The Abbot Pub & Fare

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Location: 3367 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://theabbot.ca/

I’m not gonna lie: though I have a vague recollection of reading something positive about the burger at the Abbot, I decided to review this place almost entirely because of its proximity to the Rolling Pin, a bakery that specializes in elaborately decadent doughnuts. Two birds, one stone, and all that jazz.

(The doughnuts were great, by the way.)

Though I came at lunch and could have ordered the brunch burger, I went with the standard hamburger, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion. You can also get optional stuff like cheese or caramelized onions for an extra charge, but I kept it simple.

In the spirit of not beating around the bush, I’ll say that this was not a good hamburger and you should absolutely never order it. But I guess I should elaborate a bit?

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It’s a meatloaf burger, and a particularly strong one at that. This isn’t necessarily the worst thing ever, but oh man it was strong. The odour of garlic and spices hit me almost as soon as the plate was set down in front of me. My dining companion could smell it from across the table, which should tell you something.

This, of course, means that the flavour of the beef itself was completely gone, but if that were the burger’s only problem, it wouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker.

It wasn’t the burger’s only problem.

Worse was the hamburger’s texture, which despite being grilled and cooked to well done, was a particularly off-putting combination of mushy and stringy. I’ve reviewed mushy burgers before, but this was the worst one yet. By far.  It was the stringiness that really got me, with a texture that was soft but refused to get fully chewed, like a trying to eat wet fabric.  It was unpleasant enough that I got a bit more than halfway through and had to throw in the towel.  It’s not that I couldn’t finish it; I’ve had worse.  But I really didn’t want to.

Everything else was fine, though the bottom layer of the bun was weirdly crispy, making the burger harder to eat (and cut in half) than it needed to be.

As for the fries, they were pretty good.  They’re nothing anyone is going to lose their minds over, but they were slightly above average.

1 out of 4

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Town Crier Pub

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Location
: 115 John Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://towncrierpub.ca/

The burger at Town Crier Pub could have been a lot worse. I know, I know — not exactly a ringing endorsement. But considering the epic amount of European beers this place has on tap (over fifty, with the tap-lined bar being quite a sight to behold), it’s obvious enough that Town Crier is more about beverages than food.  They could have very easily just backed a Sysco truck into their kitchen and called it a day.

So even if I didn’t think the burger was particularly great, I applaud them for making it as decent as it was when they clearly didn’t have to.

The Town Crier Burger is pretty simple — it’s topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onion, with other condiments available by request (I asked for mayo).

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The grilled burger is cooked to medium, and is actually pretty juicy, which is a pretty big plus in its favour.  But it’s a meatloaf burger, with a really ho-hum flavour.  Nothing about it stands out. It’s basically the meatloaf burger equivalent of Jai Courtney: serviceable, but generically bland and unmemorable to a fault.

The texture wasn’t bad, though — a lot of meatloaf burgers tend to be overhandled or sausagey, but this one was loosely packed and fairly tender.

The nutty whole wheat bun would have been disastrous with a more traditional hamburger, but the meatloafy flavour here is able to stand up to it.  I still would have preferred white, but it was fresh and generally suited the burger okay.

The fries, too, were much better than they needed to be.  Billed as Belgian frites, they weren’t quite as crisp as you’d like fries of that style to be, but they were definitely above average.

2.5 out of 4

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(Image of the outside of the restaurant in the header photo courtesy of Caroline’s Culinary Delights. It was quite rainy when I visited and I didn’t particularly feel like getting soaked trying to take a photo.)

Stein Burger and Koop

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Location
: 1285 Elgin Mills Road East, Richmond Hill
Websitehttp://www.steinburgerandkoop.com/

This was actually my second time going to Stein Burger and Koop.  It wasn’t my second time eating there, but it was my second time at the restaurant.  A couple of friends and I visited a few months ago; we were seated and handed menus, and then promptly ignored for the next half hour.  None of us were in a particularly confrontational mood, so we eventually just left, sad and burgerless.  The amazingly bad service (or non-existent, more accurately) would have been impressive if it weren’t so frustrating.

I guess everyone deserves a second chance, so I recently found myself back at the restaurant; the service was much better this time (well, there was service, which by default means it was better).

Stein Burger and Koop is essentially a sports bar, with mostly burgers and wings on the menu, and the usual generic selection of sandwiches and wraps to round things out.  I went with the Steinburger, which is no-frills with just lettuce, tomato, onion, and their “signature sauce.”

It’s a smashed and griddled burger, because apparently that’s the law.  Didn’t you hear?  They passed that law.  All burgers have to be smashed now.

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It’s fine.  There’s not much crust from the griddle, and the well-done burger was quite dry, but it was okay.  Nothing about it offended me.  There wasn’t much beefy flavour (or any flavour at all, really), but again, it was perfectly edible.

The toppings, too, were fine.  The onions were too strong for my taste (but then I find most raw onions too strong, so that’s on me) and the “signature sauce” basically tasted like plain mayo, but it all got the job done.

The soft, fresh bun was mostly okay, though it wasn’t quite up to the task at hand; even with the fairly dry patty, the bottom bun sogged up and was close to falling apart in the last few bites.

But whatever.  There are certainly worse burgers in the GTA.  You can eat here, I guess.  When you do, you’ll think to yourself “Yes, that was a burger I just ate.”  Then you’ll stand up, walk out the door, and never think about it again.  It will be consigned to the trash-dump of your memory, where all the hundreds of anonymous, unmemorable meals that you’ll eat throughout your lifetime will go to be forgotten about forever.

Maybe a few months later someone will ask you about it.  “You ate there, right?” they’ll ask, looking to you for some form of guidance.  “How was it?” You’ll rack your brain, straining to remember if you’ve ever even been there, let alone how the burger was.  This will be for naught.  It’s gone.  Nothing about that visit has remained.

On your deathbed, in that brief moment after your heart stops beating and your brain shuts down, a synapse — unused for decades — will suddenly fire.  You will remember that meal, that mediocre burger.  “Oh yeah, I guess I did eat there” you’ll think, and then darkness.

2.5 out of 4

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Tallboys Craft Beer House

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Location: 838 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: http://tallboyscraft.com/

I’ll admit that Tallboys was barely even on my radar before a few days ago.  I had vaguely heard of it, but with their seemingly single-minded focus on curating an impressive selection of beers, I had sort of figured that food would be an afterthought.  It didn’t even occur to me that they might have a hamburger worth eating.

But then, while browsing Instagram while watching a particularly boring episode of True Blood (seriously, how did that show get so terrible??  Did they replace their writing staff with a bunch of particularly dim-witted chimps?) I stumbled onto a picture of the burger at Tallboys.  It certainly grabbed my attention more than the shoddy episode I was watching.  It actually looked good.  Not perfunctory at all.

It didn’t take much more than that for me to find myself at Tallboys a few days later, scanning the menu (they have five burger choices, all double burgers with two four ounce patties) and quickly settling on the Classic: “lettuce, tomato, pickle & scallion mayo.”

Since I was driving I didn’t partake in their impressive beer selection; needless to say, if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s reason enough to visit.

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The main thing that caught my eye while browsing through Instagram was the awe-inducing crust on the patties.  When you cook a patty on a sufficiently hot griddle, you wind up with a dark crust that adds a ton of flavour and texture.   This seems like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of Toronto burger joints that griddle-cook their burger and still get this completely wrong.

The chef at Tallboys has clearly mastered this particular technique; the crust on their burgers is abundant and it is glorious.  Based on the pictures I saw on Instagram and the burgers both I and my dining companion were served, this is something the kitchen pulls off every time.  Good stuff.

The patties also had a really great, deeply satisfying beefy flavour that made this one of the tastier burgers I’ve had in quite a while.  It’s kind of amazing how big of a difference using good quality beef makes, but you can tell instantly that they’re using top-shelf stuff.

I do, unfortunately, have a couple of issues.  The texture is off; I think the beef has been a bit overhandled, making it denser than I’d like.  It’s also, like so many other burgers in the GTA, dryer than it should be.  It probably doesn’t help that it’s been cooked all the way to the end of well done, but even still it does retain a bit of juiciness.

Still, those are relatively minor complaints.  Though they do hold the burger back from greatness, it’s still pretty damn good.

The condiments are above average as well — the scallion mayo in particular adds a nice kick of flavour without ever overpowering the beef.

The bun deserves special mention.  Though it’s a bit too wide for the patties, it’s soft enough to not get in the way, and substantial enough to hold up very well to the patties and the condiments.  It also has this lightly crispy, subtly crackly exterior that’s pretty much irresistible.

As for the fries, aside from being ever-so-slightly undercooked, they were quite tasty.

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The Queen and Beaver Public House

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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.

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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.

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