The Belsize Public House

The Belsize Public House
: 535 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto

As much as I love the griddle-smashed burgers that are so omnipresent in the GTA, it’s hard to resist a big, fat grilled burger.  But it’s much, much harder to find a really good burger cooked in that style, so when I heard that they serve a tasty one at The Belsize Public House, I was all over it.

They have a couple of burgers on their menu; there’s the Hoser Burger, which features peameal bacon and cheddar, and the no-frills Grilled Burger, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion.  As I’m wont to do, I went with the simpler of the two.

I’ve cut through so many burgers over the years that I can pretty much tell instantly if a burger is going to be iffy.  This one was suspiciously difficult to saw in half, and the alarm bells were going off in my head.  They were screaming.

The Belsize Public House

As I feared, it wasn’t very good.  The Belsize makes every mistake you can make to end up with an unsatisfying burger.  Literally every single one: the beef was clearly too lean, the texture of the grind was way too fine, the beef had been overhandled and was too tightly packed, and it was cooked all the way to the tippy tippy top of well done (if not a little bit further).  The meat was so dense.  It was a punishingly tough chew.  There was a vague amount of juiciness there, but not even close to enough to make any kind of impact.

The flavour wasn’t much better; aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure they had mixed salt and pepper right into the patty (it was distractingly peppery), the flavour of the beef was almost non-existent.  And what little flavour there was tasted vaguely off.  It wasn’t good.

The toppings were fine, and the fluffy bun was actually pretty perfect.  That patty, though…

I will say that my dining companion had the jerk pork sandwich and really enjoyed it, and the fries and the coleslaw that came with the burger were both quite tasty.  The fries, in particular, were seriously delicious, with an addictively crispy exterior and perfectly creamy interior.  So it’s possible that everything else coming out of the kitchen is tasty.  But they bungled that burger, and they bungled it hard.

1 out of 4

The Belsize Public House - the restaurant The Belsize Public House - the restaurant The Belsize Public House - the burger and fries The Belsize Public House - the burger

The Tavern by Trevor

: 147 Spadina Avenue, Toronto

Though The Tavern by Trevor isn’t technically on Toronto Life’s list of the twenty best burgers in the city, it’s a spin-off of a restaurant that is (Trevor Kitchen and Bar), so I sort of figured I was in good hands.

The burger they serve is labelled as a Kobe burger. Excuse me for going on a brief rant, but this is misguided on several levels, not the least of which being that anything called Kobe beef in Canada is almost certainly not actually Kobe beef. Kobe beef refers to a specific breed of cattle raised in a specific part of Japan (Kobe), and is pretty much never exported to Canada — not legally, at least. It’s far more likely that what’s being served here is Wagyu beef, which is similar enough to Kobe that many restaurants feel okay labeling it as such, even if it’s not really true.

That’s not to mention that the biggest appeal of Kobe (or Wagyu) beef is its prodigious marbling, which is rendered entirely moot when you grind it up for a hamburger.

So basically, labeling something as a Kobe burger is completely meaningless. It is a marketing ploy at best, and an excuse to overcharge at worst. Fortunately the latter isn’t the case here; at ten bucks (plus an additional five for fries), the price is about on par with what you’d expect at a restaurant like this.


The 6 oz Kobe Burger is described as coming with “horseradish mayo, smoked cheddar & caramelized onion.”

The grilled burger came cooked to medium rare and was reasonably juicy. I think, however, that the heat was too high, as the exterior of the burger was thoroughly charred, with an unpleasantly acrid, bitter flavour.

The patty was also too tightly packed and, I think, a bit too finely ground. It was fine in the medium rare centre, but the well done edges were dry, dense, and unpleasant.

Still, the bulk of the patty (i.e. everything but the edges) is fairly tasty with a good texture, though the pervasive bitterness is unfortunate.

The smoked cheddar is creamy, nicely melted and not too sharp, allowing the beef to be the star of the show. The horseradish mayo also suits the burger pretty well.

Sadly, the bun was awful. Dry, unpleasantly dense, and — I think — more than a little bit stale, it’s a complete fiasco. It’s definitely one of the shoddiest buns I’ve had in quite a long time.

Basically, it’s a good burger with a few pretty major flaws.  With a fresh bun and without being way over-charred it actually could have been really good, but sadly they served what they served.

As for the fries, they were outstanding.  Really tasty and addictively crispy without ever becoming too crunchy, they were pretty great.

3 out of 4

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Location: 143 Danforth Avenue, Toronto

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.


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.

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