Look, I don’t want to be the buzzkill telling people that the place they love actually sucks. Especially with a restaurant like Johnny’s, which has been slinging burgers since before most of its clientele were born.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. A lot of people have been going to Johnny’s since they were kids, and I get it: if you have warm, fuzzy memories of a place from your childhood, of course you’re going to overlook its flaws.
Because here’s the thing: that place you love, Johnny’s? It sucks. And I think deep down, you know that’s true.
Though it’s still popular, the city has (mostly) gotten over its collective delusion that Johnny’s is good. Most of the time now, when people post about Johnny’s on social media, they’ll preface it with something like “I know it’s junk, but…”
That wasn’t always true. Before the burger boom hit the city over the last decade or so, Johnny’s frequently appeared on — and topped, no less — lists of the best burgers in the GTA. That doesn’t happen anymore.
I still remember going there for the first time something like 15 years ago, having heard so much about how “good” it was. The crushing disappointment I experienced on taking my first bite was palpable.
It’s a bottom-of-the-barrel industrially-produced frozen patty. It’s bad.
It’s so bad that I managed to avoid reviewing it for the last eight years of running this blog, despite the fact that it’s a Toronto burger institution. It should have been one of the first places I reviewed. But their burgers are a bummer to eat. I didn’t want to.
I knew I couldn’t avoid it forever, however. Eventually, I’d have to bite the bullet. And I finally did.
On this particular visit, I got the plain burger (cheese and bacon are also options) and had it topped with pickles, tomato, mayo, and griddled onions.
There’s not much to like about the el cheapo frozen patties they serve here. They have a chewy, borderline mushy texture that’s closer to a lousy hot dog than a hamburger, and any beefy flavour is basically nonexistent. The only flavour here, aside from the generically salty hot dogginess, is that mildly gamy flavour you get from the absolute cheapest meat imaginable.
Johnny’s defenders will typically expound on the burger’s unique flame-broiled flavour, but on this particular visit there were almost no grill marks on the patty, and zero smoky flavour. So they managed to mess up the one good thing the place has going for it.
The other thing people bring up to defend Johnny’s is the price; the burger is currently $4.01 before tax. That’s cheap, but it’s not that cheap. A no-frills burger from a nicer fast food joint like A&W or Wendy’s is about the same price and is much better. Or for a couple of bucks more, you can go somewhere like the Burger’s Priest and get a burger that’s about a million times better.
The bun’s not bad, I’ll give it that. It’s way too big for the patty, and it’s certainly not a typical hamburger bun. But it’s soft and fresh, and has a nice lightly crispy exterior. It’s not a cheapo supermarket bun. They obviously get it from an actual bakery.
As for the sides, I tried both the onion rings and the fries, and they’re both exactly what you think they’re going to be. They’re not great, but they’re a hell of a lot better than the burger.