The Opera House Grill

opera
Location
: 737 Queen Street East, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/theoperahousegrill/

I’m going to keep this one relatively brief.  If you’ve read my recent rant about the Opera House Grill’s inclusion on Toronto Life’s new list of the city’s 25 best burgers, then you already pretty much know what I think about this burger: it’s made with a frozen patty, and it doesn’t belong within a million miles of any kind of “best of” list.

Still, that’s not to say that it’s the worst thing ever.  It’s actually pretty okay, as far as frozen burgers go.  The Shaggy Burger (the one that made Toronto Life’s list) is an impressively ridiculous behemoth of a burger.  Piled high with sweet griddled onions, crispy onion rings, bacon, tsatziki, and a healthy mound of cheddar cheese, not to mention the standard burger toppings like lettuce, pickles, and tomato, it’s pretty much the definition of a kitchen sink burger.

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And I won’t lie: it’s pretty good in the middle.  It’s topping overload, but everything in the pile is fairly tasty, and it all tastes pretty good together.  The big mound of shredded cheddar cheese never quite melts as much as it needs to, but aside from that the toppings are solid.

Where the burger really falls apart (figuratively — the bun held up surprisingly well to all the toppings) is around the perimeter of the burger, where all of the many condiments begin to fade away. That’s when you really taste that hot-doggy, mediocre frozen patty, and realize that greatness is simply never going to be in this burger’s vocabulary.

As for the fries, they clearly came out of the same freezer as the burger patty, and were about as middling as you’d expect.

2 out of 4

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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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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

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Bymark on Urbanspoon

Wahlburgers

wahl
Location
: 46 Blue Jays Way, Toronto
Websitehttp://wahlburgers.ca/

Kudos to whichever Wahlberg brother realized that their name made them ideally suited to open a burger joint, and double-kudos to whichever one decided that they should actually make good on what I can only assume started as a silly joke. As a fan of cheesy puns and general wordplay, I approve.

And if you want to eat a hamburger while basking in the reflected glory of a famous movie star and a semi-famous TV star (and a third guy you probably don’t care about), then Wahlburgers will fit the bill.

Of course, there’s a good chance that you don’t care about such things, and are just looking for a tasty burger. Thankfully, Wahlburgers is more than just a Planet Hollywood-esque shrine to celebrity-adjacent dining; it’s certainly nothing anyone is going to go too crazy over, but they serve a pretty good burger.

It’s a fairly large, full-service restaurant with long list of pre-topped burgers to be had. Each Wahlberg has his favourite burger labelled on the menu: Donnie’s got a BBQ bacon burger, Mark has a turkey burger, and Paul (i.e. the Wahlberg you haven’t heard of –- and the chef) has a simple cheeseburger. I went with Paul’s choice, dubbed Our Burger: “Paul’s signature Wahl sauce, dill pickles, government cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion.”

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The griddled burger was cooked all the way to well done (despite the claim that they cook to medium on the menu), but was somewhat juicy regardless. It was definitely a bit more dry than I’d like, particularly around the edges, but I’ve certainly had worse. It was also too tightly packed and a little bit dense, making it a bit more tough than it needed to be.

Still, it’s a pretty good cheeseburger outside of those two beefs (no pun intended… oh, who am I kidding? Pun absolutely intended). The meat has a decent –- if somewhat mild –- beefy flavour, and the American cheese on top is nicely gooey. Though the bun looks a little bit big, it’s not overwhelming at all and actually suits the burger perfectly.

The other toppings were all solid — particularly the onions, oddly enough. I normally find raw onions to be a bit too overwhelming for my tastes, but these were very thinly sliced and nice and mild. They added some crunch and oniony character without over-asserting themselves, as onions tend to do.

The burgers don’t come with any sides, so I got an order of tater tots.  I could have gotten fries as per usual, but who can say no to tater tots?  Nobody, that’s who.  They pretty much tasted like run-of-the-mill cafeteria tots.  This isn’t a bad thing.  I also tried the onion rings, which are more like onion strings than what you’d expect.  They were pretty good as well.

3 out of 4

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Wahlburgers on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Daisho

momo
Location
: 190 University Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://momofuku.com/toronto/daisho/

When I heard that Daisho was going to start serving the Momofuku collaboration with Shake Shack that reportedly caused the longest line-up in Shake Shack history, I was pretty excited. And by “pretty excited”, I mean crazy excited.

Alas, it turns out that this burger is only served at lunch, and Daisho only serves lunch during the week. Seeing that I work in Mississauga, trying this burger suddenly seemed like an impossible dream (see here for an approximation of my reaction to this fact).

But then I remembered that I was taking a week off for TIFF, and all was right with the world again. I made sure to leave a gap in my schedule, and I was off to the races.

The Momofuku Shrimp Stack is described on the menu like this: “beef, hozon mayo, kohlrabi slaw” (very descriptive, I know — because everyone loves menus that just list a few ingredients and tell you nothing about what the dishes are actually like.  I’m sorry, did I say loves?  Because I meant hates).

Not that you’d know this from the super vague menu description, but the thing that makes the Shrimp Stack a shrimp stack is the thin shrimp patty resting atop the burger’s more traditional toppings (cheese, pickles, etc.).

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The best thing about this burger? The beef patty. It’s ridiculously juicy. It is amazingly, awe-inspiringly juicy. It also had a good amount of crust from the griddle, a great texture, and a decent (if not particularly overwhelming) beefy flavour.

It’s pretty great. Also great? The soft, pliant, incredibly fresh bun that held up to the rest of the burger amazingly well. It added just the right amount of breadiness without ever over-asserting itself or getting in the way. It was perfect.

I wasn’t quite as crazy as the burger’s eponymous shrimp patty, however. While it was tasty enough, it was deeply shrimpy and was easily the burger’s strongest flavour. Of course, the burger is called Shrimp Stack, so perhaps criticizing it for being too shrimpy is ridiculous. But this is a burger blog, so obviously that’s where my head’s at.

My other main objection is that the burger’s flavour is overwhelmingly rich. Between the melty American cheese, the juicy beef patty, and the concentrated shrimpiness of that patty, the flavour is a bit one-note. You’d think the pickles (traditional pickles and pickled onions) would cut the richness, but you can honestly barely even tell they’re there.

Still, though the whole thing wasn’t quite as earth-shakingly delicious as I had hoped, it was still pretty damn tasty, flaws and all.

The onion rings, with their delicately crispy batter and perfectly cooked onions, were outstanding. I’m normally not a dipping-my-onion-rings guy, but it came with a curry-tinged ketchup that was too good to resist. The kohlrabi slaw was also well above average.

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Momofuku Daishō on Urbanspoon

The Fire Pit

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Location
6020 Hurontario Street, Mississauga
Website: None

Hoping to find a decent burger near my work, I decided to check out Yelp’s list of the best hamburgers in Mississauga. Number one on this list? The Fire Pit.

I found it troublesome that number two is C & Dubbs (a.k.a. one of the worst burgers I’ve had since starting this blog) — obviously the whole list needs to be taken with a fairly enormous grain of salt. Regardless, I decided to check out Yelp’s number one burger.

It’s a Greek place; the tendency at restaurants like this is to serve a meatloaf style burger with all kinds of spices mixed in, which is what I braced myself for.

As it turns out, I would have been lucky to get a meatloaf burger.

The Fire Pit has a very similar vibe to many old-school places like this in the GTA, with reddish-brown decor, the menu lit up behind the register, and a selection of toppings to pick from behind glass. I went with my usual mayo, tomato, and pickle.

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Before I lay into the place, I will say that, at the very least, it’s cheap. I got the quarter pound burger as a combo, and it came up to less than nine bucks with tax. This is, by Toronto standards at least, delightfully cheap.

Of course, there’s a reason it’s cheap. It’s a frozen, industrially-produced patty, and a particularly shoddy one at that. It tastes like a flattened hot dog, basically. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, but if you put this and a real hamburger side-by-side in a blind taste test, I don’t think the taster would even realize they’re supposed to be the same thing. It just doesn’t taste like a hamburger. Blech.

The toasted sesame seed bun was fine, though the tomatoes were mealy and the “mayo” was Miracle Whip or some similarly sweet mayo-like substance.

I looked up The Fire Pit on Chowhound before checking it out, and found only one quick mention of the place, in a thread dedicated to the city’s best onion rings. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mix things up, and ordered onion rings instead of fries.

I generally prefer breaded to battered onion rings, though battered ones can be okay if the batter is thin and crispy, with a well-cooked onion inside. These featured a thick, overly-substantial layer of batter encasing onions that immediately pulled out of the ring, leaving you with a doughy, useless husk. I only felt the need to eat a couple before tossing the rest in the garbage.

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Fire Pit on Urbanspoon

Gourmet Burger Co.


Location: 843 Kipling Avenue, Toronto
UPDATE: This particular location is closed (it’s been replaced with Big Butcher Barbeque); check their website for other locations.
Websitehttp://thegourmetburgerco.com/

Some burgers, like everything else, are just average.  They straddle that line between really good and really bad, without gathering much buzz; they’re just there, receding from your memory almost immediately after consumption.  The burgers at Gourmet Burger Co. fall squarely into this category.

The restaurant has a clean look to it, and it’s laid out much like many burger joints in Toronto; you order your burger, pay, then pick up your food from the counter when it’s ready.

I went pretty simple, ordering a plain burger topped with tomatoes, pickles and GBC sauce (described as a mixture of mayo, ketchup, hot sauce, mustard, honey, and roasted garlic).

My first impression was that the burger had obviously been cooked on a griddle, resulting in a moderate amount of crust on the patty.  Not as much as at a place like Burger’s Priest or Holy Chuck, but it was there.

The beef has that muddled flavour typical of mediocre quality beef.  It’s okay; it’s a bit bland, but it tastes fine.  It’s also too lean and a bit overcooked, resulting in a drier texture than you might like.

The GBC sauce is a bit on the strong side, with an overpoweringly salty/vinegary flavour.  I wouldn’t get it again.  The pickles and tomato were fine, and the soft bun, though a tad on the large side and a bit more substantial than I’d like, complimented the burger fairly well.

I ordered the onion rings on the side, and they were fresh, with a crispy, tasty batter.  The onions were yielding and well-cooked; they were definitely a highlight.

All in all it wasn’t the best burger ever, but if I found myself in the area again, I wouldn’t object to eating another one.  Like I said, it’s average; it’s not a burger that anyone is going to swoon over, but it gets the job done.

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