The Queen and Beaver Public House

queen
Location
: 35 Elm Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://queenandbeaverpub.ca/

The burger at the Queen and Beaver is… different.  My dining companion noted that my brow was furrowed for pretty much the entire time I was eating it, which is true. It’s an odd one.  I don’t know how to classify it.

The Queen and Beaver has actually been on my radar for a while now, at least since Toronto Life included it on their list of the best burgers in Toronto back in 2012.

It’s a cozy restaurant with food that’s a bit more ambitious than standard pub fare.  This ambition extends to the burger, and sadly, I think their reach exceeds their grasp.

The patty is hand chopped, which means that instead of putting the beef through a grinder like with a traditional hamburger, it’s chopped by hand until the resultant bits are small enough to be formed into a patty.

It’s odd.  The waitress informed me that they suggest medium rare, which was fine by me, that being my preference and all.  And the grilled patty was cooked to a perfect medium rare, but… it didn’t taste like a hamburger.  The hand-chopped patty was formed out of discernibly large chunks of beef, with the effect being that the whole thing tasted like bits of steak that had been mashed into the shape of a hamburger.

queenA

Honestly, I’m loathe to even call it a hamburger — it tastes more like a steak sandwich.  But if it looks like a burger, is called a burger, and has appeared on a list of the best burgers in Toronto…  I guess it’s a hamburger, or at least I should treat it as such.

Sadly, whatever it is, it’s pretty much ruined by an extreme case of over-seasoning.  Along with the bits of steak, there are onions, spices, and something else with a very strong flavour added into the mix (Worcestershire sauce?  HP?  I’m not sure).  Whatever it is, it is very, very strong.  They are presumably using good quality beef (the steep $18 dollar price tag would certainly indicate this), but thanks to all the junk they’ve got mixed in there, it doesn’t have even one iota of beefy flavour.  Maybe it’s a hamburger and maybe it’s a steak sandwich, but either one of those without any beefy flavour is unquestionably a failure.

It comes topped with some thickly sliced bacon which, though it tastes pretty good, is mushy and quite possibly the least crispy bacon I’ve ever had.  There wasn’t even a hint of crispiness — it may as well have been boiled.  Cheese was proffered, but I elected to go without (and I’m glad I did — there’s already more than enough going on here without adding another flavour to further muddle things).

The fresh sesame seed bun was quite good, I’ll give it that.  Kinda sad that the best thing I have to say about this hamburger is that the bun is good, but here we are.  Suffice it to say, I disagree with Toronto Life’s assertion that this is one of the best burgers in Toronto.  I doubt it would be in my top 100, let alone top 25.

The fries were tasty, however.   Thickly cut and maybe a touch underdone, they were otherwise quite good.

The Queen and Beaver Public House - the restaurant The Queen and Beaver Public House - the restaurant The Queen and Beaver Public House - the burger and fries The Queen and Beaver Public House - the burger
Queen and Beaver Public House on Urbanspoon

Tilted Kilt

tilted
Location
157 York Blvd, Richmond Hill
Websitehttp://www.tiltedkilt.com/

The Tilted Kilt is basically a Hooters knockoff — it’s got lots of TVs playing whatever sporting event happens to be on at the moment, and of course, lots of busty, very cleavage-y waitresses for the clientele to gawk at.

I don’t know if it’s even fair for me to shine too bright of a light on the food, because let’s face it — food isn’t high on the list of reasons that people come here.  And while the discussion of whether a place like this is completely misogynistic or just harmless fun is certainly a conversation worth having, this is a burger blog, so… let’s forget about that and talk about the burger.

They have a handful of hamburgers on the menu, but the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger is the only one labeled as a signature item, so that’s what I got.  It’s topped with “Applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, crispy shoestring onions and Guinness BBQ sauce.”

The patty is promisingly described on the menu as being made from their “choice butcher’s blend” and “always fresh,” so I had hopes that it would perhaps be a bit better than your standard chain fare.  These hopes were quickly dashed, but it was a nice thought.

The burger was grilled (though perhaps incinerated is a better word) and was cooked about as far past well done as a burger can get and still be served in good conscience.

tiltedA

It didn’t have that telltale rubbery texture that you tend to get from frozen patties, but it certainly tasted prefabricated.

And  it was dry.  Oh dear lord was it ever dry.  It may have been the driest burger I’ve ever had; if not, it was certainly a strong contender.  It was very tightly packed and super dense, which certainly didn’t help matters.

It had surprisingly little taste.  There was a slight off beef flavour, and some acrid bitterness from the charred exterior, but mostly it just tasted like a big unpleasant hunk of tough, chewy nothing.  Towards the end I was actually dreading each mouth-drying bite, but I soldiered on and I finished it.  Partially because I was reviewing it, but mostly because I’m a glutton who will eat pretty much anything you put on a plate in front of me.

The burger also — oddly enough — had a funky, vaguely fishy aroma that made it all the more off-putting.  That was a first.

This was labeled as a BBQ burger, and while I typically find BBQ sauce to be a little bit too overwhelming as a topping on a burger, they either applied it so sparingly that I couldn’t taste it, or they forgot it altogether.

There were also supposed to be crispy shoestring onions on there, but like the BBQ sauce they seemed to be missing in action.  Normally I appreciate a sparsely-topped hamburger, but in this case the patty was so dry and horrible that these condiments were sorely missed.

The bacon and cheddar were both definitely present, and they were both fine, though they couldn’t do much to make this hamburger even remotely worth eating.

The bun was the sole bright point.  Buttery, slightly sweet, and just dense enough to hold up to the burger without ever becoming overwhelming, it absolutely deserved to be a part of a better hamburger.

As for the fries, they were about on par with the burger — they were bland, cardboardy, and required gobs of ketchup to be even remotely edible.

The Tilted Kilt - the outside The Tilted Kilt - the restaurant The Tilted Kilt - the menu The Tilted Kilt - the burger The Tilted Kilt - the burger The Tilted Kilt - the burger
Tilted Kilt 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.

allensA

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

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