Weslodge

wes
Location
: 480 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://weslodge.com/

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m constantly complaining about overly-dry burgers.  Constantly.  Aside from mixing superfluous gunk into the patty, I think it’s the thing that Toronto restaurants and burger joints get wrong the most.

So I really need to applaud Weslodge’s burger (“Braised beef cheek, branston pickle, English cheddar”) for the exact opposite: it was gloriously, intensely juicy. You could tell just by looking at the glistening patty; once I cut it in half, the juices came rushing out in a veritable torrent. As I ate it, they dripped readily from the patty, soaking into the bun and pooling on the plate.

It was amazing.

I should note that it wasn’t too juicy, in case it sounds that way. The patty itself wasn’t mushy or wet at all; the texture was just right. I requested medium rare and they hit it perfectly. It also had a nice coarse grind and expertly straddled the line between tenderness and substance.

In case it wasn’t already obvious that the chef here knows his way around a burger, the griddled patty had exactly the dark brown crispy exterior that you’re looking for. Suffice it to say, texturally it was one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long, long time.

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The flavour was quite good as well, with a really satisfying beefy, buttery flavour. This was complimented quite well by the condiments, particularly the Branston pickle (essentially a medley of cubed pickled vegetables) which performed the same function as the typical pickle, but which tasted a bit more interesting.

The bun, though a bit on the dense side, actually suited the substantial, very juicy patty quite well — a softer bun almost surely would have crumbled to bits.

My only real problem with this burger — though it’s kind of a big one — is the cheese.  The patty is topped with a big, honkin’ slice of very sharp cheddar.  Aside from the fact that it was doing its best to overwhelm the flavour of the amazing patty, it was completely unmelted.  If you’re serving a cheeseburger with cold, unmelted cheese, I’m pretty sure you should have to go on TV to apologize to the nation.  You have committed a crime against food.  You are, I’m sorry to say, a monster.

I’ve mentioned this before, but a burger with unmelted cheese isn’t a cheeseburger — it’s a hamburger with a piece of cheese on top.  The cheese needs to melt and become gooey and mingle with the patty to earn that distinction.  Melted cheese on a hamburger patty is one of the greatest things ever; cold, unmelted cheese is an abomination.

It’s funny how thoroughly a few moments of heat can transform an ingredient, but there you go.

As for the fries, sadly they were the polar opposite of the hamburger.  They were terrible. They’re insanely thick.  You really have to be careful when you’re cooking fries at this thickness, because they can easily wind up undercooked, with a chalky, dense middle.  That’s exactly what happened here.  Thick-cut fries aren’t my favourite to start with, but undercooked thick-cut fries?  They are the french fry equivalent of a cheeseburger with unmelted cheese.  They are an affront to humanity.

But since I’d like to end this review on a positive note, I’ll reiterate that — unmelted, too-strong cheese notwithstanding — Weslodge serves a fantastic hamburger.  If not for the cheese issue, I’d probably rank it among the best in the city.  It’s that good.

3.5 out of 4

Weslodge - the outside Weslodge - the restaurant Weslodge - the burger Weslodge - the burger

Colette Grand Cafe

colette
Location
: 550 Wellington Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.colettetoronto.com/

You wouldn’t think Colette Grand Cafe — which is mostly about brunch, and pastries, and classic French food like duck confit and moules frites — would have a great burger.  It must just be there because a burger is obligatory on pretty much every menu, right?

Wrong.

The burger at Colette Grand Cafe (which is kind of insufferably named “L’Hamburger”) is indeed pretty great.  The menu describes it as coming topped with “farmhouse cheddar, pepper bacon, tomato jam, bibb lettuce, dijonnaise.”

It’s always a good sign when they ask you how you want your burger cooked; I went with medium rare, and yep, the burger came cooked medium rare.

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I’ll get the worst out of the way first: normally I’d mention whether the patty was griddled or grilled, but in this case I’m honestly not sure.  There was pretty much zero browning on the surface of the patty, so it’s tough to say.  That’s certainly not a good thing, but the patty was otherwise pretty tasty, with a good texture and a mild beefy flavour.

I also quite liked the melty, mild cheddar cheese — places like this are often inclined to get a bit too fancy for their own good, and wind up with a cheese that overpowers the patty.  That wasn’t the case here.

It’s hard to go wrong with bacon, and the smoky, thickly-sliced version on this burger didn’t disappoint.

The dijonnaise, on the other hand, was a bit overpowering.  Probably a good idea to ask for that on the side.

The other condiments were all solid, including pickled onions, which the menu doesn’t mention (it’s a fairly rich burger, so some form of pickle is certainly welcome to help balance that out).  And the sesame seed bun was slightly sweet, fresh, and held up nicely to the fairly substantial hamburger.

As for the thinly-cut fries, they were a tad soggy, but were otherwise pretty tasty, with a tinge of rosemary and a dipping sauce that was packed with even more rosemary flavour (yeah, they really love rosemary on their fries here, apparently).

3.5 out of 4

Colette Grand Cafe - the outside Colette Grand Cafe - the restaurant Colette Grand Cafe - the burger Colette Grand Cafe - the burger

Cafe Boulud

boulud
Location
: 60 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.cafeboulud.com/toronto/

After a rocky start, Cafe Boulud was shut down and completely retooled last year; most notably (for readers of this blog at least) this shake-up brought us chef Daniel Boulud’s famous Frenchie burger, which no less than the New York Times dubbed as “the perfect burger.”

Obviously, I had to try it.

After an absolutely fantastic bread bowl, which came with a small disc of what might be the best butter I’ve ever had, the burger arrived looking quite impressive.  I had very high hopes.

The Frenchie Burger, per their menu: “7 oz burger, morbier cheese, dijon mustard, pork belly, tomato-onion compote, arugula, black pepper bun.”

Before I start laying into it, I will say that it’s an all-around good burger.  It tastes good.  There’s nothing terribly wrong with it.  But given its sparkling reputation and the intense $24 price tag, I expected greatness.  It is not great.

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The patty is decent enough, but given the hefty cost, it’s not quite at the level you’d hope it would be. I requested medium rare, and the grilled patty was cooked perfectly to that temperature — but I think it was a bit too tightly packed, and it was slightly more tough than it should have been.  It was also a bit over-charred on the grill, with a subtle hit of bitterness that marred things somewhat.

Otherwise, the flavour of the beef was nothing to write home about. It wasn’t bad by any means — it tasted fine, and is obviously not made with low-quality meat, but it lacked the rich beefy flavour that you’d expect from a restaurant of this caliber.

The toppings were all pretty good, though they were a bit too assertive. The beef-versus-condiments balance was tipped squarely in the favour of the toppings.  In particular, the dominant flavours here were of the zingy tomato-onion compote and the peppery arugula, both of which probably could have been reduced by half.

The Brie-like Morbier cheese was creamy and a pretty good fit for the burger, but like the other toppings, it was a bit too generously applied.

The pork belly, at least, was tasty and in the right proportion — it added porky unctuousness without ever getting in the way.

The bun was great: fresh, fluffy, and packing just enough heft for the task at hand.  Between the bread basket and this bun, Cafe Boulud’s baker clearly deserves a substantial raise.

As for the fries, they were perfectly cooked, but tasted overwhelmingly of roasted garlic.  The flavour slaps you in the face.  It’s excessive.

3 out of 4

Cafe Boulud - the outside Cafe Boulud - the restaurant Cafe Boulud - the bread and butter Cafe Boulud - the burger Cafe Boulud - the burger

Rose and Sons Swan

swan
Location
: 892 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.roseandsonsswan.com/

Magnificent.  That’s really the only word I can think of to describe the awe-inspiringly delicious burger they serve at the Swan.  I wanna be very clear about this right up front, so that if you’re just skimming this review you know what’s what: this is one of the best burgers in the city.  You need to try it.

Swan, for the unaware, is a venerable diner that went under and was promptly snatched up by Rose and Sons’ Anthony Rose. Though they apparently had some pretty serious kinks to work out in their first couple of months of operation, if this burger is anything to go by, they’ve solved the hell out of whatever problems they had.

When I ordered, the waitress asked if I was okay with medium rare, which to me is right up there with “would you like some free ice cream?” in the pantheon of great questions.  Medium rare is the perfect way to cook a burger, so yeah, I’m okay with that.

The menu describes the banquet burger as coming with “house ground chuck, perth pork bacon, Ontario cheddar, brioche bun, lettuce, tomato, onion & pickle,” and oh man.  It’s all hits, no misses. Perfection.

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I have to start with that patty, which was everything you’d want it to be. Cooked somewhere between medium rare and rare with a nice sheen of crust from the griddle, it had a magnificently beefy flavour and the perfect balance of substance and tenderness.  I wanted to bust into the kitchen and shake the chef’s hand; he knows his way around a burger, that’s for sure.  I haven’t had one this flavour-packed and richly satisfying since Bymark — all without the extra-large price tag or the uncomfortably stuffy room.

It’s topped with with a generous piece of thickly cut, smoky, and unctuously rich bacon, which kicked up the tastiness without ever getting in the way.

Alarmingly, on first glance the slice of cheddar cheese appeared to be completely unmelted, but on the inside it was gooey enough to satisfy.  Some cheddar can be a little bit too sharp for a hamburger, but I think it should be pretty clear by now that this kitchen isn’t going to make a rookie mistake like that; the cheese here was nice and mild, just as it should be.

Also just as it should be?  The fresh, lightly toasted and fluffy brioche bun, which gave the burger a perfect beef-to-bun ratio.

There were a handful of condiments on the side; I spread a very moderate amount of the garlicky aioli on the top bun, but everything else is completely unnecessary.  The balance of cheese, bacon, and the magnificent patty is already perfect; mess with it at your own peril.

The fries were pretty great too, because of course they were.   If you’re making a burger this great, I’m pretty sure you’re not going to mess up the fries.

I’m really excited to go back and try the burger again, because if it’s consistently this good?  It’s a very strong contender for the best hamburger in the city.  This, as you can imagine, is not a claim that I make lightly.

4 out of 4

Rose and Sons Swan - the restaurant Rose and Sons Swan - the restaurant Rose and Sons Swan - the menu Rose and Sons Swan - the burger and fries Rose and Sons Swan - the burger

The Daughter

farmers
Location
: 1588 Dupont Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://farmhousehospitality.tumblr.com/

I’ve been hearing good things about the burger at the Farmhouse Tavern.  This is not a review of the Farmhouse Tavern.  I was in the area, and it was lunch, and the Farmhouse Tavern was closed.  Solution: The Daughter, a spinoff restaurant, which is open for lunch, and which also serves a burger.

That burger?  The Franklin Burger, per the menu: “Farmhouse  beef / bun / sauce w/ cheese / lettuce / tomato / onions.”

It’s pretty good.  The sizable patty (probably about six ounces) has a nice crispy crust from the grill, though it is leaning a bit towards over-charred.

It’s also too tightly packed; though the medium rare-ish middle of the burger (it’s somewhere between medium and medium rare) is nice and tender, the more well done edges suffer from over-density, and are a bit too tough.

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Still, it’s a fairly juicy burger, which helps make up for some of its deficiencies.  The mild (but nice) beefy flavour is also a firm plus in this burger’s favour.

I wasn’t too crazy about the cheese, however.  The menu doesn’t specify the type of cheese, which turned out to be goat’s cheese.  It’s an unusual choice for a hamburger, and eating it here, it’s pretty clear why.  The strongly salty, sour flavour is way too assertive in this context, completely overwhelming the flavour of the beef.  It’s not bad, but the balance of flavours is off.

The sauce is a tangy, Mac sauce-esque concoction, though again, the flavour here is pretty much all goat’s cheese, all the time.  

The other toppings were fine, and the soft, fluffy sesame seed bun was above average.

As for the fries, they were really crispy and creamy and tasty; complimented with the curry-tinged ketchup, they were pretty stellar.

3 out of 4

The Farmer's Daughter - the outside The Farmer's Daughter - the restaurant The Farmer's Daughter - the burger The Farmer's Daughter - the burger The Farmer's Daughter - the burger

Bymark

bymark
Location
: 66 Wellington Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://bymark.mcewangroup.ca/

This being my 100th burger review for this blog (yeah, I can’t believe I made it this far either), I figured something special was probably in order.  And what’s more special than one of the city’s most highly-regarded burgers, and at a whopping 35 bucks, probably its most expensive?

So it was that I found myself at Bymark, a restaurant several orders of magnitude classier than where I typically go for this blog.  It’s the type of place where you look around and you think, everyone in this room probably makes more in a couple of months than I make in year.  But do they have a blog where they get to be snarky about hamburgers?  No?  Well then.

The 8 Ounce P.E.I Grass Fed Burger comes with “brie de meaux, porcini mushrooms, & crisp onion rings or frites.”  I figured the onion rings might be more interesting than fries, so I went with those.  I was also asked how I wanted the burger cooked, and requested medium rare.

I’m not going to lie: I was pretty skeptical that this meal could possibly justify the extra-large price tag.  With that price, it’s about double the cost of even the most expensive burgers I’ve reviewed for the blog thus far.  I was ready to dislike it just on principle.  Where do you get off charging that much for a burger??

Well… It’s a pretty amazing hamburger.  It’s grilled and came cooked to a perfect medium rare — and when I say perfect, I mean perfect.  Normally when you get a burger cooked medium rare, it comes out that way in the centre, with a fairly significant ring around the edges of well done beef.  That phenomenon is minimized to a ridiculously impressive degree here, with amazingly consistent medium rare beef practically the whole way through.  I have no idea how they managed to cook it this evenly from edge to edge (sous vide, perhaps?), but however it’s done, it is glorious.

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The patty was coarsely ground and a bit densely packed — but oddly enough, not in a bad way.  Though a loosely packed burger is normally what you’re looking for, this patty had a rich, almost steak-like consistency, without ever losing its hamburgery goodness.  It was actually quite unlike any burger I’ve ever had, but in an amazing way.

It’s also one of the tastier burgers I’ve had in a while, with a nicely beefy flavour that’s fairly pronounced, even if it could be stronger (Allen’s definitely has it beat in this regard).

Oh, and it was super juicy, too; it made me want to parade it around to most of Toronto’s burger joints and say “See?  See how juicy this is?  This is how juicy a burger is supposed to be.   Stop being an idiot.”

Are you getting the sense that I liked this burger?  Because yeah, I kinda liked it.

The toppings were pretty great as well.  The brie was super creamy, with a distinctively nutty but not overly sharp flavour that complimented the beef perfectly.  The mushrooms were garlicky and intensely flavourful; they were crazy delicious, though I do think they were a little bit overwhelming — one of the burger’s few weak points.

I quite liked the bun, too.  Though it was more substantial than I typically want, with a burger this big, rich, and juicy, you need that kind of substance or it’ll fall apart.

I will say that I wasn’t crazy about the onion rings.  They were fine, but there wasn’t anything all that special about them.  And though the smaller ones at the top of the pile were crispy and perfectly cooked, the larger ones at the bottom were doughy and underdone.  That didn’t stop me from eating all of them, of course, but after that superb burger they couldn’t help but feel like a pretty big let-down.

I honestly didn’t think that this review was going to go this way, but you know what?  This burger was absolutely worth the 35 bucks.  It’s not something you’re going to get all the time, but as a special treat?  Hell yeah.  It’s amazingly rich and flavourful, with a heady decadence and an overall level of quality that really is in a league of its own.

I kind of wish that I hadn’t eaten it, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to be craving it all the time now.  It’s a very strong contender for the best burger in the city.

4 out of 4

Bymark - the outside Bymark - the menu Bymark - the restaurant Bymark - the burger Bymark - the burger Bymark - the burger
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The County General

county
Location
: 936 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://thecountygeneral.ca/

Given that the burger at the County General has received pretty much nothing but praise (including nabbing the number nine spot on Toronto Life’s list of the best burgers in the city), I’m a little bit surprised that it’s taken me this long to check it out.  But given my blistering biweekly update schedule, it can sometimes take me a while to get to a place I want to try.

The County General actually just opened a second location on the other side of Queen, so they’re obviously doing okay.  I tend to gravitate towards the west end of the city, so I visited the original.

The place was pretty much packed when my dining companion and I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, though we were able to grab a couple of seats at the bar.  We both ordered the 6oz. County Burger, which is described as follows on the menu: “Cumbraes Aged Beef, Mustard, Mayo, Pickle.”

They asked how each of us wanted it cooked, which is always a delightful question since the default in this city seems to be well done, and I prefer medium rare.

The grilled patty came out a perfect medium rare, and was absolutely outstanding.  Coarsely ground and juicy, it had an amazing texture and a really pronounced beefy flavour.  There is, however, a but.  A big but.

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BUT… the patty’s amazing flavour was largely diminished by an insanely overpowering horseradish mustard.  And I mean insane.  This was like horseradish mustard on steroids.  If this mustard were a person, it would be on a Hulk-esque rampage, flipping over cars and leveling buildings with one monstrous blow.

It was strong, is what I’m saying.

I typically like my condiments on the subtler side — to extend my “if it were a person” analogy, I like my condiments to be less Incredible Hulk, and more Lionel Richie.  But even my dining companion, who is typically unperturbed by such things, found the mustard to be overbearing.  He actually suggested that they should rename the hamburger to a horseradish sandwich with meat; sadly, this wasn’t even much of an exaggeration.

It’s a real shame, because that patty was pretty damn close to perfection.  It’s seriously good.  It was hard to tell, but in the few bites I got where there wasn’t as much of the mustard, it was very obvious that the burger was made with top-shelf meat.  Not to mention that it was cooked perfectly, and featured a really fresh bun that complimented it perfectly.  Without that mustard it is easily a top ten contender.  Probably even top five.  But the mustard kind of kills it, as much as it pains me to say so.

As for the fries, they too were well above average: crispy, perfectly cooked french fry goodness.

Seriously though, as much as I hated that mustard, don’t let it dissuade you from ordering this hamburger, which is otherwise one of the best in the city.  Just ask for the mustard on the side.  Or even better, not at all.  A burger this good has so much beefy flavour that any kind of mustard, even a non-radioactive-monster mustard, only serves to distract from what makes the burger so great in the first place.

The County General - the restaurant The County General - the bar The County General - the burger and fries The County General - the burger
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