Ozzy’s

Ozzy's in Kensington Market
Location
: 66 Nassau Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/ozzysburgers

Salt is a funny thing.  Add just enough of it to a dish, and it disappears into the background, enhancing flavours without calling attention to itself.  I was talking to a friend about the burger at Ozzy’s being too salty (because spoiler alert: the burger at Ozzy’s was way too salty), and he seemed surprised by the notion that a burger should even have salt.  Because done right, salt just enhances the beefy flavour of a burger without actually adding a particularly salty flavour.  It does its magic and then recedes into the shadows, happy to let the beef take all of the credit.

Done wrong, on the other hand?  You end up with the burger at Ozzy’s.

I ordered the Classic burger, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, griddled onions, and Ozzy’s sauce.

Ozzy's in Kensington Market

It’s kind of tragic, because aside from the extreme saltiness issue, the burger was top-notch.  The patty had a really impressive amount of crust from the griddle and a perfect texture, despite being cooked to well done — it was surprisingly juicy, it had a nice coarse grind, and it wasn’t overhandled.  It also had a decent beefy flavour.  It was actually pretty great.

The toppings were all solid, and the fresh, slightly sweet bun suited the burger well, though it was slightly too large.

But when I say that the patty was too salty, I mean that it was in-your-face salty.  It was unpleasant.

It’s a damn shame, because with a normal amount of salt, this would have easily been a top-tier burger.  But it was what it was (and my dining companion had the same complaint, so this wasn’t a one-off mistake).

As for the fries, bafflingly, they were completely undersalted (or maybe they just tasted that way after the salt-bomb of a hamburger).  They also had a bit of a stale oil flavour, but were otherwise pretty good.

2.5 out of 4

Ozzy's - the restaurant Ozzy's - the restaurant Ozzy's - the burger and fries Ozzy's - the burger

Aloette

Aloette burger
Location
: 163 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://aloetterestaurant.com/

I was traveling when Aloette opened, and seeing pictures of the burger made me want to drop everything I was doing and get on the next plane home.  I mean, it’s a burger created by one of the best chefs in the city.  It’s topped with fried cheese.  How could it not be amazing??

How indeed.

It seems I’m fated to continually be disappointed by Toronto’s best chefs.  First there was Victor Barry.  Then Grant van Gameren.  And now, sadly, Alo’s Patrick Kriss.

Of course, there are different levels of disappointment, and this one was much more mild than the other two: I actually enjoyed the burger at Aloette.  But I was expecting my socks to be knocked off.  I’m looking down, and yep: there are my socks, firmly on my feet.

The Aloette Burger comes topped with shredded lettuce, pickle, onion, mayo, and the aforementioned Beaufort cheese.  The toppings are mostly quite good.  When you first look at the burger, the big pile of lettuce seems overdone, but I think the fine shredding makes it look poofier than it actually is.  It was just right.  The soft bun just barely holds up to the messy burger, but it manages.  It’s good.

The cheese was, shockingly, the weakest element.  It was good in theory — gooey, with a satisfying cheesy brown crust on its exterior.  It was actually quite delicious.  But just because something’s delicious doesn’t mean it belongs on a hamburger; it was sharp and assertive, and it completely wiped out all of the hamburger’s other flavours.  It would be absolutely amazing in a grilled cheese sandwich, but on a burger it’s all wrong.

The patty didn’t seem to have much of a beefy flavour, but then how can you even tell with that cheese?  The bulk of the flavour was a mild bitterness from the slightly burned exterior.  The patty mostly had an amazing mahogany-brown crust from the griddle, but there were a few spots that were blackened and bitter.

And while the beef was somewhat juicy, the well done patty was kind of dry.  It was also a little bit too finely ground and a bit too tightly packed, resulting in a patty that’s tougher than it should be.  When you’re eating a burger and thinking “why is this taking so long to chew?” then you know you’ve got problems.

Still, I’m coming off super negative here, so I should make it clear that I actually quite enjoyed the burger: it was tasty.  It has way too many issues to be anything better than just good, but it is good.  It’s just not even close to the burger perfection I was hoping for.

As for the fries, they were a bit overcooked (most of them were potato-chip-crunchy, which is a bit much), but otherwise quite tasty.  They also came with a tangy dipping sauce that was easily the highlight of the meal.

3 out of 4

Aloette - the restaurant Aloette - the restaurant Aloette - the burger Aloette - the burger Aloette - the burger

State & Main Kitchen & Bar


Location
: 396 The East Mall, Etobicoke
Websitehttps://www.stateandmain.ca/

I’m not gonna lie: my expectations for the burger at State & Main were quite low.  Is there something lower than low?  Like, in the basement?  My expectations were way down in the basement.

I mean, why wouldn’t they be?  Casual chain restaurants like this one typically serve a burger that’s uninspired, to put it kindly, and I really didn’t have any reason to think that State & Main would be any different.

I’m happy to say that I was dead wrong.  Not that the burger here was anything to get too excited about, but it was actually pretty good.

I ordered the Main, which is a double cheeseburger made with American cheese, and topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, and State sauce.

The patties weren’t bad at all, though I’m honestly not sure if they were griddled or grilled.  It was odd; they looked griddled, but tasted grilled, with that slightly smoky, charred flavour that you typically only get from the grill.  So…  I don’t know (I’ve eaten something like three hamburgers in the last six months, so I guess my burger sense is a bit rusty).

They were solid patties: they had a nice crust from the griddle and/or grill (??), they were slightly juicy, and they had a pleasant flavour.  Yes, they were a little densely packed, they could have been beefier and juicier, and it would have been nice if they weren’t so uniformly gray throughout — but they could have been much, much worse.

The toppings were quite good too, particularly the gooey, melty American cheese. 

I’d tell you about the State sauce, but I honestly don’t remember what it tasted like (did I mention that I’m a bit rusty at this burger reviewing thing?  Because clearly I am).  I feel like it’s safe to assume it was just the typical Big Mac-esque sauce that you usually find on burgers like this.

The bun was slightly too dense, but since this was a more substantial hamburger, it worked.

As for the fries, they were perfectly crispy/creamy.  You had the choice between gravy or dill sauce for dipping; I went with the dill, which was addictively garlicky.  It was pretty great.

3 out of 4

State and Main - the restaurant State and Main - the restaurant State and Main - the burger State and Main - the burger State and Main - the burger

Kitson and Co.


Location
: 1205 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.kitsonandco.com/

Sometimes, you just wanna stop eating your burger, slap your hand on the table, walk back into the kitchen and shake everybody’s hand.  Sometimes a burger is so delightfully great that it just makes you want to do something.  Especially when you’re in a place that doesn’t even specialize in hamburgers, and the burger’s greatness is all the more improbable.  A great burger from a random sandwich shop?  That just makes my day.

It’s a pretty simple cheeseburger: “Classic Double Cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onions and Kitson & Co. secret sauce”

It’s an amazing example of a classic, no-frills fast-food-style burger executed perfectly.  You’ve got the gooey American cheese, the crusty griddled patties, the Big-Mac-esque secret sauce, the sesame seed bun, and the classic veggies.  It’s all there.

Those patties are top notch; the flavour could have been a bit beefier, but it’s hard to complain too much when all of the other elements are right where they should be.  They were also ever-so-slightly too densely packed, but again, it’s hard to complain too much when the overall package is so damn satisfying.  The patties are cooked to a perfect medium rare with a nice layer of dark brown crust on the exterior.  They’re also super juicy; that alone is reason enough to celebrate.

The melty American cheese adds creaminess and a nice salty tang; I kinda wish that there was only one slice instead of two, as I feel like two slices of cheese on a double cheeseburger starts to overwhelm the meat, but that’s more of a personal preference than anything else.  Two slices is the standard, so it’s hard to fault them for that.

The tangy secret sauce is pretty much exactly what you think it’s going to be — it works great with the cheeseburger and, more importantly, it doesn’t get in the way.

Even the bun was surprisingly great: soft, fresh, and perfectly toasted, it somehow manages to stand up to that very juicy, messy burger without ever feeling overly substantial.  The beef to bun ratio?  On point.

As for the fries, they were crispy, creamy, and flavourful; as great as the burger was, the fries might have been even better.

3.5 out of 4

Kitson and Co. - the outside Kitson and Co. - the restaurant Kitson and Co. - the cheeseburger Kitson and Co. - the cheeseburger

The Wren


Location
: 1382 Danforth Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.thewrendanforth.com/

After seeing pictures of the various burger specials at the Wren roughly a billion times on Instagram over the last few months, my excitement level was pretty much at a fever pitch; it’s not easy to get me to venture too far east in Toronto (I’m lazy, you see), but for an amazing burger?  Yeah, I’ll go out of my way for that.

Alas, this place suffers from a very pronounced case of Sweet Jesus-itus — highly Instagrammable, but otherwise not particularly great.

I ordered the Backyard Burger, which is the most bare-bones burger they serve (they also have a much more Instagram-friendly creation called the Uncle Buck Burger, not to mention the veritable Instagram-catnip that is their rotating special).

The Backyard Burger comes topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, and mayo.

Sometimes, you can just look at a burger’s cross-section and know you’re in trouble.  If you can tell just by looking at a burger that the grind is too fine and it’s too densely packed, you’re in trouble.

And yeah, of course the grind was too fine and it was too densely packed, because just look at it.  Look at it and weep.

It was also cooked all the way to the wellest of well done, and was almost entirely moisture-free.  It wasn’t the worst patty I’ve ever had, but it was kinda unpleasant to eat.

The taste, while not offensive, was non-existent; there was no particular beefy or meaty flavour.  Aside from the subtle smokiness from the grill, it didn’t taste like anything.

Everything else was fine.  The burger comes topped with ketchup, mustard, and mayo, which is more condiment-heavy than I’d usually like.  Here, however, those condiments are actually fairly essential to provide the burger with some much-needed moisture.  I actually could have used more.

The bun, though a little bit too crackly on its exterior, was mostly quite good.  It held up to the patty and the toppings nicely, and didn’t overwhelm.

The fries were the clear (and only) highlight.  They were perfectly cooked and tossed with a seasoned salt that made them taste pretty great on their own — no dip required.

1.5 out of 4

The Wren - the outside The Wren - the restaurant The Wren - the burger The Wren - the burger The Wren - the burger

lbs.


Location
: 100 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://lbstoronto.com/

You know when you’re watching a movie, and it kind of sucks, but the lead actor is clearly trying really hard and actually giving a great performance? And it’s a shame, because all of that quality acting is wasted on such a middling film? That’s pretty much how I feel about the burger at lbs.

Not that the burger is even particularly bad; it’s actually fairly good. But it could have very, very easily been great.

The lbs burger, as per the menu: “6oz brisket + aged cheddar + bacon rasher + kozlicks mustard + house pickles + brioche bun.”

If nothing else, the patty is amazing; extending my strained “great actor in a bad movie” metaphor to this hamburger, the patty is the actor. It’s so, so good.

It’s cooked to a nice pink medium with an enviable amount of crust from the griddle. That crust isn’t just for show, either; it adds a great amount of crispiness that contrasts very nicely with the tender beef. And the beef itself is coarsely ground and loosely packed — the texture is perfect.

It’s also super juicy, with a ridiculously satisfying wallop of buttery, beefy flavour.

It’s a great patty, no doubt about it. Everything else, on the other hand…

There’s way, way, way too much going on. Between the very liberally applied strong mustard, the abundant sharp cheddar, the vinegary pickles, and the sweet caramelized onions (which are unmentioned on the menu, but quite abundant), the amazing flavour of the patty is absolutely buried. It’s gone. It never had a chance.

And that cheese. Yikes. There’s so damn much of it, it’s so intensely flavoured, and it’s completely cold and unmelted. It’s just a big old slab of cold, crumbly cheese that absolutely dominates the hamburger’s other flavours.  It drops trou and takes a metaphorical dump all over that magnificent patty. Even if it were melted, it would have been too much and too strong — but unmelted? Unmelted it’s ruinous.

I’ve ranted about cold cheese on a burger a few times before, so I won’t do it again. I’ll just say that clammy, unmelted cheese on a hamburger is horrible, and if you’re serving a burger like this, you should feel horrible. It almost single-handedly ruins this hamburger.

There’s also a thin slice of back bacon, which is fine, but it’s completely overwhelmed by the burger’s stronger flavours.  I could barely even taste it.

Then there’s the bun, which in theory is great — soft, fresh, and slightly sweet. But the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink burger has way too much going on; the soft bun just can’t handle it. By the last few bites, it had almost completely disintegrated into sodden mush.

Still, as much as this burger bums me out, it was good; I enjoyed it.  It’s a bit on the pricey side at 22 bucks, but the quality of the patty was so good that I can still easily recommend it, but with a big, fat asterisk.*

The fries also make this easy to recommend.  They’re crispy, creamy, salty, and perfect.  They’re some of the best fries I’ve had in a while.

*The toppings try their best to ruin it.

3 out of 4

Lbs. - the outside Lbs. - the restaurant Lbs. - the burger Lbs. - the burger

3 Brewers


Location
: 275 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://les3brasseurs.ca/locations/3-brewers-yonge

3 Brewers is a Canadian casual chain restaurant, which means by law, it has to serve mediocre food.

Oh, did you not hear about that law?  Yeah, parliament recently passed a law saying that every Canadian chain restaurant has to serve food that is “mediocre at best, with drab, uninspired cuisine that instills a profound sadness into its customers” (that’s a direct quote from the legislation).

So of course, the burger at 3 Brewers — I got the 3 Brasseurs burger, which comes topped with maple Amber beer sauce, smoked Gouda, bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion — is mediocre.  I mean, they wouldn’t want to break the law, would they?  The burger here stayed very firmly within the bounds of the legislation; it made me sad, just like it was supposed to.

It wasn’t the worst thing ever, I’ll give it that.  It was griddled and pleasantly crusty, and all the toppings were pretty good.  The smoked Gouda was nice and melty (if a bit too strong) — but then who cares when the burger itself is so poor?  The maple amber beer sauce must have just been globbed into one spot in the middle of the burger, because I got a couple of very sweet bites, and the rest of the burger was sauce-free.  The bun, aside from having an exterior that’s a bit too crunchy, was also pretty good.

It’s the patty that really made me sad.  It tasted like the patty from pretty much every other chain like this — it was well done, dry, and completely lacking in flavour.  The beef is lousy, but not too lousy — it’s the cheapest thing they can get away with without it being too flagrant (it’s not a frozen patty, at least).  It tastes like nothing, but it doesn’t offend.

As for the fries, they were fine.  A little bit better than the burger, but again, not good enough that they’re going to risk getting shut down.  Because of the law, of course.

2 out of 4

3 Brewers - the outside 3 Brewers - the restaurant 3 Brewers - the burger 3 Brewers - the burger