For the last couple of years, a bunch of places across Toronto have been participating in The Grid’s Burger Week, in which a five dollar burger is added to the menu of each participating restaurant. This year, the festivities culminated in Burger Day, which is pretty much the greatest food event I’ve been to in the city. Certainly the burgeriest.
It really was a sight to behold, with dozens of restaurants all offering a mini burger (they were calling these sliders, but I think we all know that a mini hamburger is not automatically a slider). It was an embarrassment of riches, and all told I sampled 10 different hamburgers, after which I was pretty much ready to crawl into a cave and hibernate.
The sad (and kind of awesome) thing is, there were a bunch more burgers I would have liked to try, but I am not a burger eating machine, as much as I would like to be. I was also worried that the crowds would be unbearable, but I arrived right when the gates opened at 11:00, and didn’t have to wait longer than a few minutes for pretty much any of the burgers. Suffice it to say, it was a great event and I will definitely be returning next year.
But let’s talk about the burgers. Keeping in mind that I’ve eaten an insane amount of hamburgers and they’re all kind of blending together in my memory, here are my brief thoughts on the burgers I tried, in the order in which I ate them (and in case you’re wondering why the photos get more and more angelic towards the end, yes, I got grease on the lens. No, it is not easy to photograph ten different burgers in an outdoor setting with no tables while also holding a bottle of water):
Not a great start. The patty itself was pretty meatloafy, with all kinds of stuff mixed in. It was also cooked a little bit past well done and very, very dry. The nacho-esque condiments (a couple of actual nachos, pico de gallo, guacamole, and jalapeno) were fine, if a little gimmicky. The bun was cold, which was unappealing. Perfectly edible, but nothing I’d want to have again.
Fidel Gastro’s Lisa Marie
After the poor offering from the Kitch Bar, I was afraid that I had a bunch of overcooked, poorly thought-out mediocrities in my future, but this one quickly put me at ease. It was amazing. Probably the best burger I ate at the event, and one of the best burgers I’ve had in a while, period. The beef was absolutely outstanding — coarsely ground, with an amazingly rich and beefy flavour. I was afraid the condiments — pineapple chili ketchup and banh-mi slaw — would overpower the burger, but they were pretty great, adding a tangy zip while still making sure that the glorious patty was the star of the show. The sweet, soft bun was also pretty perfect. I’m not rating these burgers, but if I were I think I’d have to give this one a rare four out of four. I’ve never been to Lisa Marie, but if they’re serving food of this caliber then I clearly need to check the place out.
This End Up
This one was fine. Nothing too special, but fine. The rich pork belly, the cheese, and the umami mayo were actually all quite tasty, but the burger itself was a bit dry and ho-hum.
The Rude Boy
Another so-so burger. With the pastrami, thousand island, cheese, and sauerkraut, it was essentially a Rueben in a bun with a burger patty. The patty was okay, but a bit dry and underwhelming. I’ve actually been meaning to check out The Rude Boy for a while now, but if this is their level of burger cookery, I don’t think I need to be in any rush.
The Dakota Tavern
I actually thought this one had a lot of potential, as the patty had a really satisfyingly beefy flavour, and the grilled, almost burnt onions complimented the burger quite well. But like the last couple of hamburgers, it was overcooked and very dry.
Goods & Provisions
I was pretty excited to try this one, as I figured the addition of bone marrow into the burger would have added a beefy richness. There was no beefy richness to be found here — just an unpleasant, almost gamy flavour that was quite off-putting. The pallid, wan patty looked and tasted like it had been boiled. It was gross, quite frankly. As for the tomato and shallot relish, it basically tasted like they boiled a tomato, threw it in the blender, and then dumped the resultant slurry onto the burger. Worst burger of the day, and one of the worst burgers I’ve had in a long while.
The Good Fork
This was a grilled cheese burger, and unlike all the other burgers I tried, they just cooked a full one and then cut it into quarters. It was actually pretty good, though not particularly cheesy, oddly enough. The shallot-teragon jam and the remoulade were both quite good, if a little overpowering. It’s too bad, because the burger itself was fairly juicy and seemed quite tasty, but it was a bit overwhelmed by the other stuff.
If it weren’t for the unusually awful burger from Goods & Provisions, this would have easily been the worst burger of the event. The patty was super dense, dry, and way, way, way too finely ground. It tasted like they blended the beef until it became a fine paste, and then formed the paste into a patty and cooked it all the way to well done. It was pretty horrible. The condiments were mostly okay, though the pickled red onions were completely overwhelming.
Well, it’s Holy Chuck so you know it’s going to be good. The beef patty was as juicy and delicious as ever. The burger also featured an additional patty of ground up bacon, which sounds gluttonously amazing in theory, but which was kind of overwhelming in practice. It was tasty enough, but the smoky, salty bacon patty completely overpowered the beef. And when you’re dealing with beef as good as what Holy Chuck uses, that’s definitely not a good thing.
At this point my body was beginning to shut down from the abundance of beef, so naturally it was time to eat a battered, deep fried hamburger. I questioned the wisdom of eating something this heavy when I was already catastrophically full, but am I going to say no to a cheese-stuffed battered and fried burger? No, I am not. I was not alone in this, either, because this was the only place I had to wait longer than five minutes for. And boy, am I glad that I did, because it was crazy delicious. I was afraid that it would be more of a novelty than anything else, but it was legitimately good. The crispy, crunchy, peppery batter was outstanding. I know that The Stockyards is supposed to serve some of the best fried chicken in the city, and if this is the batter they use, I can see why. Note to self: try their chicken. As for the beef, I usually find the burgers at The Stockyards to be above average, but a bit too lean. Here, being deep fried and stuffed with cheese, that wasn’t an issue. The whole thing was really, really good, and while it was far from traditional, it was so damn tasty.
And there you have it. Ten burgers later I was pretty much ready to pass out, but it was a great event and one that I will happily return to for as long as it’s around.