The Good Fork

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Location
: 2432 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://goodfork.ca/

You know what makes me sad? Burgers that should be great that are merely okay. That makes me sad. Unnecessary mediocrity. That makes me sad. The Good Fork makes me sad.

Not that they even serve a bad burger. It’s actually pretty decent. But it could have been so good without even changing that much.

I opted for the Plain burger, which the menu describes as coming with remoulade and “fixins” (which, in this case, are lettuce, tomato, pickles, and red onion).

The burger tastes really good.  The quality of the beef is obviously quite high, with an outstanding beefy flavour that’s pretty much irresistible.  The tangy remoulade adds some zip without overwhelming the taste of the beef, and is actually a pretty great condiment for the burger.

So — great burger, right?  Right…?

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It would have been great.  But it was dry.  Crazy dry, with a tough, dense texture that’s the result of the patty having been ground too finely and packed too tightly.  Cooked all the way to well done and beyond, the burger never had a chance.  It was always going to be dry, and it was always going to be tough.

I feel like I make this complaint with an alarming frequency, and I really don’t know why.  This is burger-making 101.  A good burger needs a course grind, and it needs to be loosely packed.  As you cram the strands of ground beef closer and closer together, the burger becomes more and more dense, and therefore more and more tough.  And if it’s finely ground on top of that?  Then those strands are really going to become good friends, resulting in a tightly packed slab of beef that feels like it’s trying to become a steak again.  Cook that to well done and it’s all over but the crying.  You’re getting a tough, dry patty, guaranteed.

Of course, that’s not to mention the use of overly lean beef, another culprit in drying out so many of Toronto’s burgers — though here, the menu states that they’re using a blend of brisket and chuck, which should result in a pretty decent lean-to-fat ratio.  But with that particular patty cooked to the edge of well done, I suspect that no amount of fat could have saved it.

It’s served on a pretzel bun, which I normally find too dense and bready for a hamburger, though in this case that was the least of this burger’s concerns.

The shoestring fries were quite good, at least.  So there’s that.

2.5 out of 4

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b.good

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Location: 100 Front Street East, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.bgood.ca/

My last review was of a burger joint with two different tongue sandwiches on the menu. Speaking of incongruous pairings, we have b.good, the latest American restaurant chain to head north.  Their theme?  Health food and hamburgers.

I’m going to let that sink in for a second: Health food.  Quinoa.  Kale.  Salads.  And hamburgers.

To me (and to any rational person) the words “health food” and “hamburgers” should never be in the same sentence, other than to say “hamburgers are not health food.”

Needless to say, I was skeptical, but still hopeful; perhaps b.good’s definition of a healthy burger was merely one without any unnecessary chemicals/additives/preservatives.  Maybe you can make a hamburger with high quality beef and call it healthy.  Maybe I wouldn’t have to suffer through a dried-out patty made under the ill-advised notion that any food can be made healthy if you wish hard enough.

Maybe I’ll win the lottery tomorrow.

No, b.good’s burger isn’t healthy in the “we used good quality ingredients” sense of the term.  It’s healthy in the “lean beef” sense of the term.  It’s healthy in the “let’s ruin something good” sense of the term.  It’s healthy in the “what the hell have you done to this hamburger” sense of the term.

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They have six pre-topped burgers on the menu; I went with the simplest choice, the Cousin Oliver.  That one comes with “lettuce, tomato, onions, Chef Tony’s homemade pickles.”  They have beef, chicken, turkey, and veggie patties, as well as white or whole wheat buns.  Do I even need to mention I picked beef with a white bun?  Because of course I picked beef with a white bun.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: it’s dry.  Oh good heavens was it dry.  If you poke around this blog for longer than a few minutes, you’ll probably see me complaining about overly-dry hamburgers, but this one takes the cake.  I’m not a hundred percent sure if it’s the driest burger I’ve had in my life, but it’s a contender.

It’s way too tightly packed, which doesn’t help.  It also doesn’t help that it was cooked all the way to well done, but there were still vague hints of pink in there, so it wasn’t overcooked.  But it’s obvious that they started with ridiculously lean beef, because there wasn’t even a hint of juiciness.  As you chew it, the beef just sort of crumbles into sad little pellets of desiccated meat.  It sucks all the moisture out of your mouth.  It needs it.

It also tastes weird.  It tasted odd enough that I actually looked at the menu to make sure bison wasn’t an option, because it didn’t really taste like beef; it didn’t taste right.  It was gamy and funky and weird.  It was unpleasant.  It tasted like maybe they had cooked it yesterday and reheated it today (that would also account for some of  the absurd dryness), but don’t take my word for that.  That’s a serious accusation and I don’t make it lightly.  I’m just trying to figure out what could possibly make beef taste like that.

My dining companion had the same complaints vis-a-vis taste and texture, so this wasn’t just the case of one burger gone awry.  In fact, he posted a Yelp review, and if you’re noting similarities between the two reviews?  Yeah.  That’s inevitable.  The burgers here are dry, and they taste weird.  It’s hard not to take note of that.

The toppings and the bun were fine, though the bun was too big for the patty, and the burger oddly doesn’t come with any condiments like ketchup or mustard or mayo.  That didn’t help matters, but you could have dunked this patty in a bath consisting of all the condiments in the world, and it still would have been unpalatably dry.

As for the “fries,” they weren’t fries.  B.good proudly proclaims that they’re “oven finished” a.k.a. baked, a.k.a. not fried.  If you don’t fry a fry, is it still a fry?  Do I really need to answer that?  They tasted baked.  They didn’t taste anything like fries, though they basically looked the part.  They weren’t terrible (they were well cooked at least) but they weren’t fries.

1 out of 4

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Big Jack’s Burger Shop

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Location
: 8384 Woodbine Avenue, Markham
Websitehttp://www.bigjacks.ca/

Every burger joint I visit, I go in hoping I’m going to love it.  I know I can occasionally come off as nitpicky, but I eat every hamburger looking for things to love, not things to criticize.  Nothing would please me more than to spend the rest of my days writing nothing but glowing reviews.

That being said… some burgers just aren’t very good.  Sometimes I’ve gotta pick nits.

Big Jack’s is actually in the same location as Prime Burger, one of those really old school burger joints that was probably older than many of its customers.  I had meant to check it out for ages, but alas, I never got around to it.  Such is life.

It’s a fairly small place, but there are a decent amount of tables inside.  They have a handful of signature burgers on the menu, but the topping selections — including one with pulled pork, and one with grilled cheese sandwiches instead of a bun — were a little bit too busy for my liking, so I went with the plain burger.  I got it topped with my usual tomato, pickles, and mayo; with a drink and a generous portion of fries, it came up to about eleven bucks.

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I wish it were better than it was, but sadly it just wasn’t very good.  For one thing it’s a meatloaf burger, and an especially strong one at that, with the spices and who-knows-what mixed into the patty effectively steamrolling whatever beefy flavour it might have had.  It didn’t taste bad per se, but the spicing just seemed to be there to be there; it had no real purpose.  It didn’t enhance the taste of the beef, it only obscured it.

The griddled patty was cooked all the way to well done, and featured the unholy trinity of dry hamburger cookery: beef that is overly lean, too finely ground, and too tightly packed.  This results in a burger that’s dry, dense, and tough.  When a burger practically requires as much chewing power as a thick steak, you’ve got problems.

The toppings were fine, however, and the fresh sesame seed bun suited the burger perfectly.

As for the fries, they were the clear highlight.  Thinly cut and perfectly fried, they were delicious.  If this blog were called Tasty Fries, I’d be giving this place a pretty high rating, but it’s not so I won’t.

1.5 out of 4

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Gangster Burger

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Location
: 607 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.gangsterburger.com/

Gangster Burger opened about a year ago, and at the time a lot of discussion was centered around the alleged tastelessness of the restaurant’s name and general theme; people were complaining that the theme was a celebration of thugs and murderers.  This really does not bother me.  For all I care you can name your restaurant Evil Burger and sell Hitler Hamburgers and Pol Pot Poutine — if it’s good, I’ll be eating there with a smile on my face.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.

The furor eventually died down (Führer French Fries — another item I’d eat at Evil Burger.  Okay, I’ll stop now) , which only leaves one thing: are the hamburgers any good?

Let me get one thing out of the way first.  I’m not generally too perturbed about such things, but the ambiance here was horrifically, disastrously bad.  Hindenburg bad.  It’s a tiny little restaurant; probably about the size of the original Burger’s Priest, maybe a tad bigger.  I came on a hot summer’s day, and it was immediately apparent that “air conditioning” is not a phrase in this restaurant’s vocabulary.  It was hot.  And I don’t just mean a little bit toasty.  It had to have been a good 15, 20 degrees hotter in there than it was outside.  It was an inferno.

Oh, the humanity.

You know when it gets really hot and they say that youths and the elderly are at risk?  Don’t bring those people here on a hot day, because they will pass out.  By the time I got my hamburger (an excruciatingly long twenty minute wait) I was quite literally soaked in sweat.

Between the heat and the aggressively loud hip-hop being blasted over the speakers, you’ve got an environment that pretty much defines the word unpleasant.  At a certain point I was legitimately thinking about just getting out of there sans-burger, despite the fact that I had already paid.  It was a horror show.

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Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me talk about the burger.  It’s smashed and griddle-cooked a la Burger’s Priest, by a sweaty chef who kept wiping his perspiration-soaked face with his sleeve.  Let’s put it this way: come here on a hot day and I can pretty much guarantee that some of the salt in the burger and fries will be from the chef’s sweat.

Appetizing, I know!

As I mentioned earlier, the burger took an agonizing twenty minutes to be ready. The wait seems to be due to the fact that, bafflingly, they only cook two or three burgers at a time, despite the fact that they have a fairly enormous griddle to work with.  I guess the sweaty chef can only keep track of a couple of patties at once.

The burger came with a bit of a crust and looking fairly promising.  I’m willing to walk over hot coals for a delicious burger, so if the burger was good, even after the misery of waiting in that restaurant, I probably would have been back.

That is thankfully not an issue I’ll ever have to deal with.

I could tell just by looking at the uncooked beef that it was too lean.  And lo and behold, when I took a bite of the well done burger it was very, very dry.  It was also a bit too tightly packed, resulting in a burger that required a fair amount of chewing power.

The flavour of the beef was fine.  It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad either.  It had a meh, nothing flavour that is typical of so-so quality meat.

I got the Don C burger, which is no-frills with just lettuce, tomato, and your choice of sauce.  I went with the Gangster Goo (which has to win a prize for the most unappetizing sauce name ever), which is just spicy ketchup.

The bun was fine, though it was a bit on the dry side and a bit too big.

I hadn’t ordered any fries, though they gave me some anyway as an apology for the long wait.  They weren’t bad.  They had a decent flavour and seemed like they could have been above average, but they were very soggy.

All in all the burger here isn’t horrible, but it’s so aggressively mediocre that I couldn’t possibly foresee any scenario in which I would recommend it, unless you are an aficionado of loud hip-hop and sweating profusely.  But even then, I’d say just get a burger from either Burger’s Priest or White Squirrel (which are not even a five minute walk away, making this place completely redundant) and then head over to your nearest sauna.

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