more substantial hamburger, it worked.

As for the fries, they were perfectly crispy/creamy.  You had the choice between gravy or dill sauce for dipping; I went with the dill, which was addictively garlicky.  It was pretty great.

3 out of 4

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Kitson and Co.


Location
: 1205 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.kitsonandco.com/

Sometimes, you just wanna stop eating your burger, slap your hand on the table, walk back into the kitchen and shake everybody’s hand.  Sometimes a burger is so delightfully great that it just makes you want to do something.  Especially when you’re in a place that doesn’t even specialize in hamburgers, and the burger’s greatness is all the more improbable.  A great burger from a random sandwich shop?  That just makes my day.

It’s a pretty simple cheeseburger: “Classic Double Cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onions and Kitson & Co. secret sauce”

It’s an amazing example of a classic, no-frills fast-food-style burger executed perfectly.  You’ve got the gooey American cheese, the crusty griddled patties, the Big-Mac-esque secret sauce, the sesame seed bun, and the classic veggies.  It’s all there.

Those patties are top notch; the flavour could have been a bit beefier, but it’s hard to complain too much when all of the other elements are right where they should be.  They were also ever-so-slightly too densely packed, but again, it’s hard to complain too much when the overall package is so damn satisfying.  The patties are cooked to a perfect medium rare with a nice layer of dark brown crust on the exterior.  They’re also super juicy; that alone is reason enough to celebrate.

The melty American cheese adds creaminess and a nice salty tang; I kinda wish that there was only one slice instead of two, as I feel like two slices of cheese on a double cheeseburger starts to overwhelm the meat, but that’s more of a personal preference than anything else.  Two slices is the standard, so it’s hard to fault them for that.

The tangy secret sauce is pretty much exactly what you think it’s going to be — it works great with the cheeseburger and, more importantly, it doesn’t get in the way.

Even the bun was surprisingly great: soft, fresh, and perfectly toasted, it somehow manages to stand up to that very juicy, messy burger without ever feeling overly substantial.  The beef to bun ratio?  On point.

As for the fries, they were crispy, creamy, and flavourful; as great as the burger was, the fries might have been even better.

3.5 out of 4

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Rasa


Location
: 196 Robert Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://rasabar.ca/

Though I’ve had burgers that were almost ruined by one particular topping before (I’m thinking of the mustard overload from the County General, or the insanely sweet tomato jam from Provo FoodBar), the burger at Rasa might just be the most glaring example of this unfortunate phenomenon.

Rasa’s burger is topped with provolone, gochujang mayo, pickles, and “scrapchi.”  No, I don’t know what scrapchi is either.  But I do know that it doesn’t belong on a hamburger.

It’s clearly some kind of variation on kimchi, but it has a strongly funky, overpoweringly fishy flavour that was fairly unpleasant, and not quite like any kimchi I’ve ever had (I should note that I really like kimchi, and I’ve been to South Korea, so I’m not exactly a neophyte when it comes to the stuff).  It was a bulldozer of flavour, and absolutely destroyed any other tastes in the burger.  This wouldn’t have been quite as big of an issue if the scrapchi actually tasted okay.  But it has an intense rotten fish flavour that was kind of gross.

I might have had a more misguided topping on a burger in my lifetime — but if I have, I cannot remember it.  It’s possible that it was just a bad batch?  Because I can’t imagine that anyone would intentionally put anything that off-putting on a hamburger.

It’s a shame, because the burger is otherwise pretty good.  Though the patty doesn’t have all that much beefy flavour (which I was only able to discern in the couple of bites I got without the scrapchi), it’s quite juicy, and the texture is pretty great.

The waiter mentioned that it would be cooked to medium rare, though it was actually much closer to rare. A lot of rare burger patties have a tendency to be a bit squishy, but that’s not the case here.  The patty had a good amount of bite without being too dense, and held together quite nicely.  I wish, however, that there had been a bit more crust from the griddle (or any crust at all — in fact, the exterior of the patty was so colour-free that I’m not even sure if it was grilled or griddled.  I’m just guessing that they griddled it).

The bun held up nicely to the substantial burger, and the other toppings were fine (particularly the satisfyingly gooey provolone), but that crazy scrapchi pretty much wiped everything else out.

As for the fries, it didn’t come with any — it came with a very small handful of taro chips instead.  That makes the burger fairly pricey at 17 bucks.

2.5 out of 4

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