Little Fin

fin
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.”

finA

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

Little Fin - the restaurant Little Fin - the menu Little Fin - the restaurant Little Fin - the burger Little Fin - the burger
Little Fin on Urbanspoon

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.

cardinalA

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

Cardinal Rule - the outside Cardinal Rule - the restaurant Cardinal Rule - the burger Cardinal Rule - the burger Cardinal Rule - the burger
Cardinal Rule on Urbanspoon

Stoney’s Bread Company

stoneys
Location
http://www.stoneysbreadcompany.com/
Website1045 The Queensway, Etobicoke

After a few years of success in their original Oakville location (including being featured on the Canadian photocopy of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, You Gotta Eat Here), Stoney’s Bread Company is expanding.  I’ve been to the original location a few times and quite enjoyed it, so I was obviously pretty happy to hear they were coming a bit closer to home.

I didn’t even realize they had a burger.  I went because I wanted to check out the new location, but then I saw the hamburger on the menu and it was game over.  Do I want a burger?  Yes.  The answer to that question is always yes.

The burger is not-so-descriptively described on the menu as a “house made 6 oz. premium beef burger.”  I guess the toppings aren’t set in stone.

The version I got, at least, is definitely a kitchen sink burger.   Between the generous pile of sweet caramelized onions, the salty bacon, the sharp cheddar cheese, and all the other toppings (lettuce, pickles, and some kind of mayo I think), there’s a lot going on here.  It’s a bit of a mess.  A tasty mess, but a mess regardless.

stoneysA

Sadly, it’s not the beefiest tasting burger ever.  In fact, I’d say there’s pretty much zero beefy flavour here, though this is the type of burger that’s so voluminously topped that the patty itself is almost just a vehicle for the toppings.  It’s also a meatloaf burger, with stuff mixed into the patty — but again, the hamburger is so topping-heavy that it barely makes a difference either way.

But yes, it is tasty.  I’ve had kitchen sink burgers where the toppings seem willy-nilly and the flavours never really cohere in any meaningful way, but here it all works: the saltiness of the cheddar and bacon is offset by the sweetness of the onions, and the richness of it all is cut by vinegary bite of the pickles.

The patty is almost an afterthought in this medley of flavours, but it’s substantial enough that it isn’t entirely drowned out.  it is, however, a bit on the mushy side (a frequent issue with meatloaf burgers), but thankfully this isn’t nearly as egregious as it can sometimes be.  It’s also a bit too finely ground, but the texture of the patty is otherwise mostly where it should be, with a decent amount of juiciness despite being cooked to well done.

The bun was okay; it was substantial enough to (mostly) hold up to the extremely messy burger, but it was untoasted and cold.  Not room temperature; cold, like it had been kept in the fridge.  That was a bit unpleasant, but the rest of the burger quickly warmed it up.

I will say that unless you’re seriously in the mood for a burger, it’s not what I’d order here.  I’ve also had a couple of the sandwiches and the pizzas, and though I liked the burger, it was the weakest thing I’ve tried.  The slow-roasted lamb sandwich in particular was quite delicious.

The burger comes with a side of baked potato wedges, and some kind of spicy mayo to dip them in.  They were fine: well cooked, but nothing to write home about.

2.5 out of 4

Stoney's Bread Company - the outside Stoney's Bread Company - the restaurant Stoney's Bread Company - the burger Stoney's Bread Company - the burger
Stoney's Bread Company on Urbanspoon

Big Jack’s Burger Shop

big
Location
: 8384 Woodbine Avenue, Markham
Websitehttp://www.bigjacks.ca/

Every burger joint I visit, I go in hoping I’m going to love it.  I know I can occasionally come off as nitpicky, but I eat every hamburger looking for things to love, not things to criticize.  Nothing would please me more than to spend the rest of my days writing nothing but glowing reviews.

That being said… some burgers just aren’t very good.  Sometimes I’ve gotta pick nits.

Big Jack’s is actually in the same location as Prime Burger, one of those really old school burger joints that was probably older than many of its customers.  I had meant to check it out for ages, but alas, I never got around to it.  Such is life.

It’s a fairly small place, but there are a decent amount of tables inside.  They have a handful of signature burgers on the menu, but the topping selections — including one with pulled pork, and one with grilled cheese sandwiches instead of a bun — were a little bit too busy for my liking, so I went with the plain burger.  I got it topped with my usual tomato, pickles, and mayo; with a drink and a generous portion of fries, it came up to about eleven bucks.

bigA

I wish it were better than it was, but sadly it just wasn’t very good.  For one thing it’s a meatloaf burger, and an especially strong one at that, with the spices and who-knows-what mixed into the patty effectively steamrolling whatever beefy flavour it might have had.  It didn’t taste bad per se, but the spicing just seemed to be there to be there; it had no real purpose.  It didn’t enhance the taste of the beef, it only obscured it.

The griddled patty was cooked all the way to well done, and featured the unholy trinity of dry hamburger cookery: beef that is overly lean, too finely ground, and too tightly packed.  This results in a burger that’s dry, dense, and tough.  When a burger practically requires as much chewing power as a thick steak, you’ve got problems.

The toppings were fine, however, and the fresh sesame seed bun suited the burger perfectly.

As for the fries, they were the clear highlight.  Thinly cut and perfectly fried, they were delicious.  If this blog were called Tasty Fries, I’d be giving this place a pretty high rating, but it’s not so I won’t.

1.5 out of 4

Big Jack's Burger Shop - the restaurant Big Jack's Burger Shop - the restaurant Big Jack's Burger Shop - the burger and fries Big Jack's Burger Shop - the burger
Big Jack’S Burger Shops on Urbanspoon

Sliders

sliders
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.

slidersA

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.

Sliders - the outside Sliders - the restaurant Sliders - the burger and fries Sliders - the burger
Sliders on Urbanspoon

Mildred’s Temple Kitchen

mildred
Location
: 85 Hanna Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.templekitchen.com/

It’s been a while since I’ve visited a place from Toronto Life’s list of the best burgers in Toronto, and though my last experience wasn’t particularly great, I figured it was about time to check another one off the list.  This week: number 17, Mildred Temple Kitchen.

I actually tried to go here a couple of weeks ago for brunch, but the restaurant was packed, with a 40 minute wait for a table.  It’s a popular place.

My second attempt was more successful.  I scanned the menu and quickly found the MTK Burger: “topped with tomato relish & crispy tobacco onions, served on a pain au lait bun.”

I’ll get the bad out of the way first: It’s a meatloaf burger, and not a subtle one at that, with all kinds of spices and other stuff mixed in (I definitely saw onions, and there may or may not have been garlic as well).

I’ve laid out my problems with meatloaf burgers a few times before, but my main objection is this: a beef patty on its own (seasoned with salt and maybe pepper) and a beef patty with spices and onions and who-knows-what mixed in are two very, very different things.  They look similar, but they taste so radically different that I don’t know how, in good conscience, you can call them both the same thing.  On a very fundamental level, one is a hamburger, and one is an imitation of a hamburger.  I’ve made this analogy before, but It’s like comparing authentic Chinese food to chop suey; you can call both Chinese food if you want, but no one’s buying it.

mildredA

The patty at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen is tasty enough, but all the other stuff mixed in with the beef completely annihilates its flavour — the burger could have been made from ground pork or lamb and it would have made zero difference.  There’s no flavour whatsoever from the beef.  None.

I will say, however, that the burger is otherwise superlative; super juicy and cooked to a perfect medium rare, it has a really satisfying texture with none of the sausage-like consistency that you get from a lot of meatloaf burgers.  There’s also an addictively crispy crust from the grill.  The meatloafy taste of the patty is a bit on the salty side, but otherwise pretty good.

The condiments are quite good as well — the menu doesn’t mention the garlicky aioli, which is quite tasty, if a bit strong.  The abundant crispy onion strings add some texture and compliment the burger quite well.  As for the tomato relish, the burger’s other flavours are so assertive that I honestly couldn’t even taste it.

The pain au lait bun is a bit on the dense side, though with a burger this juicy and this messy, a more substantial bun is definitely needed, so it works quite well.

Seriously, I can’t say enough about how juicy this burger is; in a city filled with overly-lean, dried-out burgers, that alone is a huge plus in its favour.

Pretty much everything about this burger is above average; it’s just a real shame that the beef’s flavour (i.e. the star of the show in a hamburger) has been completely wiped out. Still, for what it is, it tastes pretty good.  It might just be the best meatloaf burger I’ve ever had.

As for the fries, they too were above average, particularly when dipped in the aforementioned garlicky aioli.

Mildred's Temple Kitchen - the patio Mildred's Temple Kitchen - the restaurant Mildred's Temple Kitchen - the burger Mildred's Temple Kitchen - the the burger
Mildred's Temple Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Big Butcher Barbeque

big
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).

bigA

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.

Big Butcher Barbeque - the outside Big Butcher Barbeque - the restaurant Big Butcher Barbeque - the menu Big Butcher Barbeque - the fries Big Butcher Barbeque - the burger Big Butcher Barbeque - the burger
Big Butcher Barbeque on Urbanspoon