Sliders

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Location
: 704 The Queensway, Etobicoke
Websitehttps://twitter.com/_SLIDERS

Sliders is on a shrinking list of places I’ve been meaning to review since I started this blog. I went there once a few years ago (pre-Tasty Burgers) and found it to be passable but fairly mediocre — the kind of unremarkable place that almost immediately recedes from your memory.

Time after time I’d think “Maybe I’ll finally review Sliders this week!” only to find an excuse to go somewhere else instead. I’m not going to lie: I didn’t particularly want to go back.

Long story short: I went back and it was pretty much exactly as I remembered. It was fine — I would theoretically eat there again, but with a Burger’s Priest location less than five minutes away, it’s not going to happen.

True to their name, they serve sliders — though what they serve are just mini hamburgers, not actually sliders by the true meaning of the term (to my knowledge, no one in Toronto serves that style of hamburger). That being the case, I went with a normal-sized burger instead. I got the Double Stacker with Cheese and had it topped with Slider sauce, pickles, and tomato.

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The griddled patties were cooked to well done and were a tad on the dry side, though they did actually have some juiciness to them. There was also a little bit of crust from the griddle, but not nearly as much as there should have been.

Though I wouldn’t exactly call this a meatloaf burger, there was definitely something other than salt and pepper mixed into the patty. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely there. Still, some beefy flavour remains, which, however mild, is pleasant.

The cheese was American, perfect for a classic cheeseburger like this. The slider sauce was a spicy mayo that actually did have a small kick to it; the other toppings were fine. The bun was fresh and suited the burger well.

Again, it’s not a bad burger — but with Burger’s Priest nearby serving a burger done in a similar style that’s so, so much better, Sliders feels redundant.

The fries, however, were really excellent. It’s close, but they probably have Burger’s Priest beat in that department.

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Manhattan’s Hand-made Burgers

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Location
: 333 Bay Street, Toronto (inside the Bay Adelaide Centre)
Websitehttp://www.manhattansburger.com/

Odds are pretty good that you haven’t heard of Manhattan’s Hand-made Burgers, an under-the-radar spot that’s nestled away in an underground food court downtown. There’s not a whole lot of chatter about it online, and if you don’t already know about it, you’re probably not going to run into it (and even if you do know about it, you might struggle to find it, as I did).

There didn’t seem to be a signature burger among their handful of pre-topped specialty burgers, so I went simple with the Yankee Burger, their no-frills choice. It came up to about ten bucks for the combo, so it’s not a bad value at least.

I was given the choice of bun, and went for white. I could have picked whole wheat, but since “whole wheat” and “hamburger” should never be in the same sentence together, that obviously wasn’t going to happen. I asked for the burger topped with my usual pickles, tomato, and mayo, and watched the man behind the griddle do his thing.

On their website, Manhattan’s proudly proclaims that they “strictly use Lean Ground beef with half the fat content of the regular grind.” Obviously, the alarm bells were going off in my head. I’m a broken record about this, but the reason so many GTA burger joints serve dry burgers is this weird compulsion to make burgers healthier by using leaner beef. This is the equivalent of trying to make a cookie healthier by cutting out most of the sugar. It might end up being much healthier, but if it’s not sweet, what’s the point?? Same goes for a burger: juiciness comes from fat. Cut out the fat, and you end up with a dry burger. No ifs, ands, or buts.

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Still, that doesn’t mean that my mind was entirely closed. If your preparation is otherwise solid (ie. a good grind, good quality beef, no extraneous seasonings, etc.) you can still serve a burger worth eating. Case in point: Fresh Burger. They come right out and admit that they use sirloin (a super lean cut of beef) but because they use good quality beef and the burger is well prepared, it’s still pretty darn good.

Sadly, the burger at Manhattan’s Hand-made Burgers is not pretty darn good.

For one thing, despite cooking the patties on a griddle there’s very little browning. Though the patty has the vaguest inklings of a crust, it’s clear that the griddle wasn’t nearly hot enough, which means that the burger misses out on a lot of potential flavour.

And of course, it’s dry. The burger was cooked to well done but not overcooked, and though it did have some juiciness (not much, but some), it was clearly dryer than it should have been.

The biggest issue, however, is the way that they’ve ground the beef. It’s way too fine, giving the beef an oddly mealy, somewhat unappealing texture. I’ve certainly had worse, but the texture holds the burger back from being anything particularly worth eating.

The flavour isn’t much better. Again, I’ve had worse, but the patty definitely had that very distinctively muddled flavour that you get from middling quality beef. I also don’t think it was seasoned at all, which didn’t help (as much as I hate overly-spiced meatloaf burgers, a little salt and maybe some pepper is fairly essential to bring out the flavour of the beef).

The sesame seed bun was fresh and suited the burger quite well, at least, and the toppings were fine.

The fries were the highlight — they were excellent. Crispy, perfectly cooked, amazing. I seem to be going to a lot of places recently that have great fries and mediocre burgers. I wish it were the other way around, but at least something is good I guess?

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Big Butcher Barbeque

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Location843 Kipling Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://twitter.com/BigButcherBBQ

I wasn’t even planning on a burger review.  I went to the newly opened Big Butcher Barbeque — knowing nothing about it aside from the name — with visions of pulled pork and brisket dancing in my head.  A name like that screams southern-style BBQ, but nope — the menu reads like an expanded version of Royal Meats around the corner, with eastern European fare like chevaps and plyeska, along with burgers, breakfast, and sandwiches.

Okay fine: plans change, and I’m obviously always down for a burger, so I rolled with the punches.

It’s in a location formerly occupied by a Gourmet Burger Co., and they didn’t change much.  I definitely got some pretty strong deja-vu in there.  Like before, it’s laid out so that you order, sit down, and wait for your food.

The burger is the first item on the menu, and it comes topped only with arugula by default.  You can choose from a list of complimentary and premium toppings (complimentary being the old standbys, and premium being stuff like tzatziki, guacamole, and bacon); I went with tomato, pickles, and mayo (though the pickles were MIA).

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The grilled burger was cooked to well done, though it did retain some juiciness.  I don’t know if “juicy” is the first word I’d use to describe this burger, but neither is “dry,” so there you go.

It definitely has some kind of seasoning mixed into the patty, but it’s nothing too strong; at least some beefy flavour is retained, which is always a good thing.  However, whatever they’ve mixed into the beef has given the patty a distinctly sausagey texture, which is not such a good thing.  

The patty also has some smokiness from the grill, and all in all has a decent, if somewhat muddled flavour.

I do, however, need to mention that about halfway into eating the burger, I crunched down on something rock hard.  Shocked, I spit out the offending bit to discover a bone about the size of a small toothpaste cap.  In all my years of burger eating, this was a first.  Small bits of cartilage and whatnot, sure, but a bone? And one that large?  Yikes.  I’m a little baffled as to how that thing made its way through the meat grinder.  I’m not going to lie: it was a bit horrifying.

The bun wasn’t the best.  They boast that they bake it in-house, and I really think they should probably leave it to the pros.  It was exceptionally crusty and either a bit overbaked, or a bit stale; it was quite dry.  It wasn’t the worst bun that I’ve ever had, but it was definitely misguided.

As for the fries, they were thinly cut and way overcooked.  I think every ounce of moisture had been sucked out.  They were so crunchy that they struck me as some kind of cross between fries and chips. They weren’t horrible, but I’m pretty sure they no longer qualify as fries when they’re that crunchy.

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Fatburger

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Location
10 Disera Drive, Unit 120, Thornhill
Websitehttp://www.fatburgercanada.com/

Fatburger is the latest American burger chain to open their doors in the GTA.    Five Guys is pretty well entrenched at this point, we just got Hwy 55, and Carl’s Jr. is right around the corner.  I’m still waiting for Steak ‘n Shake, Shake Shack, or In-N-Out (fat chance on that one), but we’re doing pretty well as far as fast food burger choices go.

The setup is somewhat similar to Five Guys, but instead of calling out your number when the food is ready, they bring it to your table.

Unlike Five Guys, they have a bunch of elaborately topped burgers on the menu; I went with the Original Fatburger, which comes with lettuce, tomato, mustard, relish, onion (which I skipped, because nuts to onions) and pickles.

Like pretty much every burger joint opening in the GTA these days, the patty is griddle-cooked.  There was some signage on the table proudly proclaiming that they “use the leanest beef around,” which had me concerned that the patty was going to be yet another overly dry burger (just go through the archives if you’d care to read me railing against the tragically common issue of overly lean beef and dried-out burger patties).

Thankfully, the well done burger was actually fairly juicy, so the sign is clearly not particularly accurate — and this is one case where I’m very happy for a restaurant’s claim to be completely untrue.  Lean burgers are nothing to be proud of, or to aim for.

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The patty actually has a pretty great texture; it’s loosely packed, coarsely ground, and fairly juicy.  A more pronounced crust from the griddle would have been nice, but it wasn’t entirely crustless.

My biggest issue is that the flavour of the beef itself was a bit lacking.  It definitely wasn’t bad, but it had that distinctively muddled, not-entirely-appealing flavour that you get from so-so quality beef.  It was fine, but it is a bit of a shame; with slightly tastier beef, this could have been a top-tier hamburger.

The burger was more busily-topped than I normally like, but since the flavour of the beef wasn’t exactly stellar, I was actually pretty happy to have a handful of condiments to smooth things out.  This is not a burger to get plain; in fact if I ever go back I’ll likely opt for cheese as well.

The toppings were all pretty standard, and were fine.  The most noteworthy was the lettuce; it’s a round, whole slice of iceberg that gives the burger a satisfying crunch.  I’ve had lettuce served like this at burger joints in the States, but I don’t think I’ve ever had it in Toronto.  I like it.

The bun was slightly on the dense side, but it was fresh and suited the burger fairly well.

As for the fries, they were pretty bad.  They were McCain (the clearly marked boxes were in full view), and tasted like the blandest, frozeniest frozen fries that I’ve ever had.

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Fresh Burger

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Location9206 Leslie Street, Richmond Hill
Websitehttp://www.fresh-burger.com/

It’s always unfortunate when a restaurant flirts with greatness — comes so very close — but just can’t quite get there. Fresh Burger is, sadly, such a place. And they’re close; they really are. But they bungle one key element. Alas, greatness is just out of their grasp.

Fresh Burger sells classic American-style hamburgers a la Burger’s Priest, Holy Chuck, or Five Guys, which involves placing ball of fresh ground beef on a hot griddle and smashing it into a patty. It’s a style of burger cookery that was almost impossible to find anywhere in the GTA even a few years ago, and which has now become increasingly abundant. This, as I’ve mentioned before, warms my heart.

(A note about the picture — they provided plastic forks but not knives. I probably should have just asked them to cut the burger in half for me, but instead I attempted to cut my burger in half by turning my fork upside down and using the stem. As you can tell from the mangled remains, this was not my best idea ever.)

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I’m just going to get the bad news out of the way first, because this is a restaurant that otherwise has so much going for it. The beef they use is too lean. If you’ve read many of the other reviews on this blog (or if you eat a lot of burgers in the GTA), you’ll know that this is a distressingly common issue in the city.

In this case, the problem is advertised right on their menu: they use ground sirloin to make their burgers, which is an exceptionally lean cut of beef, and which is pretty much the last thing you want to be making a hamburger out of.

A note to all burger joint owners: Lean burgers = dry burgers. A good hamburger needs at least 20% fat content, if not a little bit more. Hamburgers are not, and never will be, health food. Fat is your friend.

The hamburger was cooked all the way to well done, par for the course at GTA burger joints. If you’re going to salvage a lean burger, you really shouldn’t cook it too far past medium. A well done burger made with lean ground beef is one hundred percent guaranteed to be dry. That is not my opinion; that is fact.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that the hamburger at Fresh Burger was quite dry. Happily, this is the only misstep for an otherwise above average burger.

Most notably, even if the meat is too lean (and it is), it’s definitely above average in quality, with a rich beefy flavour. The coarsely ground, loosely packed beef has a really great texture which actually helps mitigate the dryness quite a bit — it’s dry, but thanks to the the satisfying texture, it doesn’t feel nearly as dry as many other offenders in this category.

Another plus: the patties have that great, dark brown crust that you can only get by cooking a burger on a really hot flat-top griddle.

The menu is fairly bare-bones, with either a cheeseburger or a double cheeseburger to choose from. I went with the double, but the single is probably the better choice with a burger as lean as this.

The burgers come topped with pickles, onion, tomato, lettuce, secret sauce (a mayo-based Mac-sauce-esque concoction), and nicely melted American cheese. Classic toppings for a classic, fast-food-style burger.

The fresh, squishy bun has just enough heft to hold up to the patties and condiments; like the toppings, this is a perfect fit for a classic burger such as this.

As for the fries, they weren’t anything I’d get too excited over, but they were above average and quite tasty.

Fresh Burger is frustrating. One small change could instantly transform it from a very good burger into a great one, and place it on a shortlist of the GTA’s best burgers.  But it is what it is, and despite my one fairly substantial reservation, it’s still quite tasty and certainly worth eating.

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Master Steaks

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Location
5895 Dixie Road, Mississauga
Websitehttp://mastersteaks.com/

The burger at Master Steaks, in theory, should be great.  You’d think it would be.  The place doubles as a butcher shop, serves mostly steaks, and boasts about their burgers being freshly ground.  Promising, right?  It all seems like it should add up to an above average burger.  Seems, in this case, being the operative word.

Despite its steakhouse leanings, Master Steaks is set up like a fast food joint; the menu’s posted up on the wall, and once you order it’s no more than a few minutes before a tray with your food is in your hands.

I went with the Master Burger — a bacon double cheeseburger — and when it was ready I had it topped with my usual pickles, tomato, and mayo.

It only takes one bite for all that promise to sprout wings and fly right out the door.

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For one thing, the grilled hamburger is an especially meatloafy meatloaf burger, with all the stuff they mix into the beef completely overwhelming the burger’s flavour profile.  This being mostly a steakhouse, there’s a good chance that they’re using above-average quality beef, but with that slaps-you-in-the-face meatloaf flavour, who can tell?  I’ve had meatball sandwiches with a more subtle flavour.

The meat is also a bit too finely ground, which gives the patty a bit of an off texture.  And — surprise, surprise — it’s too lean, and the burger is subsequently on the dry side.

Seriously, Master Steaks: way to take my hopes and dreams, pin them to the ground and then beat them senseless.  This burger should have been so good!  What are you doing?

It’s a bacon cheeseburger; the mild cheddar cheese was fully melted and perfectly acceptable.  The bacon, too, was fine.  The bun was a tiny bit on the overly-bready side, but was okay.  The mayo, however, was actually Miracle Whip (or something very similar), which really shouldn’t be interchangeable with mayonnaise despite looking identical.

As for the fries, they were undercooked.  After tempting me with the prospect of a great steakhouse-quality burger and then serving me over-seasoned junk, why not kick me when I’m down, right?

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Burger Brats


Location254 Adelaide Street West
Websitehttp://burgerbrats.ca/

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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