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
Bymark on Urbanspoon

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
The County General on Urbanspoon

Allen’s

allens
Location: 143 Danforth Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.allens.to/

There are a handful places that I’ve been meaning to review since I started this blog, that for one reason or another, I just haven’t gotten around to yet.  Until today, Allen’s was on top of that list.  Widely regarded as one of the heavyweights in Toronto’s burger landscape, no Toronto burger blog is complete without a visit to this particular pub.

Allen’s has been around since the late ’80s, and thus predates the recent burger craze by many, many years.   Allen’s has been pumping out burgers since the chefs at a place like Burger’s Priest were still reading Nintendo Power and learning their ABCs.  Unlike most old-school burger joints in this city, however, Allen’s serves fantastic hamburgers.  Better than fantastic.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s clear just looking at the menu that Allen’s is serious about their  hamburgers.  There’s a whole paragraph in the menu dedicated to the provenance of the beef and the care they take in making their hamburgers (their use of high quality beef, butchered on site is why they are allowed to circumvent Toronto’s so-called law requiring hamburgers to be cooked to well done).  Of course, anyone can put a bunch of superlatives in their menu and still serve a crappy burger.  Deeds, as they say, speak louder than words.

When I ordered, I was asked how I wanted the burger cooked, which always delights me: I’m partial to hamburgers cooked to medium rare, so I find the endless parade of well-done-and-beyond patties served by Toronto’s burger joints to be a bit wearisome.  I’m okay with burgers cooked to well done (I couldn’t run this blog if I weren’t), but in my opinion the flavour of beef begins to diminish when it’s cooked much beyond medium.  That’s not to mention, of course, the dryness issue.

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The burgers served here are pub style: grilled, and much larger and more substantial than the griddled, fast food style burgers of a place like Burger’s Priest.

It’s a fantastic burger.  Juicy, nicely seasoned with just salt and pepper and with a richly complex beefy flavour that easy rivals any hamburger I’ve eaten in this city (or anywhere else, for that matter), it is dangerously close to burger perfection.  It’s the type of burger that surprises you with every bite, because it’s so damn tasty.  It’s the type of burger that makes you more and more sad as you eat it, because you know it will eventually be finished.  It’s the type of burger that you wish all burgers could be.

I do have some small quibbles, which are mostly cosmetic.  Grilled burgers tend to bulge in the middle, a phenomenon that is easily combated by placing a small dimple in the centre of the uncooked patty (go here for a detailed analysis on why this happens).   They are clearly not doing that here.  A burger like this also needs to be shaped a bit wider than the bun to compensate for shrinkage, another small oversight that could improve this burger.  As it stands, there was a decent amount of bun overhang, which left me with some bread left on my plate after the patty itself was finished.

These are small issues that won’t prevent me from proclaiming this to be one of the best burgers in the city, but they are issues nonetheless.

The aforementioned sesame seed bun, aside from being a little bit too wide for the burger, was fresh and suited the patty well.  The burger comes with mustard, relish, pickles, tomato, lettuce, and onion — all on the side.  Which is good, because this is a burger that really doesn’t need a whole lot of condimenting.  My recommendation would be to leave most of that stuff on the side; a hamburger this tasty doesn’t need much else.

It doesn’t come with fries (or any other sides, for that matter), so I ordered some.  Like the burger, they’re pretty damn good.  Thick cut fries like the ones they serve here are tougher to pull off; they wind up, more often than not, a little undercooked and dense in the middle.  These fries, however, were perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  They’re unsalted, but a salt grinder is provided.

Did I mention that the hamburger they serve at Allen’s is a very strong contender for the best burger in the city?  I did?  Well let me say it again: this is a very strong contender for the best burger in the city.  Eat it.  And if you already have, eat it again, because it is awesome, and you deserve more awesomeness in your life.

Allen's - the restaurant Allen's - the menu Allen's - the bar Allen's - the condiments Allen's - the burger and fries Allen's - the burger Allen's - the burger
Allen's on the Danforth on Urbanspoon