Greenwood Smokehouse


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

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Aloette

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

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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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lbs.


Location
: 100 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://lbstoronto.com/

You know when you’re watching a movie, and it kind of sucks, but the lead actor is clearly trying really hard and actually giving a great performance? And it’s a shame, because all of that quality acting is wasted on such a middling film? That’s pretty much how I feel about the burger at lbs.

Not that the burger is even particularly bad; it’s actually fairly good. But it could have very, very easily been great.

The lbs burger, as per the menu: “6oz brisket + aged cheddar + bacon rasher + kozlicks mustard + house pickles + brioche bun.”

If nothing else, the patty is amazing; extending my strained “great actor in a bad movie” metaphor to this hamburger, the patty is the actor. It’s so, so good.

It’s cooked to a nice pink medium with an enviable amount of crust from the griddle. That crust isn’t just for show, either; it adds a great amount of crispiness that contrasts very nicely with the tender beef. And the beef itself is coarsely ground and loosely packed — the texture is perfect.

It’s also super juicy, with a ridiculously satisfying wallop of buttery, beefy flavour.

It’s a great patty, no doubt about it. Everything else, on the other hand…

There’s way, way, way too much going on. Between the very liberally applied strong mustard, the abundant sharp cheddar, the vinegary pickles, and the sweet caramelized onions (which are unmentioned on the menu, but quite abundant), the amazing flavour of the patty is absolutely buried. It’s gone. It never had a chance.

And that cheese. Yikes. There’s so damn much of it, it’s so intensely flavoured, and it’s completely cold and unmelted. It’s just a big old slab of cold, crumbly cheese that absolutely dominates the hamburger’s other flavours.  It drops trou and takes a metaphorical dump all over that magnificent patty. Even if it were melted, it would have been too much and too strong — but unmelted? Unmelted it’s ruinous.

I’ve ranted about cold cheese on a burger a few times before, so I won’t do it again. I’ll just say that clammy, unmelted cheese on a hamburger is horrible, and if you’re serving a burger like this, you should feel horrible. It almost single-handedly ruins this hamburger.

There’s also a thin slice of back bacon, which is fine, but it’s completely overwhelmed by the burger’s stronger flavours.  I could barely even taste it.

Then there’s the bun, which in theory is great — soft, fresh, and slightly sweet. But the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink burger has way too much going on; the soft bun just can’t handle it. By the last few bites, it had almost completely disintegrated into sodden mush.

Still, as much as this burger bums me out, it was good; I enjoyed it.  It’s a bit on the pricey side at 22 bucks, but the quality of the patty was so good that I can still easily recommend it, but with a big, fat asterisk.*

The fries also make this easy to recommend.  They’re crispy, creamy, salty, and perfect.  They’re some of the best fries I’ve had in a while.

*The toppings try their best to ruin it.

3 out of 4

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3 Brewers


Location
: 275 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://les3brasseurs.ca/locations/3-brewers-yonge

3 Brewers is a Canadian casual chain restaurant, which means by law, it has to serve mediocre food.

Oh, did you not hear about that law?  Yeah, parliament recently passed a law saying that every Canadian chain restaurant has to serve food that is “mediocre at best, with drab, uninspired cuisine that instills a profound sadness into its customers” (that’s a direct quote from the legislation).

So of course, the burger at 3 Brewers — I got the 3 Brasseurs burger, which comes topped with maple Amber beer sauce, smoked Gouda, bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion — is mediocre.  I mean, they wouldn’t want to break the law, would they?  The burger here stayed very firmly within the bounds of the legislation; it made me sad, just like it was supposed to.

It wasn’t the worst thing ever, I’ll give it that.  It was griddled and pleasantly crusty, and all the toppings were pretty good.  The smoked Gouda was nice and melty (if a bit too strong) — but then who cares when the burger itself is so poor?  The maple amber beer sauce must have just been globbed into one spot in the middle of the burger, because I got a couple of very sweet bites, and the rest of the burger was sauce-free.  The bun, aside from having an exterior that’s a bit too crunchy, was also pretty good.

It’s the patty that really made me sad.  It tasted like the patty from pretty much every other chain like this — it was well done, dry, and completely lacking in flavour.  The beef is lousy, but not too lousy — it’s the cheapest thing they can get away with without it being too flagrant (it’s not a frozen patty, at least).  It tastes like nothing, but it doesn’t offend.

As for the fries, they were fine.  A little bit better than the burger, but again, not good enough that they’re going to risk getting shut down.  Because of the law, of course.

2 out of 4

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Weslodge

wes
Location
: 480 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://weslodge.com/

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m constantly complaining about overly-dry burgers.  Constantly.  Aside from mixing superfluous gunk into the patty, I think it’s the thing that Toronto restaurants and burger joints get wrong the most.

So I really need to applaud Weslodge’s burger (“Braised beef cheek, branston pickle, English cheddar”) for the exact opposite: it was gloriously, intensely juicy. You could tell just by looking at the glistening patty; once I cut it in half, the juices came rushing out in a veritable torrent. As I ate it, they dripped readily from the patty, soaking into the bun and pooling on the plate.

It was amazing.

I should note that it wasn’t too juicy, in case it sounds that way. The patty itself wasn’t mushy or wet at all; the texture was just right. I requested medium rare and they hit it perfectly. It also had a nice coarse grind and expertly straddled the line between tenderness and substance.

In case it wasn’t already obvious that the chef here knows his way around a burger, the griddled patty had exactly the dark brown crispy exterior that you’re looking for. Suffice it to say, texturally it was one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long, long time.

wesa

The flavour was quite good as well, with a really satisfying beefy, buttery flavour. This was complimented quite well by the condiments, particularly the Branston pickle (essentially a medley of cubed pickled vegetables) which performed the same function as the typical pickle, but which tasted a bit more interesting.

The bun, though a bit on the dense side, actually suited the substantial, very juicy patty quite well — a softer bun almost surely would have crumbled to bits.

My only real problem with this burger — though it’s kind of a big one — is the cheese.  The patty is topped with a big, honkin’ slice of very sharp cheddar.  Aside from the fact that it was doing its best to overwhelm the flavour of the amazing patty, it was completely unmelted.  If you’re serving a cheeseburger with cold, unmelted cheese, I’m pretty sure you should have to go on TV to apologize to the nation.  You have committed a crime against food.  You are, I’m sorry to say, a monster.

I’ve mentioned this before, but a burger with unmelted cheese isn’t a cheeseburger — it’s a hamburger with a piece of cheese on top.  The cheese needs to melt and become gooey and mingle with the patty to earn that distinction.  Melted cheese on a hamburger patty is one of the greatest things ever; cold, unmelted cheese is an abomination.

It’s funny how thoroughly a few moments of heat can transform an ingredient, but there you go.

As for the fries, sadly they were the polar opposite of the hamburger.  They were terrible. They’re insanely thick.  You really have to be careful when you’re cooking fries at this thickness, because they can easily wind up undercooked, with a chalky, dense middle.  That’s exactly what happened here.  Thick-cut fries aren’t my favourite to start with, but undercooked thick-cut fries?  They are the french fry equivalent of a cheeseburger with unmelted cheese.  They are an affront to humanity.

But since I’d like to end this review on a positive note, I’ll reiterate that — unmelted, too-strong cheese notwithstanding — Weslodge serves a fantastic hamburger.  If not for the cheese issue, I’d probably rank it among the best in the city.  It’s that good.

3.5 out of 4

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Colette Grand Cafe

colette
Location
: 550 Wellington Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.colettetoronto.com/

You wouldn’t think Colette Grand Cafe — which is mostly about brunch, and pastries, and classic French food like duck confit and moules frites — would have a great burger.  It must just be there because a burger is obligatory on pretty much every menu, right?

Wrong.

The burger at Colette Grand Cafe (which is kind of insufferably named “L’Hamburger”) is indeed pretty great.  The menu describes it as coming topped with “farmhouse cheddar, pepper bacon, tomato jam, bibb lettuce, dijonnaise.”

It’s always a good sign when they ask you how you want your burger cooked; I went with medium rare, and yep, the burger came cooked medium rare.

colettea

I’ll get the worst out of the way first: normally I’d mention whether the patty was griddled or grilled, but in this case I’m honestly not sure.  There was pretty much zero browning on the surface of the patty, so it’s tough to say.  That’s certainly not a good thing, but the patty was otherwise pretty tasty, with a good texture and a mild beefy flavour.

I also quite liked the melty, mild cheddar cheese — places like this are often inclined to get a bit too fancy for their own good, and wind up with a cheese that overpowers the patty.  That wasn’t the case here.

It’s hard to go wrong with bacon, and the smoky, thickly-sliced version on this burger didn’t disappoint.

The dijonnaise, on the other hand, was a bit overpowering.  Probably a good idea to ask for that on the side.

The other condiments were all solid, including pickled onions, which the menu doesn’t mention (it’s a fairly rich burger, so some form of pickle is certainly welcome to help balance that out).  And the sesame seed bun was slightly sweet, fresh, and held up nicely to the fairly substantial hamburger.

As for the thinly-cut fries, they were a tad soggy, but were otherwise pretty tasty, with a tinge of rosemary and a dipping sauce that was packed with even more rosemary flavour (yeah, they really love rosemary on their fries here, apparently).

3.5 out of 4

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