Tag Archives: downtown

Marben — Round 2

22 Jul

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

Marben - the outside Marben - the restaurant Marben - the burger and fries Marben - the burger Marben - the burger

Northern Maverick Brewing Co.

29 Apr


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

Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the outside Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the restaurant Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the burger Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the burger Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the burger

Greenwood Smokehouse

25 Mar


Location
: 673 Danforth Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://greenwoodsmokehouse.com/

I like having a burger blog, but sometimes it’s a bummer.  Greenwood Smokehouse is, as the name implies, a barbecue joint.  And when I went there the other day, it smelled appropriately smoky, and I thought: I could go for some barbecue.  But I hate to pass up a chance to review a burger, so yeah.  I ordered the burger.

And it wasn’t great!  Which just made me sad about the potential barbecue deliciousness I was missing out on, but then my dining companion had the brisket sandwich and wasn’t impressed, so there you go.  Sometimes you’re not going to win no matter what you do.

Greenwood Smokehouse’s Black Angus burger is really simply topped, with just lettuce, tomato, pickles, and nothing else.  You have to admire a place that’s so confident in their hamburger that they don’t even want condiments to get in the way.

And the large patty certainly looks impressive, with a decent amount of crust from the griddle.

But the texture’s a bit off.  It was dense and chewy, and the well done patty was pretty dry.  It’s certainly not the worst thing ever, but it’s not ideal.

The flavour, too, was off.  It had a vague beefy flavour, but also a mild gaminess that I found unpleasant.  Again, it’s not the worst that I’ve had, but… it’s not great.

Everything else was pretty good.  The toppings were solid, and the bun — though standard-issue supermarket fare — was fresh and suited the burger well.

As for the fries, they were easily the highlight.  They were perfectly fried, and were nicely seasoned with a tasty spice blend.  This can sometimes be overbearing, but in this case it really worked.

2.5 out of 4

Greenwood Smokehouse - the restaurant Greenwood Smokehouse - the restaurant Greenwood Smokehouse - the burger Greenwood Smokehouse - the burger

Aloette

25 Feb

Aloette burger
Location
: 163 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://aloetterestaurant.com/

I was traveling when Aloette opened, and seeing pictures of the burger made me want to drop everything I was doing and get on the next plane home.  I mean, it’s a burger created by one of the best chefs in the city.  It’s topped with fried cheese.  How could it not be amazing??

How indeed.

It seems I’m fated to continually be disappointed by Toronto’s best chefs.  First there was Victor Barry.  Then Grant van Gameren.  And now, sadly, Alo’s Patrick Kriss.

Of course, there are different levels of disappointment, and this one was much more mild than the other two: I actually enjoyed the burger at Aloette.  But I was expecting my socks to be knocked off.  I’m looking down, and yep: there are my socks, firmly on my feet.

The Aloette Burger comes topped with shredded lettuce, pickle, onion, mayo, and the aforementioned Beaufort cheese.  The toppings are mostly quite good.  When you first look at the burger, the big pile of lettuce seems overdone, but I think the fine shredding makes it look poofier than it actually is.  It was just right.  The soft bun just barely holds up to the messy burger, but it manages.  It’s good.

The cheese was, shockingly, the weakest element.  It was good in theory — gooey, with a satisfying cheesy brown crust on its exterior.  It was actually quite delicious.  But just because something’s delicious doesn’t mean it belongs on a hamburger; it was sharp and assertive, and it completely wiped out all of the hamburger’s other flavours.  It would be absolutely amazing in a grilled cheese sandwich, but on a burger it’s all wrong.

The patty didn’t seem to have much of a beefy flavour, but then how can you even tell with that cheese?  The bulk of the flavour was a mild bitterness from the slightly burned exterior.  The patty mostly had an amazing mahogany-brown crust from the griddle, but there were a few spots that were blackened and bitter.

And while the beef was somewhat juicy, the well done patty was kind of dry.  It was also a little bit too finely ground and a bit too tightly packed, resulting in a patty that’s tougher than it should be.  When you’re eating a burger and thinking “why is this taking so long to chew?” then you know you’ve got problems.

Still, I’m coming off super negative here, so I should make it clear that I actually quite enjoyed the burger: it was tasty.  It has way too many issues to be anything better than just good, but it is good.  It’s just not even close to the burger perfection I was hoping for.

As for the fries, they were a bit overcooked (most of them were potato-chip-crunchy, which is a bit much), but otherwise quite tasty.  They also came with a tangy dipping sauce that was easily the highlight of the meal.

3 out of 4

Aloette - the restaurant Aloette - the restaurant Aloette - the burger Aloette - the burger Aloette - the burger

Rasa

4 Jun


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

Rasa - the restaurant Rasa - the restaurant Rasa - the burger Rasa - the burger