Belfast Love Public House

: 548 King Street West, Toronto

Despite an ostensive Irish theme, Belfast Love’s menu is pretty much all generic upscale pub — thin crust pizzas, fancy salads, the obligatory chicken and waffles (at what point did chicken and waffles graduate from an occasional novelty to something that’s 100% obligatory for every restaurant with an unfocused menu like this one?).  And there’s a burger on the menu.  Because of course there is.

Well, a cheeseburger, to be specific.  “House ground chuck, American cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomato, mustard mayo.”

It looked good, I’ll give it that.  And I liked the toppings — the melty American cheese, the fresh tomato, the crunchy iceberg lettuce, and the mayo/mustard combo all worked quite well.  The patty itself, on the other hand…

I’m always afraid that, the longer that I do this, and the more and more that I obsess over the minutia of what makes a burger great (and vice-versa), I’m becoming increasingly out of touch with how normal people (i.e. people who don’t think about things like grind coarseness and beef-to-bun ratios on the regular) experience a hamburger.


So it was nice when my dining companion echoed my sentiments on this burger exactly, confirming that I’m not being an overly picky weirdo (at least not in this particular case).

Because no, this was not a good hamburger.  The texture of patty was downright weird — dense, with an oddly chewy, vaguely sausagey texture.  I suspect they’re mixing salt in with the ground beef, which tends to make the texture of a hamburger sausage-like.

It probably didn’t help that the griddled patty was cooked to well done and then some, but I suspect that even perfectly cooked, this would have been a funky patty.

The taste wasn’t much better.  Whatever flavour the beef might have had was completely annihilated by the downright insane amount of pepper.  It was so peppery; it was nuts.  Literally the most peppery-tasting hamburger that I’ve ever had. I don’t know if the pepper was mixed in with the beef along with being used as seasoning on the patty, but the flavour was everywhere. It permeated every bite; there was nothing else.

The bun was fine, though it was slightly too dense, and cold throughout despite being toasted.

As for the fries, they were great.  Easily the highlight of the meal.  Not too thick, not to thin, perfectly cooked, just the right amount of salt…  good stuff.

1.5 out of 4

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: 46 Blue Jays Way, Toronto

Kudos to whichever Wahlberg brother realized that their name made them ideally suited to open a burger joint, and double-kudos to whichever one decided that they should actually make good on what I can only assume started as a silly joke. As a fan of cheesy puns and general wordplay, I approve.

And if you want to eat a hamburger while basking in the reflected glory of a famous movie star and a semi-famous TV star (and a third guy you probably don’t care about), then Wahlburgers will fit the bill.

Of course, there’s a good chance that you don’t care about such things, and are just looking for a tasty burger. Thankfully, Wahlburgers is more than just a Planet Hollywood-esque shrine to celebrity-adjacent dining; it’s certainly nothing anyone is going to go too crazy over, but they serve a pretty good burger.

It’s a fairly large, full-service restaurant with long list of pre-topped burgers to be had. Each Wahlberg has his favourite burger labelled on the menu: Donnie’s got a BBQ bacon burger, Mark has a turkey burger, and Paul (i.e. the Wahlberg you haven’t heard of –- and the chef) has a simple cheeseburger. I went with Paul’s choice, dubbed Our Burger: “Paul’s signature Wahl sauce, dill pickles, government cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion.”


The griddled burger was cooked all the way to well done (despite the claim that they cook to medium on the menu), but was somewhat juicy regardless. It was definitely a bit more dry than I’d like, particularly around the edges, but I’ve certainly had worse. It was also too tightly packed and a little bit dense, making it a bit more tough than it needed to be.

Still, it’s a pretty good cheeseburger outside of those two beefs (no pun intended… oh, who am I kidding? Pun absolutely intended). The meat has a decent –- if somewhat mild –- beefy flavour, and the American cheese on top is nicely gooey. Though the bun looks a little bit big, it’s not overwhelming at all and actually suits the burger perfectly.

The other toppings were all solid — particularly the onions, oddly enough. I normally find raw onions to be a bit too overwhelming for my tastes, but these were very thinly sliced and nice and mild. They added some crunch and oniony character without over-asserting themselves, as onions tend to do.

The burgers don’t come with any sides, so I got an order of tater tots.  I could have gotten fries as per usual, but who can say no to tater tots?  Nobody, that’s who.  They pretty much tasted like run-of-the-mill cafeteria tots.  This isn’t a bad thing.  I also tried the onion rings, which are more like onion strings than what you’d expect.  They were pretty good as well.

3 out of 4

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Burger Brats

Location254 Adelaide Street West

Burger Brats opened about a year ago and was almost immediately forgotten about.  In a city where almost every new restaurant that opens downtown gets a ton of buzz, this concerned me a bit.  Still, I’ve been anxious to try the place, and I recently got my chance.

I came here on a Sunday for lunch just after the place opened, and it was completely deserted and remained so until I left.  I won’t hold this against it; Sunday afternoon is obviously not exactly a restaurant’s prime time, particularly here in the entertainment district where the bulk of the business probably comes from late-night drunken revelers.

I glanced at the menu posted on the wall, and quickly settled on the Burger Brats Classic, which is advertised as coming with “fresh lettuce, ripe tomato, red onion, pickles, mustard, and mayo.”  I opted to go onion-free, but otherwise ordered the burger as-is.

I ordered the burger as a combo with fries and a soda, and it came up to just under ten bucks, so it’s not a bad deal.

After a few minutes, my burger was ready; I took a seat and dug in.

The first thing I noticed is how dry the burger was; impossibly dry.  It’s the kind of burger that sucks all the moisture out of your mouth.  It’s quite a jaw workout, that’s for sure.

It was cooked past well done, which is a bit puzzling given the fact that I was the only customer in the joint, and thus had the cook’s full attention.  If a place is busy, you can kind of justify an overcooked burger from an overloaded, overworked kitchen.  It’s still an unforgivable offense, but you can kind of justify it.

Here I clearly had the cook’s undivided attention, so there is no explanation for the overcooked burger other than that they wanted it that way.  Puzzling.

The beef had a fairly neutral, not altogether unpleasant flavour, and a bit of smokiness from the grill.  And though I feared that it might be a meatloaf style burger, this was thankfully not the case.

But man, it was so dry, and impossibly dense — it was way too tightly packed, which means that the patty has been over-handled, and is  yet another sign that the person in charge of the burger cookery doesn’t really know what they’re doing.

Another disconcerting element about this burger: the horrifying abundance of crunchy, gristly bits of cartilage and who-knows-what-else.  Not just one or two; they were interspersed throughout the entire burger.  Again, something is going seriously wrong in the burger preparation department.

The toppings were fine, though it was a bit over-condimented (what, condimented is a word, isn’t it?  Well it is now).  I think in the future I’ll stick to my tried and true combo of tomato, pickles, and mayo when I order a plain burger.

As tends to be the case at mediocre burger joints, the burger was too small for the bun.  A hamburger patty shrinks when cooking, and any restaurant that puts more than two seconds of thought into their hamburger will realize this and account for it when they’re shaping the patties.  Yet again, there is a clear lack of care in the burger cookery at Burger Brats.

Seriously: this place baffles me.  How do you bungle the burger so badly at a burger joint?  This isn’t some random neighbourhood restaurant with a half-assed burger buried deep in the menu for variety’s sake.  This is a place whose sole purpose is to sell burgers.  That’s it.  That’s what they do.  And they serve this?  Inexcusable.

Even a place that serves frozen burgers I can kind of understand.  I don’t like them, but I can understand why a place might want to sell them: they’re very cheap, and they’re very easy.  But Burger Brats is obviously going to the trouble and expense of making their own hamburger patties.  So why not put in a little bit of extra effort to get it right, and a little bit extra expense to actually get above-average quality meat?  Why not do a little bit of research on what blend of cuts makes the tastiest hamburger patty, and what percentage of fat will yield the juiciest burger?  Because I guarantee that the folks at Burger Brats have not done this.

I sound upset.  I am.  It’s so easy; with just a little bit more work, Burger Brats could be serving something worth eating.  Something good.  Maybe even something better than good.  But they’re not.  They’re serving an inferior product and there’s absolutely no reason they need to be doing so other than laziness and ignorance.  It upsets me.  I’m sick of eating sub-standard burgers when making a good burger is so damn easy.

Deep breaths, Michael. Deep breaths.

Let me talk about something good about this place.  The fries were delicious.  Crispy on the outside and gloriously fluffy on the inside, they were pretty damn tasty.  They were also sparingly seasoned with some kind of flavoured salt that complimented them quite well.  If I were ever forced to come back here, I’d just get a large order of fries and forego the burger altogether.

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