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

The Loose Moose


Location: 146 Front Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://theloosemoose.ca/

The Loose Moose isn’t part of a chain (though it is owned by SIR Corp, the restaurant conglomerate behind places like Jack Astor’s, Canyon Creek, and Scaddabush), but it serves a prototypically lousy chain restaurant burger: it’s exceptionally dry, it features personality-free flavourless beef, and it’s just an absolute bummer to eat.

It’s the type of burger that gives burgers a bad name.  I could see someone who doesn’t eat a lot of of them ordering this, eating it, and then thinking “oh, I guess I don’t like hamburgers then?”  Because it’s so far removed from what makes a good burger so great that it’s almost like an entirely different dish.  It’s unpleasant.

I got the Classic Burger, which is completely no-frills, topped only with lettuce, tomato, and pickle.

This is going to be brief, because if they’re not going to put any effort into making it, I shouldn’t have to put any effort into writing about it.

The griddled patty had a decent amount of crust, but it was cooked way past well done, it was too finely ground, and it was just the driest thing in the history of dry.  It was brutal.  The flavour was fine, I guess (it was inoffensive, at least) but it was so incredibly dry that having to actually eat it was such a chore.

The toppings were okay, as was the bun (though it was a bit too dense).  Who cares, though?  That stupid jerk of a patty needs to take a long walk off a short pier.

As for the fries, they were ultra-generic frozen fries.  Because why not, right?  The restaurant’s on a very high-traffic section of Front Street, so I guess it’ll be busy regardless of how the food actually tastes.  So why not serve the most low-effort, cheapest garbage you can find?  People will eat it regardless, apparently!  It’s just good business.  I have a certain amount of grudging respect for that.  I just wish I didn’t have to suffer through eating there myself.

1 out of 4

The Loose Moose - the outside The Loose Moose - the restaurant The Loose Moose - the burger The Loose Moose - the burger

Portland Variety


Location
: 587 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.portlandvariety.com/

I often feel like a broken record writing burger reviews.  I’ve written almost 200 of these things at this point, and there are only so many ways you can describe a hamburger before you start repeating yourself (and repeating yourself, and repeating yourself).

Of course, the vast majority of people reading any given review will have popped in based on a Google search; they’ll read the review they came for, and that’s that.  Those people have no idea how repetitive these reviews can be, which, oddly, makes me feel a little bit better about the whole thing.

But if you’re one of the much smaller group of people who have read a bunch of these reviews… get ready for some greatest hits.  These complaints are all going to seem pretty familiar.

And yes, it’s mostly complaints, sadly.  Though I’ve actually heard very good things about the burger at Portland Variety, the one I was served wasn’t particularly good.

The PV Burger, per the restaurant’s menu: “House made milk bun, smoked applewood cheddar, zucchini pickle, gherkin aioli, cassava frites.”

The main problem?  The texture.  The patty was way, way too finely ground and tightly packed (I’ve never made that complaint before, right guys??).  It wasn’t too bad around the medium-well middle, but the well done edges were dry, dense, and chewy.  It has that saltine effect, where you feel like you need to take a drink of water between each bite to prevent your mouth from completely drying out.

Otherwise, the burger is either fine or slightly better than fine. Aside from the aforementioned issues, the patty was decent enough (if a bit too peppery), with a mild beefy flavour and a decent amount of juiciness (at least around the middle).  If it weren’t for the fine grind and the dense texture, it would have been a solid burger.

This would be the part of the review where I’d mention if it was griddled or grilled, but to be honest, despite the fact that it’s only been a few hours since I ate it, I’ve already forgotten.  It wasn’t particularly memorable.

As for the toppings, the pickles were fine, and the cheddar was probably a bit too strong, but it was melty and tasty.  The “gherkin aioli” basically just tasted like a grainy mustard.  It wasn’t bad — I generally find mustard a little overpowering on a burger, but this had a nice zing without getting in the way.

The bun was great.  It was easily the best part of the burger.  It was soft and fresh, with the perfect amount of substance.

The cassava fries were interesting.  They were mostly quite tasty, with a very crispy exterior and a creamy, slightly chewy interior.  But one of them featured a papery skin I couldn’t bite through, and the mayo-based dipping sauce was seriously bland, with a broken emulsion that made it unpleasantly greasy.

2 out of 4

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Fancy Franks


Location: 326 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://fancyfranks.com/

Though the hot dogs are clearly the thing to order here (they are fancy, after all), there is a burger on the menu at Fancy Franks.

You can get a single cheeseburger, a double cheeseburger, a bacon cheeseburger, or a Fancy Patty, which comes with lettuce, chicken bacon, and Fancy sauce.  I went simple with the single cheeseburger, and had it topped with tomato, pickles, and mayo.

There’s nothing that particularly stands out about it, but it’s a solid burger.  I have very few complaints.

As you’d expect, it’s a smashed and griddled burger, and it’s nicely prepared.  There’s an impressive amount of crust from the griddle (maybe even a little too much?  It’s slightly crunchier than you’d like), and the American cheese is satisfyingly gooey.  And while the flavour of the patty isn’t particularly beefy, it’s not unpleasant.

It’s cooked to well done and then some, however; while I wouldn’t call it dry, it’s not particularly juicy, either.  The grind is also slightly too fine, but otherwise everything is pretty much where it should be.  It’s a tasty burger.

The condiments were standard issue (though the mayo was globbed on a little bit too enthusiastically), and the soft, lightly toasted sesame seed bun was supermarket fare — but it works.

As for the fries, they were a little bit oily and weren’t quite as crispy as they should have been, but they were still tasty enough.

3 out of 4

Fancy Franks - the outside Fancy Franks - the restaurant Fancy Franks - the fries Fancy Franks - the cheeseburger Fancy Franks - the cheeseburger

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

Momofuku Kojin - the outside Momofuku Kojin - the restaurant Momofuku Kojin - the pickled fruits/veggies Momofuku Kojin - the onion rings Momofuku Kojin - the burger Momofuku Kojin - the burger

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

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

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

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