Bareburger

bare
Location
: 111 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://111-dundas-st-w-toronto.bareburger.com/

It makes me really happy when I think about how good it’s gotten for burger-lovers in Toronto over the last several years.  A few years ago, with the dearth of great burger choices in the city, Bareburger would have been a breath of fresh air.  But now?  Not so much.

And Bareburger is a fairly popular chain in the States, with most of its locations around New York City.  I’ve been under the impression that New York had us handily beat in the burger department, but if this place is good enough to thrive there, it might not be so clear-cut.

It’s not even that Bareburger is bad, per se.  It’s fine.  There’s just nothing particularly noteworthy about it.

It’s a nicely designed restaurant, with lots of light coming in from the windows.  Unlike a lot of burger joints in the city, it’s waiter service, with more than just burgers on the menu (and more choices than just beef for the burgers).

You can either pick one of their handful of pre-topped burgers, or you can customize your own.  I went with the Standard: “beef, colby, stout onions, dill pickles, special sauce, brioche bun.”

Like I said, it’s fine.  The griddled burger comes cooked to well done (they say medium well on the menu, but this sucker was gray throughout), and while it was vaguely juicy, it was dryer than I’d like.  It was also a little bit too dense, and somewhat tough.

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The patty has a very mildly beefy flavour, which was entirely wiped out by the burger’s toppings.  In particular, the zesty special sauce completely knocked out any flavour from the beef itself.  It wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong — it was just a bit overwhelming.

The other toppings were pretty good as well.  The fully melted colby cheese was mild and creamy, and the caramelized stout onions were dark brown, with a sweet, rich flavour.

I wasn’t as keen on the brioche bun. It was okay, but it was way too dense and substantial for the task at hand.  It was also a good thirty percent wider than the patty itself, leaving me with a ridiculous amount of bun on my plate after the patty was long gone.  Come on, guys.  Seriously.  This is burger making 101.

I feel like I’m piling on more criticism than this place deserves (again, it’s not bad), but I have to mention that it’s alarmingly expensive.  The burgers are all in the 12 to 15 dollar price range, and that doesn’t include a side.  Fries will run you another three bucks.  Factor a drink and a tip on top of that, and you’re looking at spending well north of twenty bucks.  I don’t always pay a ton of attention to this in my reviews, because it’s the quality of the burger that really concerns me, but these prices are a little bit intense, especially considering the only-average quality of the food.

The fries, too, were good but not great.  But hey, let me close things out with a couple of things I really liked.  They have a handful of interesting sodas on the menu — I have a hard time saying no to a unique soda, so obviously I got one.  I went with blueberry, and it was surprisingly good.  The blueberry flavour was really outstanding; it almost tasted like a blueberry pie in soda form.  It was one of the best sodas I’ve had in quite a while.

For dessert, my dining companion ordered the Snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich; I wound up splitting it with him, and oh man was it good.  I think it might even have Bang Bang beat for the title of best ice cream sandwich in the city.  The cookie was cinnamony and chewy, with the absolute perfect ice cream sandwich consistency — dense, but not too dense, with just the right amount of chew.  And the super creamy ice cream had a satisfyingly intense roasted marshmallow flavour — I think it was either from Greg’s, or very similar to what they serve there.  It was the absolute perfect match for that cookie.  I’m not even kidding: you need to go there just for that sandwich.  It was outstanding.

2.5 out of 4

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Hwy 55

hwy
Location
548 Trafalgar Road, Oakville
Websitehttp://hwy55burgers.com/

Though I hadn’t heard of it until recently, Hwy 55 is a fairly widespread American burger chain (they’ve got over a hundred locations) that’s making their first foray into the Canadian market with a restaurant out in Oakville. It’s in a spot formerly occupied by a Lick’s; any restaurant replacing Lick’s is pretty much an upgrade by default. It’s always sad when people lose their jobs, but one less place serving up rubbery frozen burgers can only be a boon for humanity as a whole.

The ’50s-diner-inspired decor is a lot like a Johnny Rockets or a Steak ‘n Shake (an aside: I was at a franchise show a couple of years ago, and, tantalizingly, Steak ‘n Shake was there and had a fairly elaborate booth. So they obviously have vague plans to expand into Canada, though thus far there’s no indication that it’s happening any time soon).

Like those two places, it’s waiter service. The menu highlights the Original Special combo, which is described as their “award winning” daily special (though which awards remain unclear), so obviously that’s what I ordered. I was given the choice of cheese among American, Swiss, Provolone, or Pepper Jack. I went with American, obviously; a classic American cheeseburger requires American cheese. Its creamy consistency when melted is perfect for this style of burger, and it imparts a subtle cheesy flavour without overpowering the beef, as stronger cheeses are prone to do.

There was also the choice of toppings, and as usual I went with mayo, pickles, and tomato.

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As you’d expect, the restaurant serves a fast-food-style griddled burger. It came looking pretty much picture perfect: a well proportioned patty, a good amount of crust from the griddle, a fully melted slice of American cheese, and a nice looking bun.

And it was actually pretty tasty, though sadly not quite as perfect as I initially hoped. The good? The beef was clearly of a decent quality, and had a satisfying — if somewhat mild — beefy flavour. It was, as it looked, nicely griddled, with a decent amount of crust on the patty. The toppings were fresh and well-proportioned, and the fresh, squishy bun was the absolute perfect bun for a burger such as this.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of fairly big issues that keep this burger firmly in pretty good territory. Foremost, the beef was clearly too lean, and the well done patty was quite dry. Anyone who has read a few reviews on this blog will know that overly-lean beef and too-dry burgers are pretty much my arch-foe, so I’m not going to get into yet another rant about this. Check the archives.

It was also a bit too tightly packed and finely ground, which only compounds the dryness issue. It all adds up to a patty that requires way more jaw-power than you’d like.

Another, more minor issue: whoever seasoned the burger was a bit heavy-handed with the pepper. But I’d much rather have a slightly peppery patty than one with onions, garlic, and other spices mixed in, so I can give them a pass on that one.

As for the fries, they were standard-issue frozen fries. They were well cooked and perfectly edible, but not much more.

Hwy 55 also serves frozen custard, which was the thing I was probably most excited about this place.  For those unaware, frozen custard is basically like ice cream made with a much more custardy base, which gives it that distinctive custard flavour and a very silky, rich creaminess that is unparalleled by regular ice cream.  The only place that I know of in Toronto that serves frozen custard is Jedd’s, and the one time I visited I found it to be icy and underwhelming.

I ordered a scoop of the vanilla frozen custard; sadly, even Jedd’s has this place beat.  Grainy and not particularly creamy, with only a vague whiff of custard flavour and more of a generic sweetness than anything else, it was disappointingly mediocre.  I guess I’ll continue to drive to Buffalo for my frozen custard fix.

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