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.

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.

Gourmet Burger Co. - the restaurant Gourmet Burger Co. - the dining room Gourmet Burger Co. - the menu Gourmet Burger Co. - the burger Gourmet Burger Co. - the burger
Gourmet Burger Co. on Urbanspoon

The Yellow Griffin Pub

Location: 2202 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: http://www.yellowgriffinpub.com/

The Yellow Griffin Pub isn’t a burger joint per se, though they do take pains to make sure you know that they serve over 35 different burgers, which make up the bulk of their menu…  so basically, it is a burger joint; it just calls itself a pub.

Semantics aside, sitting down and looking at their menu is an overwhelming experience.  There are an absurd amount of burgers to choose from, which range from relatively simple to completely over-the-top.  After some deliberation I elected to go with the English Breakfast Burger: “Buckingham baked beans, HP Sauce and crowned with a royal fried egg.”

The menu proudly proclaims that the burger will take 20 minutes to cook, which seems like an insane amount of cooking time to get an eight ounce burger to well done.

The burger arrived looking very promising, with the top bun askew and the toppings and sizable patty in full view.  Thinking that this could very well be a great hamburger, I started to get excited.

I took a bite.  My excitement quickly turned to befuddlement.

This is a strange burger: it’s ridiculously dry, with a weird texture and no discernible beefy flavour.  That’s not to say that the patty is flavourless — it has a flavour, but a funky one that I can’t quite put my finger on.  I briefly thought that perhaps they had given me a bison burger by mistake, but I’ve had a bison burger before and it certainly didn’t taste like this.

The texture is almost reminiscent of kibbe, an Arabic dish in which ground beef is mixed in with bulgur (a grain) and other spices.  I’m not sure what they’re putting in the patty, but there’s almost certainly a filler of some sort.  It’s quite off-putting, texturally.  I think the beef is also probably ground too finely, contributing to the odd texture.

Even the toppings were kind of a miss.  The “Buckingham baked beans” were completely dry, and basically just tasted like they took a can of plain beans, dried them out very thoroughly, and then dumped them on the burger.  I Googled the term “Buckingham baked beans,” thinking that perhaps this is a euphemism for plain beans without any sauce or seasoning, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Odd.

The fried egg was fine.  It’s hard to mess up a fried egg unless you overcook it, and though the yolk was completely solid (I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not), the egg wasn’t overcooked.  As for the HP sauce, if it was present, it was applied so sparingly that I couldn’t taste it.

The bun was a little too dense and a bit oversized in relation to the patty, but it was decent enough.

I think special attention should go to the sides, because they were the clear highlight of the meal.  One of the choices was fried pickles, which you don’t see very often in Toronto.  Of course, I had to order them.  I’ve had fried pickles a few times before, but never this good.  The crunchy, flavourful breading works perfectly with the zingy, crisp pickle.  It also comes with a creamy dipping sauce that compliments the pickles perfectly.   I would probably return if only to get the pickles again; they’re that good.

My dining companion ordered the onion rings, of which I sampled one, and which was definitely above average.

If the Yellow Griffin Pub were just a standard pub, the bizarrely awful burger would be easy to shrug off as something that’s just present to fill out the menu and give people something to eat while they drink their beer.  But burgers are clearly front and centre here.  For a place that purports to be serious about burgers, it’s kind of stunning how spectacularly the Yellow Griffin Pub misfires when it comes to their hamburgers.

The Yellow Griffin Pub - the restaurant The Yellow Griffin Pub - the patio The Yellow Griffin Pub - the menu The Yellow Griffin Pub - the English Breakfast Burger The Yellow Griffin Pub - Burger and onion rings The Yellow Griffin Pub - the English Breakfast Burger The Yellow Griffin Pub - the English Breakfast Burger
Yellow Griffin Pub on Urbanspoon

Earl’s Kitchen and Bar

Location: 40 Colossus Drive, Woodbridge
Website: http://www.earls.ca/

First off, I must apologize for the shoddy quality of the pictures.  This was an impromptu trip to Earl’s, and the only camera I had on hand was the one in my cell phone.  Crappy cell phone camera + dark restaurant = the worst pictures ever.  I debated whether I should even use them at all, but what — am I going to do a blog post with just words?  What am I, a caveman?

Earl’s is a slightly more upscale than normal chain restaurant, akin to a place like Moxie’s (which, FYI, has a terrible burger) or Milestones.

I wasn’t even going to order the burger.  Without my camera, I didn’t feel like I could do a proper review.  I figured I’d just return at some point and order the burger then.  I had even ordered something else, but shortly after my waitress left, I spotted someone else receiving the burger.  One look at it and I knew that I needed to have it immediately.

The Bronx burger is a towering behemoth of a hamburger.  It is described thusly: “half pound Certified Angus Beef patty, beer battered onion rings, roasted garlic aioli, red pepper relish, aged white cheddar and rocket greens, toasted sesame seed burger bun made from scratch every day.”  And indeed, with the large onion rings piled on there (among other toppings), this is not a burger for the weak-hearted.  Piled high, it’s one of those burgers where you really have to open wide to take a bite.

Now, I think it’s fairly clear at this point that my general preference is a more sparsely-topped burger.  I find that too many toppings can obfuscate what makes a burger so great in the first place: the beef.  But every now and then, I have no problem eating a kitchen sink burger, with everything the chef can think of thrown on there.

However, while all the individual toppings on this burger were actually of a fairly high quality, in this case, the whole is actually less than the sum of its parts.

The main problem with this burger is that all the tastes are working against each other.  Pretty much every single topping on it has a very strong, very distinctive flavour, and none of the tastes compliment each other particularly well.  It’s like a symphony where everyone is playing in a different key; even if everyone is playing beautifully, it’s still going to sound like a mess.

There’s the very strong garlicky aoili, the roasted red peppers, the rocket (which basically tastes like arugula, another strong flavour), the thickly battered onion rings (which feature a much more strongly-spiced batter than traditional onion rings), and of course, the beefy patty (which fights valiantly for attention among the many assertive flavours).  There’s also the cheese, but it’s completely lost among the other flavours and textures, and may as well not be there at all.  There’s a lot going on in this burger, and while I did basically enjoy it, the lack of harmony among the ingredients made for a sub-par experience.

You want another iffy metaphor to describe this burger?  No?  Well, you’re getting one: you know that expression “there’s a party in my mouth”?  Well this burger is like there’s a fight in your mouth, and all the ingredients are battling it out for your attention.

As for the beef itself?  It tasted pretty good, actually.  Cooked to well done (I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that you’re almost never going to get a burger in Toronto cooked much less than medium well, if you’re lucky), the patty has a fairly pronounced crust, with a decently beefy taste and a fair amount of juiciness.  This is, of course, based on the few bites I got on the outside of the burger, without the many toppings to get in the way.  But even in the middle, when the taste of the beef itself had no chance among the other ingredients, I still appreciated the presence of an above average patty on a textural level.  You can pile as many toppings as you want on a frozen burger; you’re never going to mask that off-putting chewiness.

The big, bready bun would probably be too substantial for a more traditional hamburger.  It worked pretty well here, though, since this is a burger that requires a bun with a bit more heft to hold it all together.

The burger was accompanied by a generous helping of fries, which were thinly cut and very reminiscent of the ones served at McDonald’s.  There was, however, something a bit off about them that I can’t quite put my finger on; they tasted vaguely processed.  I’d be very surprised if it turned out they were freshly cut in-house.  Regardless, they were pretty good.

I’d definitely like to return to Earl’s at some point; the hamburger had a lot of promise.  I just wouldn’t order the Bronx burger next time.

Shoddy cell phone picture: Earl's Kitchen and Bar - the restaurant Shoddy cell phone picture: Earl's Kitchen and Bar - the bar Shoddy cell phone picture: Earl's Kitchen and Bar - the burger Shoddy cell phone picture: Earl's Kitchen and Bar - the burger
Earls Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon