Mama’s Boys Burgers

Mama's Boys BurgersLocation: 480 Danforth Road, Scarborough
Website: None

If nothing else, I have to give kudos to Mama’s Boys Burgers for doing something a bit different.  They serve a grilled burger that, at six ounces, is a bit heftier than the small griddle-smashed patties that are de rigueur in the city.

They also have a small griddle-smashed burger, because this is Toronto, so of course — but the grilled burger is there, and it’s called the Mama, so it’s the specialty.

Mama's Boys Burgers

I ordered the Mama’s Signature, which is a double cheeseburger with bacon and caramelized onions.  You can get it topped with your choice of condiments (I went with Mama sauce, pickles, and tomato).

I need to mention the caramelized onions first, because holy crap, those onions.  They’re so sweet.  It’s overwhelming.  They’re syrupy and cloying and in your face.  I’m pretty sure I have diabetes now.  Is that how diabetes works?  Because if it is, I have it.  Most desserts aren’t that sweet.

Mama's Boys Burgers

It overwhelms everything else to an almost absurd degree.  For the first few bites I assumed they were mixing sugar right into the meat; the sweetness is so pervasive I thought it had to be coming from the patties themselves.  It’s bonkers.

The patties aren’t bad, though I literally had to pull a piece right out of the bun to even tell what they tasted like.  They don’t have much of a beefy flavour, and they’re definitely too finely ground (they’re a bit tough), but they’re fairly juicy and agreeable enough.  They also have a bit of a smoky flavour from the grill, but again, it’s completely wiped out by the sugary onions.

Mama's Boys Burgers

The other issue is the slice of mild Cheddar.  They put it on top of the onions instead of right onto the patty, so it never gets hot enough to fully melt.  I’m sorry, but that means that this isn’t actually a cheeseburger — it’s a hamburger with a slice of cheese on it.  The only way for a hamburger to make the magical transformation into a cheeseburger is for the cheese to melt and mingle with the beef.

The other toppings are fine, though again, they’re lost in the unforgiving deluge of sugar.  I was only able to identify the Mama sauce as garlic mayo by trying it on its own.  Otherwise I just couldn’t tell.  I wish I was exaggerating about how overwhelming the onions were.  It’s madness.

Mama's Boys Burgers

As for the fries, they’re slightly underseasoned, but are otherwise very good.  They’re quite thick, but they’re perfectly crispy and creamy.  They were easily the highlight.

2.5 out of 4

Cabano’s Comfort Food

Cabano's Comfort FoodLocation: 75 St. Nicholas Street, Toronto
Website: http://cabanos.ca/

I just counted, and my list of hamburgers to try for this blog currently sits at 154.  Suffice it to say, it’ll be a while before I get to all of them.  If you’ve left a comment or sent me an email suggesting a burger I should try and I haven’t gotten there yet, that’s why.

I’ve been hearing good things about the burger at Cabano’s since they were located in Vaughan.  I’ve been meaning to check the place out for years.

Cabano's Comfort Food

Well, I finally got there, and yeah — it was worth the wait.  The burger didn’t rock my world, but it’s very, very good.

You can either get the no-frills cheeseburger, or the Cabano burger, which is a double cheeseburger that comes topped with Cabano sauce, lettuce, onions, and fried pickled jalapenos.

I got the Cabano, and it’s a quality burger; it does pretty much everything right, and very little wrong.

The patties are smashed and griddled, because of course they are.  This is Toronto.  If you attempt to cook a burger in any other style and serve it in a restaurant, the police are going to show up at your house, roll you up in a carpet and throw you into a river.

Cabano's Comfort Food

They’re cooked all the way to well done, which can sometimes be an issue, but absolutely isn’t here — they’re basically perfect.  They have a nice crust from the griddle (though only on one side), and the texture is absolutely outstanding.  They’re tender and abundantly juicy.  Perfect.

They have a pleasant but mild beefy flavour; that’s the one area where the burger is lacking.  Because the patties were otherwise so superlative, I was looking for that nice strong beefy hit that you get from truly top-shelf hamburgers, and it wasn’t quite there.

It didn’t help that the patties were overwhelmed by the gooey American cheese.  I’m not sure how many slices they used — Two?  Three? — but it was too much.  The cheese was clearly the dominant flavour.  It easily overpowers the mild beef.

Cabano's Comfort Food

Otherwise, the toppings were great.  The Cabano sauce was the typical tangy mayo you’ll find in so many burgers, and the chopped onions and lettuce work quite nicely (I’m normally not a fan of raw onion, but these were mild enough to not offend).

The fried jalapenos, however, are the highlight.   They’re crispy and a little bit spicy, with a nice vinegary bite that helps cut through the burger’s richness.

The bun — a Martin’s Potato Roll, I think, which are becoming delightfully common in the GTA — was quite good as well.

Cabano's Comfort Food

As for the fries, they weren’t great.  They tasted lightly battered, which I’m not crazy about.  They were also undercooked.  Considering how good the burger was, they were shockingly shoddy.

3.5 out of 4

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

Kitson and Co. - the outside Kitson and Co. - the restaurant Kitson and Co. - the cheeseburger Kitson and Co. - the cheeseburger

Museum Tavern

museum
Location
: 208 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: http://www.museumtavern.ca/

This blog hit its 5th anniversary a couple of months ago — I’ve reviewed almost 150 burgers in that time.  And though my love of hamburgers is as strong today as it was five years ago, doubt does sometimes creep into my mind.  Do I still want to be doing this?  Does the world really need me describing a burger’s beefy flavour for the hundredth time, or complaining about yet another dry patty?

It can get wearying.  Especially when I visit a place that I know is going to have a lousy hamburger, and then it is lousy, and I realize that I only have a finite amount of meals to eat in my lifetime and I just wasted one so I can be snarky about it online.  And there’s that voice: you don’t have to do this.

But then I eat a burger like the one they’re serving at Museum Tavern, and it’s like a choir from above.  Oh right, that voice says. This is why you do this.

Which is all a very roundabout way of saying that the burger at Museum Tavern is absolutely outstanding.  Like, top five in the city outstanding.  How can I stop this blog when there are still burgers this good for me to eat and write about?  I can’t.

museumA

Museum Tavern serves a double cheeseburger, topped with the classics (lettuce, pickles, onion, and a Big Mac-esque sauce), and with the choice between American and aged cheddar.  I went with American; I’ve said it before, but American’s creamy consistency when melted, and its mild — and more importantly, not overwhelming — flavour makes it the perfect cheese for this type of burger (yes, some cheaper varieties of American cheese can be plasticky and horrible, but that’s definitely not what they’re using here).

The patties are griddled, with an awe-inspiring amount of crust that’s more than just a pretty face — it adds a nice amount of texture that contrasts really well with the tender beef.

I got a bit concerned when I cut the burger in half, as the patties were cooked to well done and grey throughout, which isn’t my favourite.  But everything about this burger is so great that it really doesn’t matter.  The texture of the beef is perfect — coarsely ground, not overhandled, with a consistency that perfectly straddles the line between tenderness and substance.

It’s also impressively juicy, especially for a burger that’s been cooked all the way to well done.  And the flavour is great, with a satisfying beefiness that mingles perfectly with the other flavours and always remains the star of the show.

So that’s the taste/texture/juiciness trifecta — the hamburger bullseye.

The bun and toppings were great too, which means there’s nothing to get in the way of this burger’s status as one of the best in the city.  Because yeah, I honestly don’t have a single complaint about this hamburger — it’s amazing from head to toe.  I’m a bit late to the party (the Museum Tavern has been open since 2012), so it’s quite possible that you’re way ahead of me on this one.  But on the off chance that you haven’t tried it yet?  Do it.  Now.

Oh, and the shoestring fries were great too.  Seriously though, why are you still reading this when you could be eating that magnificent hamburger?

4 out of 4

Museum Tavern - the outside Museum Tavern - the restaurant Museum Tavern - the menu Museum Tavern - the cheeseburger Museum Tavern - the cheeseburger

Piano Piano

piano
Location
: 88 Harbord Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.pianopianotherestaurant.com/

At the end of 2015, Chef Victor Barry shut down Splendido, a fine-dining destination that served meticulously-prepared multi-course meals. It was frequently named one of the best restaurants in the city, if not the entire country.

Early this year, Barry renovated the space and relaunched as Piano Piano, focusing on much more casual fare like pizza, pasta, and yes — a cheeseburger.  How could you not be excited by the idea of a hamburger prepared by one of the best chefs in the city?  How??

Well, I was excited.

And then the burger came and I got even more excited, because it looked perfect.  It’s pretty simple: two patties, two slices of cheese, lettuce, pickle, Dijonaisse.  But look at it though.  Those glistening patties, just the right size for the bun; the melty cheese; the dark, mahogany-brown crust from the griddle…  it’s what cheeseburger dreams are made of.

Or at least, it looked that way.

My struggle to cut the burger in half made it distressingly clear that something was amiss.  A good burger should be yielding and tender; cutting it should be like putting a hot knife through butter.  This was more like trying to saw into a particularly tough steak.

pianoA

This burger was so bad I almost can’t even believe it.  Like, how can a chef who is presumably as talented as Barry put out anything so horrible, let alone something as simple as a hamburger?  I can’t wrap my mind around it.

I will say that everything but the patty itself was pretty good — the gooey American cheese, the classic condiments, the fresh bun with just the right amount of sweetness and heft — it was all basically right where it should be.

The patty, on the other hand, was misguided on every level.  More pulverized than ground, it was tightly packed, tough, and horrible.  It also had an off-putting sausage-like consistency, possibly from having salt mixed in with the beef.  Between the unforgiving density of the beef and the oddly rubbery texture, it just didn’t want to get chewed.  It was kind of like eating hamburger-flavoured gum.

The taste wasn’t much better.  It was overwhelmingly peppery, which turns out to be a good thing, because this is beef that needs to be disguised with whatever you can throw at it.  It had a gamy, leftover meat flavour that was seemingly trying to compete with the texture to see which could be more awful.

Horrifying texture versus appalling flavour: whoever wins, we lose.

Oh, and did I mention that it costs twenty-two bucks?  Because it costs twenty-two bucks.  So not only is it gross, it’s probably one of the more expensive burgers in the city.  It’s easily — hands down — the worst hamburger that I’ve ever had from a high-end place like this.

Actually, it’s one of the worst burgers I’ve had in quite a while.

I think this might be the point in the review where you assume that I’m being way too picky.  It looks pretty good, you’re thinking.  How could it be that bad?

Okay.  Try it then.  I dare you.

As for the fries, they were the polar opposite of the hamburger.  They were amazing.  Though they’re a bit more thickly cut than I generally prefer, they were the perfect combination of crispy exterior and creamy interior.  Eating them with the hamburger is kind of like alternating between smelling a sweet, delicately fragrant flower with someone farting directly into your face.

1 out of 4

Piano Piano - the outside Piano Piano - the menu Piano Piano - the restaurant Piano Piano - the burger and fries Piano Piano - the burger Piano Piano - the burger