Chef Burger

chef
Location
: 8910 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill
Websitehttp://www.chefburgers.ca/

Burger?  Check.  Cheeseburger?  Check.  Fries?  Check.  Onion rings?  Check.  Tongue sandwiches?  Check.  Wait, what?

You don’t often find a burger joint with multiple tongue sandwiches on the menu (both calf and lamb), but Chef Burger’s Middle Eastern owners obviously have a bit more on their mind than just burgers and fries.

I was actually kind of tempted to get one of those tongue sandwiches, but then how would I satisfy my insatiable need to review more and more burger joints for this blog?  I ordered the namesake Chef Burger, and had it topped with their special sauce, along with pickles and tomato.

The grilled, well done burger is somewhat juicy, but it’s too finely ground, giving it a vaguely mealy texture.  I’ve certainly had worse in this regard, but I do wish that the grind was a little bit more coarse.

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It’s also a meatloaf burger — but as far as these types of burgers go, the flavouring is pretty subtle.  I definitely noticed onions in there, but it otherwise wasn’t very aggressively spiced.  You’d think this would allow the burger’s beefy flavour to shine through, but not really.  It’s surprisingly bland.  It doesn’t taste bad, but it’s very neutral-tasting beef.

Any issue with the flavour of the burger itself, however, is almost entirely moot if you get your burger topped with their special sauce — a garlicky, tzatziki-esque concoction that, while tasty, completely overwhelms any other flavour that the burger might have.  It’s good, but man, it is seriously in your face.

The other toppings are pretty good, and the bun is surprisingly good.  It looks like it should be too big, but it’s fresh, light, and fluffy, and suits the burger perfectly.  It also has a very lightly crispy exterior, which is always delightful.

The fries, however, aren’t great.  They’re not terrible; they’re just run-of-the-mill frozen fries.  They suit their purpose, but don’t do much more than that.  My dining companion got the onion rings, which are pretty much the same deal: frozen, mediocre, okay.

2.5 out of 4

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The Burger Shack

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Location: 233 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto
Website: None

I mentioned recently, in my review of Dangerous Dan’s, that most old-school burger joints in Toronto are kind of lousy.  They all pretty much look the same, and they all serve similarly mediocre meatloaf burgers (or even worse, a frozen burger).  They’re a nice reminder of how good we have it now, and how difficult it used to be to find a decent hamburger in this city, but that’s about it.

That’s The Burger Shack, in a nutshell.  It’s not much better or much worse than any other old-school burger joint in the GTA.  It is what it is.

Like a lot of restaurants of its ilk, it has two different burgers on the menu: a really cheap one, usually frozen, and a slightly less cheap one that they make in-house.  I went with the latter, and had it topped with tomato, pickles, and mayo.

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This being an old school burger joint, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the burgers here are grilled.  Grilling can add an appealing smokiness to a burger; it can also, if overdone, add a bitter, burnt flavour.  Sadly, that was the case here.  And though the well done patty was a little bit juicy, it was also ridiculously tightly-packed and tough.

It was also, of course, a meatloaf burger; it was seriously meatloafy, with almost zero beefy flavour and a vaguely sausage-like consistency.

The bun was fine, and the toppings were mostly fine, though like with a lot of old school burger joints, the “mayo” was actually Miracle Whip (or some cheap, Miracle-Whip-like substitute).  I don’t know why so many of these places think it’s okay to substitute Miracle Whip for mayo without telling their customers.  Sure, they look the same, but they taste completely different.

So the burger was mediocre (at best), but I’ll end this review on a positive note.  The fries, though unsalted (salt was provided on the tables), were otherwise amazing.  Like, seriously, addictively amazing.  Strong contender for the best fries I’ve ever had amazing.  AMAZING.  They had a great potatoey flavour, and were the perfect combo of crispiness and creaminess.  Seriously: I want to come back here and just eat a large order of those fries.  So good.

2 out of 4

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Dangerous Dan’s Diner

dans
Location
: 714 Queen Street East, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.dangerousdansdiner.com/

Dangerous Dan’s is pretty much a Toronto burger institution, predating Toronto’s recent burger trend by well over a decade (it opened in 1999). You know that old hipster argument? “Oh, I was into them before they were cool?” Well, Dangerous Dan’s was into hamburgers way before they were cool.

So why has it taken me over 100 reviews to check the place out? I’m going to be honest: I wasn’t super keen on trying it. Why? I mean, take your pick: they’re on the east end and a bit out of the way for me; they serve meatloaf burgers, which certainly aren’t my favourite; it’s an old school burger joint, which doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of older burger joints are mediocre at best. Don’t ask me why.

Anyway, better late than never.

Dangerous Dan’s is fairly well known for some of their more extravagantly-topped burgers, like the Coronary, which features a pound of beef, bacon, cheese, and a fried egg. I went much more bare-bones, with the Plain, which is an eight ounce burger topped to request.  I got mine with tomato, pickles, and mayo.

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First and foremost, it is absolutely, positively a meatloaf burger. You can see the burger being made on this episode of You Gotta Eat Here, and they mix in the works. Garlic, spices, breadcrumbs, eggs — they go full meatloaf, no doubt about it.

If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that me and meatloaf burgers generally aren’t the best of friends.  I was pretty much ready to hate it — and maybe the lowered expectations helped, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The patty is super meatloafy, but it tastes good, at least. Unlike last week’s burger at BriSkit, which had a muddled, neither-here-nor-there flavour, it at least knows what it is and goes for it. It’s not a classic burger by any stretch of the imagination, and the flavour of the beef is mostly wiped out, but it tastes good for what it is.

The grilled burger is cooked to well done, but actually remains quite juicy, which is always nice.  Though the patty was slightly over-charred from the grill, the grilling mostly added a nice smoky flavour and a satisfyingly crispy crust.

Meatloaf burgers can sometimes have an unpleasantly sausagey texture; this thankfully wasn’t the case here.  Texturally, the patty was pretty much exactly where it needed to be — it had a good grind, it obviously hadn’t been overhandled, and it was nice and tender.

The lightly toasted bun was slightly cold and a little too dense, but it mostly suited the burger pretty well.

As for the fries, they were very thickly cut, which isn’t my favourite — but for this style of fry, they were quite good (much better than you’d think seems to be a theme here).  It’s very easy to end up with an unpleasantly dense interior with fries like this, but these were lightly crispy on the outside and really fluffy on the inside.

3 out of 4

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BriSkit Gourmet Slow Cooked Sandwiches

briskit
Location
: 160 Wilkinson Road, Unit 40, Brampton
Websitehttp://www.thebriskit.com/

Most of the time, when I check out a non-burger-joint for this blog, I do so because I’ve heard something about the burger being worth eating. Every now and then, though, I visit a restaurant blind, hoping for a pleasant surprise.

What I’d really like to do is blow the lid off of some place — to find a random restaurant you’d never suspect has an amazing burger and announce their greatness to the world, at which point the burger-eating public would rally around me and we’d all dance and sing and high-five.

In this case, I had been to BriSkit a few months ago and tried one of their brisket sandwiches, which was pretty tasty. I made a mental note to come back later and check out their burger.

There are a few burgers on the menu; I went with the no-frills Classic, which comes topped as you like it. I got my usual pickles, tomato, and mayo.

Trust me, this pains me as much as it does you, but there is no lid to blow off here. There will be no dancing, no singing, and no high-fiving (yet — one day, though.  One day).

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It’s not awful, at least, though there are a handful of fairly serious problems.

It’s definitely not an all-out meatloaf burger, but there’s some kind of seasoning in the patty that I can’t quite put my finger on, and that really did nothing but get in the way. It’s not particularly strong, but it’s hard to ignore.  It hollers at you in the background: “Hey! You like this? You like how this tastes??”

No, random unwelcome flavour. No, I don’t like how this tastes.

The flavour of the patty is otherwise muddled and unmemorable; there’s no real beefy flavour to speak of, but no off flavours either. The word “meh” was almost invented for this very purpose.

The texture’s not great either. The grind of the beef is too fine, it’s too tightly packed, and the well done patty leans pretty far in the direction of dry.

Another problem? The bun. Though it works quite well on their sloppier sandwiches, it’s way too big and substantial for a hamburger. It throws the bun-to-patty ratio way off.

Oh well. Though the burger isn’t particularly worth eating, I wouldn’t write off BriSkit altogether. The aforementioned brisket sandwich is certainly quite good.

The fries were good too. Actually, they were better than good — they were superlative. A perfect combination of crispy exterior and fluffy interior, they were some of the better fries I’ve had in a while.

2 out of 4

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The Senator

senator
Location
: 249 Victoria Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://thesenator.com/

I was actually pretty excited to check out the Senator — any restaurant that’s been around since the ’30s has gotta be doing something right, and the place is absolutely lousy with old-school diner charm.

I’d also heard some pretty good things about their burger, which is reportedly made with beef from Cumbrae’s — one of Toronto’s more well-known butchers of note — and which is refreshingly cheap at $9.95 (including fries).

You know that part in Goodfellas where a character thinks he’s becoming a made man, only to be led into an empty basement where he has a brief moment of horror before a bullet goes into the back of his head?  That was my reaction when I was served this burger.  Excitement to horror in about 0.5 seconds.

Is boiling burgers a thing?  Is that something that they do?  I didn’t think so, but I really don’t know how else to account for the lifelessly pallid, colourless patty they put in front of me.

I’m going to assume that the patty was griddled, but I honestly don’t know how you cook a burger like that without getting even a hint of browning on the patty.  If this weren’t so clearly undesirable, I’d think it was deliberate.  Because seriously, how do you accomplish that?  How do you cook a piece of meat on a hot surface without browning it?  But it can’t possibly be on purpose.  Can it?

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This wasn’t a one-off mistake, either, because my dining companion had the burger as well and his looked identically sad.

Of course, if this were just a matter of appearances, then who cares?  But a burger gets a lot of its flavour and texture from the griddle or the grill, so in a case like this, it’s losing out on quite a bit.  You can tell from the first bite that something very essential is missing.

It was also a meatloaf burger, and had enough stuff mixed into the patty that its Cumbrae’s pedigree was completely wasted.  No beefy flavour here; just onions and spices and other stuff that you don’t need.  It’s meatloaf — but then again at least meatloaf has a glaze and a nice brown crust from the oven.  I can’t repeat this enough: this tasted boiled.

If it even matters, the texture of the patty was otherwise okay.  I think it was a bit too finely ground with a slightly mealy texture, and the well done patty was drier than I’d like, but I’ve certainly had worse.

The burger comes with lettuce, tomato, and caramelized onions off to the side.  The tomato was sliced a bit thick, but the toppings were otherwise fine.  However, between the sweetness of the onions and the slightly sweet (and ever-so-slightly dry) bun, it was kind of sweet overload.  I wound up putting mustard on the burger to try to combat this, which I almost never do (I typically find it to be a bit over-assertive on a hamburger).   It helped, but there wasn’t much to be done here; it was a lost cause.

The fries weren’t much better.  They were completely soggy and practically dripping with grease, with the overwhelming flavour of oil that’s been reused one (or two, or three) times too many.

They even, somehow, managed to mess up lemonade.  This is a drink that consists of three ingredients: lemon juice, water, and sugar.  How do you get that wrong?  Missing one of those three essential ingredients would do it.  The drink was astringently sour, without even a hint of sweetness.  If it’s not sweet at all, is it still even lemonade?  Or is it just watered down lemon juice?  More importantly, if everything else is this bad, does it matter?

1.5 out of 4

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Little Fin

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Location
: 4 Temperance Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://littlefin.ca/

Little Fin is, as the name implies, mostly a seafood joint; it probably would have been very low on my list of places to check out for this blog, but then I saw the header photo on Toronto Life’s write-up of the place and that was pretty much that.  A visit was inevitable.

It’s a tiny little place that’s obviously meant to be a take-out joint for local office-dwellers, though they do have a few narrow tables (but no stools, so prepare to eat standing up like a horse).

The menu’s up on the wall, and though it’s mostly an array of fish sandwiches, there is a cheeseburger that can either be had single, or double.  The aforementioned photo made it look a bit small, so I went with the double; bacon jam is optional for an additional $1.25, but I passed on that.

It’s actually not quite as small as it looks.  They don’t say how big the patties are on the menu, but I’m guessing they’re somewhere in the ballpark of five ounces.

It comes topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, cheddar, and a sauce that is unmentioned on the menu, but which Toronto Life calls a “sea-urchin sauce.”

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It’s good, though like last week’s review, Cardinal Rule, I’m loathe to even call it a hamburger.  The patty is so thoroughly suffused with onions and spices and who-knows-what-else that the simple beefiness that makes a good hamburger so special has been completely annihilated.  It’s meatloaf.  It certainly looks like a hamburger, but if appearances are all that matters I’m pretty sure I could take brownie batter and make it look like a hamburger, but that doesn’t make it so.  

Put simply, if I wanted meatloaf I’d order meatloaf.

I think I need to calm down.  Especially because, unlike at Cardinal Rule, what they’re serving here is actually not bad.  While I would argue until I’m blue in the face against it being a traditional hamburger, it’s okay for what it is.  It’s a decent meatloaf sandwich.  It’s not a hamburger, but it’s tasty.

It’s fairly well spiced, though it’s strong enough that the beef’s natural flavour has been almost entirely wiped out.  It’s also a bit too finely ground, with a slightly odd, overhandled texture.  It’s fairly juicy, however, which is nice, and which helps to compensate for some of the patty’s textural deficiencies.  The cheddar is also fully melted and nicely gooey.

The condiments are mostly okay, though the tomato was a bit mealy.  The very tangy sea-urchin sauce would easily overwhelm a traditional hamburger, but with a through-and-through meatloaf burger like this, all bets are off.

The bun has been off-puttingly dyed jet-black (because charcoal black is clearly the colour you want your bread to be, right guys?), but aside from its weirdly dark colour, it’s above-average.  It’s fresh, soft, and slightly chewy, and holds up to the burger quite well (though I suspect it might be a bit overwhelming with the single-patty option).

As for the side… there wasn’t one.  I’ll admit that I only gave the menu a cursory glance, but given the fairly steep $14.25 price tag for the double burger, I just assumed that a side of some sort would be included.  Nope.  Suffice it to say, it’s a bit overpriced.

2.5 out of 4

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Cardinal Rule

cardinal
Location
: 5 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.cardinalrulerestaurant.com/

Cardinal Rule is a cozy little diner on Roncesvalles that seems to be doing pretty well for themselves; they were featured on You Gotta Eat Here, and when I went at around 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon, they were pretty much packed.

Usually when I review a place I’ll go there with the specific intention of writing a review — in this case, I just happened to find myself there and what’s this?  A burger on the menu?  Well then.

I actually almost didn’t order the burger. It’s one of those brunch burgers with the works piled on top which I normally avoid, but a big kitchen sink burger actually sounded pretty good at that moment, so I went for it.

This particular hamburger — dubbed the Wallop Burger — comes topped with “a potato latke, bacon, cheddar & a sunny fried egg on a ciabatta bun.”  So, basically it’s a complete breakfast crammed onto a burger.

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It’s… okay, I guess.  It actually should have been pretty tasty, but the burger itself is iffy.  It’s a meatloaf burger, for one thing.  And oh man, it’s so damn meatloafy.  Seriously: at what point does a burger stop being a burger and become meatloaf?  When onions are added?  Spices?  Breadcrumbs?  Eggs?  Because I’m not sure about the latter two (though I have my suspicions) but there were definitely a crap-ton of onions and spices in this “burger”.

So what makes it a hamburger and not a meatloaf sandwich?  Is it just because the meat has been formed into individual patties and not into a pan?  Is that it?  As long as one of the ingredients is beef and it’s in a patty shape, it’s a hamburger?  I just…  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m being a stick in the mud, but when you take something as simple as a hamburger and start cramming all kinds of other flavours into it, it changes its essential character so thoroughly that it’s no longer the same thing.  It’s a different dish altogether.  It’s a meatloaf sandwich.

Whatever it is, it’s over-spiced, with a face-punch of flavour but zero beefiness remaining.  It’s also quite dry and a bit more dense than it should be.

As for the other stuff, it’s not bad.  The fried egg has a satisfyingly runny yolk, and the cheese is creamy and melted.  The patty packs such a strong salty punch, however, that the bacon is mostly superfluous.  As for the latke, it’s fine, but there’s clearly a reason why you rarely find potatoes on a hamburger (or on sandwiches in general)  — it’s just adding additional starchiness that isn’t really necessary when you’ve already got bread.

The bun is a bit on the crusty side, but since there’s so much stuff piled on here, the more substantial bun is definitely quite welcome.

I don’t wanna pile onto the place, but I should mention that the service was kind of questionable.   It took about half an hour to receive our food, which seems a bit excessive for a casual diner like this.  We also pretty much never saw our waitress aside from our order being taken and the food being delivered; getting the bill was a bit of a challenge (eventually, one of us had to get up to ask for it).

2 out of 4

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