I was actually kind of excited when Chili’s opened here back in 2009. It was a much darker time for a hamburger lover in the GTA; this was pre-Burger’s Priest, Holy Chuck, and the many other burger joints serving quality smashed and griddle-cooked burgers in Toronto. It was surprisingly difficult to find a decent hamburger cooked in this style. Almost impossible. Like I said, it was a dark time.
Chili’s serves through-and-through American food, and of course, this includes a classic diner-style griddled hamburger. Or at least, it did. Now? Not so much.
But when they first opened here, Chili’s served a pretty decent burger. It wasn’t anything too great, but this being 2009, a griddled burger made with fresh beef and without any onions or spices mixed in was a rare treat.
Fast forward to now. At some point, the higher-ups at Chili’s must have taken a look at their Canadian competition — dreck like Boston Pizza, Kelsey’s, and Montana’s — and realized that Canadians have very low standards when it comes to casual chain restaurants. So they switched over from making their burgers fresh to serving prefabricated frozen hamburgers.
On my most recent visit I ordered the bacon cheeseburger, and it was obvious just looking at it that it was a frozen burger. It was even more obvious when I tasted it: with its chewy, hot doggy texture and its generically salty, non-beefy flavour, there was absolutely no mistaking it for anything but a frozen patty. It was pretty bad.
The cheese and bacon were both fine, though they did nothing to disguise the off-putting patty. The bun, too, was fine (if a bit dense), but again — there is nothing that can disguise that patty.
The burger came with a side of fries that were perfectly okay, but a bit ho-hum.
To me, the unfortunate changeover from fresh to frozen burgers sends a fairly clear message to Canadians. Chili’s is basically saying “Yeah, we could spend a little bit extra and make our hamburgers with fresh beef, like we used to. But you people will eat whatever garbage we put in front of you, so why should we?” And when you look around at the casual chain restaurant landscape, they might just be right. We will eat whatever garbage they put in front of us; there’s just no other way to explain the baffling success of the execrable Boston Pizza, among others.
(Images of the inside and outside of the restaurant above captured from this video on YouTube. For some reason it completely slipped my mind to take these pictures myself. Whoops!)