The Belsize Public House

The Belsize Public House
Location
: 535 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto
Websitehttps://thebelsize.pub/

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

Marben — Round 2

Marben
Location: 488 Wellington Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.marben.ca/

Yes, I’ve actually reviewed Marben before, back in 2013.  Back then, they stuffed the patty with saucy braised short ribs, a practice that made me call that burger “less hamburger and more upscale sloppy joe.”

Now that they’ve started serving a more traditional burger with a regular un-stuffed beef patty, I figured a re-do was in order.

I was actually pretty excited to try it again.  The burger is quite well regarded, and now that it’s an actual hamburger instead of an odd Frankenstein creation, I figured it would be delicious.  I was all set for burger greatness.

I guess I should have left well enough alone.  As it turns out, the whole stuffing thing was actually hiding the burger’s deficiencies, which are now in plain view.  To paraphrase the late, great Roger Ebert: I hated hated hated hated hated this burger.  It was so bad.

It’s basically the same burger it was before, but with braised brisket on top instead of short rib in the middle.  From the menu: “beef fat brioche, aged cheddar, branston pickle, braised brisket.”

Marben

I’m going to cut right to the chase: the patty itself was horrible.  I’ve had a lot of overly dry burgers since starting this blog, and this might have been the most egregiously, ridiculously, unpleasantly Sahara dry.  I don’t think there was an ounce of moisture in it, despite only being cooked to a nice rosy-pink medium.

I don’t know what cut of beef they’re using in this thing, but it’s obviously all wrong.  It’s one of those burgers that’s so dry, as you’re chewing it you’re wondering, “how am I even going to swallow this??”  The waiter must have refiled my water about five times, because I had to keep drinking and drinking and drinking just to keep my mouth from completely drying out.

The beef was also too finely ground; combined with the dryness, the texture was a complete nightmare.  It made me want to hurl the burger across the restaurant, run out, and then never eat or review a hamburger again.

I was wondering if this was just a one-off issue, but the fact that the burger wasn’t even cooked past medium and was still this insanely dry (not to mention the overly fine grind) makes me think that they’re using beef that’s way, way, way too lean and then preparing it poorly.

The flavour was okay, at least — not particularly beefy, but pleasant enough.  But with that texture, it didn’t matter.

Everything else was fine, I guess.  The brisket was okay, but like the patty, it was dry — there will be absolutely no mistaking this version of the burger for a sloppy joe.  The other toppings were good, though the cheddar was so sparingly applied that if I hadn’t seen it, I would have never known it was there.

The bun was dry too, because why the hell not, right??  I’ve had worse, but I think it might have either been slightly overbaked or a day or two past its prime.

The fries were great, though.  So there’s that at least.

1 out of 4

Marben - the outside Marben - the restaurant Marben - the burger and fries Marben - the burger Marben - the burger

Zeal Burgers


Location
1926 Weston Road, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/zealburgers/

Wow. That’s really all I can say about what they’re serving at Zeal Burgers. Wow.

Okay, I can (and will) say a lot more about it than that, but “wow” seems like the most pertinent, because wow. I can’t remember the last time I was so blown away by a hamburger.

I feel like if this place weren’t so far out of the way, and if it weren’t in such a sketchy area, everybody would be talking about it. It’s a damn shame I didn’t eat this burger a few weeks ago, because I just posted my list of the top ten hamburgers in the city, and this clearly should have been on there. Based on my one visit, it’s a top ten contender for sure. Maybe even top five.

The burgers come either pre-topped or customizable, with an impressive list of cheeses and condiments to choose from. I went with the Z Burger, which is a double cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion strings, and Z Sauce.

The patties were absolutely glorious. They were smashed and griddled, because of course they were. I’m pretty sure every burger joint that’s opened in the last five years or so cooks burgers in this style. I could complain, but when a burger is this good, it feels like it would be absurd to do so.

I mean, how can I complain about this style of cookery when it produces a deep brown crust like this? Look at it:

That’s a thing of beauty. That takes my breath away.

And the flavour was amazing. It was an absolute explosion of satisfyingly beefy flavour, and it was seasoned with just the right amount of salt. It was perfect. It was cooked all the way to well done, which is unfortunate, and yet it was still abundantly juicy. The texture was great, too, with a nice course grind that obviously hasn’t been overhandled.

The cheese was gooey melted American, as it should be. Sometimes two slices of American in a double cheeseburger can be a bit overwhelming, but it was just right here. I think the slices might have been slightly thinner than the norm, and the patties were slightly thicker. Whatever it was, it was perfect.

The other toppings were great, too. The Z Sauce was the usual tangy mayo, and the lettuce, tomato, and pickles were all fresh and tasty. The crispy onion strings didn’t really add all that much, but they didn’t detract, either.

The standard-issue sesame seed bun was nothing special (and it was ever-so-slightly too wide for the patties), but it was fresh and lightly toasted, and suited the burger well.

As for the fries, they were outstanding. Are you surprised? Anyone who can make a burger that’s this good clearly knows what they’re doing. They’re not going to mess up the fries.

4 out of 4

Zeal Burgers - the restaurant Zeal Burgers - the restaurant Zeal Burgers - the burger Zeal Burgers - the burger Zeal Burgers - the burger

Northern Maverick Brewing Co.


Location
: 115 Bathurst Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://northernmaverick.ca/

I told myself I wasn’t going to trust Toronto Life again after the great frozen burger fiasco of 2015 (a quick recap: they included a frozen, industrially-produced burger in their list of the 25 best burgers in the city back in 2015 and made smoke come out of my ears like a cartoon character).

But when they specifically mentioned the greatness of the burger at Northern Maverick Brewing Co. in their recent list of the best new restaurants in the city, I couldn’t ignore it.  That’s like catnip for me.  I can’t resist.  I’m physically incapable.

(They also recently published my list of the ten best burgers in the city, so I guess they’re not all bad.)

I like Toronto Life, but they should clearly stop trying to recommend burgers, because they are terrible at it.

The burger here was an absolute disaster.  The menu certainly makes it sound good: “dry-aged house ground chuck, housemade bacon, house smoked cheese, house pickle” (they sure like the word “house,” don’t they?).

I’m going to start with the bun, because holy crap that bun was so profoundly awful that I’m having a hard time believing that it even happened.  Like, did I really eat that?  Or was it some kind of bizarre nightmare?

I knew I was in trouble immediately, because I almost couldn’t even cut through it with the knife they provided.  It was dense and impenetrable and horrible.

It made it really difficult to actually eat the hamburger — it was so dense and unyielding that it had zero give.  You couldn’t compress it down even a little bit, and it’s big, so I had to open my jaw as wide as it would go, and it was barely enough.

The flavour was fine — it was slightly too sweet, but otherwise okay — but the texture was a complete disaster.  It was closer to stale pound cake than to a traditional bun.  It overwhelmed everything.  It was the worst.

The patty, sadly, wasn’t much better.  It had a decent beefy flavour and a nice amount of crust from the griddle, but it was immediately apparent that the beef they were using was way too lean, because the well-done patty was dry AF.  I can’t remember the last time I had a burger that dry. Between that and the stupid bun, it required so much chewing.

The toppings were fine, at least. I was a bit worried that the smoked cheese would be overwhelming, but it was pleasantly mild and melty.

But it’s irrelevant. That bun. That patty. The horror.

Oh, and the fries were of the ultra-generic frozen variety, so how this place wound up on a major magazine’s list of the best restaurants of the year is truly baffling.

1.5 out of 4

Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the outside Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the restaurant Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the burger Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the burger Northern Maverick Brewing Co. - the burger

RH Courtyard Cafe


Location
: 3401 Dufferin Street, North York (inside Yorkdale)
Website: None

That was a pleasant surprise.  I wasn’t even planning on eating here — we were supposed to go to the Cheesecake Factory, but the wait was well over an hour despite the fact that it was before noon on a random weekday afternoon.  I figured those types of crowds would have died down by now, but apparently people love the Cheesecake Factory far more than I anticipated.

I had a vague recollection of seeing a photo of the burger at Restoration Hardware (which is also in Yorkdale) and thinking it looked pretty good, so I figured, sure — I’m here, I want a burger, why not?

Yes, Restoration Hardware — the furniture store — has a restaurant, and they serve a burger.  I suppose odder things have happened.

Odder things, such as the burger at a furniture store’s restaurant actually being pretty good.

The RH Burger, per the menu: “sharp American, pickles, onion, dijonnaise, lettuce, tomato.”

I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it.  That’s not to say it was great, but it had a basically decent texture, it was juicy, the flavour was okay, and all of the toppings were solid.  The cheese was nice and gooey and the onions were finely diced and not overwhelming.  The tomato and lettuce were on the side, which is where they remained — they were completely unnecessary.

It was far from perfect, of course — there was almost no crust from the griddle, the well-done beef was too dense with a slightly chewy texture, and they seasoned it with way too much pepper.  But again, it’s a restaurant in a furniture store.  It very easily could have been dry and tasteless and horrible, but I actually quite enjoyed eating it.

As for the fries, they were even better than the hamburger — particularly when dipped in the intensely garlicky mayo that comes on the side.  That stuff was potent.  It actually reminded quite a bit of the garlic sauce that you sometimes get with shawarma.  It bordered on being too strong, but it never went there.  It was irresistible.

3 out of 4

RH Courtyard Cafe - the outside RH Courtyard Cafe - the restaurant RH Courtyard Cafe - the burger RH Courtyard Cafe - the burger

Resto Boemo


Location
: 111 Richmond Street West, Toronto (in the Assembly Chef’s Hall)
Websitehttps://www.instagram.com/restoboemo/

Since getting back into town a couple of months ago, I’ve been hearing literally nothing but great things about the burger at Resto Boemo.  The more I heard, the more I was drawn to it like a magnet to… a more powerful magnet?  One of those really strong electromagnets?  (This metaphor has really gone off the rails, like a train that’s been derailed by a really strong magnet.  Okay, I’ll stop now.)

You can choose from either single or double, but other than that there’s just one burger on the menu, and it’s a no-frills cheeseburger: American cheese, lettuce, onion, pickles, and some kind of special sauce.

It’s a good burger, but alas, not a great one.  There are a few things holding it back from being truly special, like a magnet that’s not quite powerful enough to stick, slowly sliding down the fridge door.

But first, the good: it’s smashed and griddle-cooked (because apparently there’s no other way to cook a burger as far as Toronto chefs are concerned), with an impressive amount of crust on its exterior.  The patties are cooked to a perfect medium, with a blushingly pink interior, and a really satisfying amount of juiciness.  That’s not to mention the beefy flavour, which was impressive and pronounced.

I also quite liked the toppings, especially the thinly-shaved onions — they added a mild oniony flavour without overwhelming, as raw onions are prone to do.  And the gooey, melty American cheese is the perfect accompaniment to this style of cheeseburger.

Oh, and I really liked the bun, too.  It was soft, mildly sweet, and had just the right amount of heft to stand up to the messy burger.  It was actually pretty great.

Yeah, there was a lot about this burger that I really liked.

But, while the patties were nice and juicy, they were also a bit too tightly packed, which made them tougher than they should have been.  And the texture was ever-so-slightly off, with a very subtle sausage-like chew.  I suspect they’re either salting the patties too far in advance, or mixing salt right in with the meat.

And speaking of salt, between the salty American cheese and the salt on the patties themselves, the sodium level here is a little bit intense.  It’s not a huge issue, but it’s there.

As for the fries, they looked and tasted a lot like what they serve at McDonald’s — but not as good.  The exterior was slightly too crispy, and the interior was off-puttingly dry.  It was a turn-off, like two magnets with the same poles pushing each other away.

3 out of 4

Resto Boemo - the restaurant Resto Boemo - the restaurant Resto Boemo - the burger Resto Boemo - the burger Resto Boemo - the burger

Greenwood Smokehouse


Location
: 673 Danforth Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://greenwoodsmokehouse.com/

I like having a burger blog, but sometimes it’s a bummer.  Greenwood Smokehouse is, as the name implies, a barbecue joint.  And when I went there the other day, it smelled appropriately smoky, and I thought: I could go for some barbecue.  But I hate to pass up a chance to review a burger, so yeah.  I ordered the burger.

And it wasn’t great!  Which just made me sad about the potential barbecue deliciousness I was missing out on, but then my dining companion had the brisket sandwich and wasn’t impressed, so there you go.  Sometimes you’re not going to win no matter what you do.

Greenwood Smokehouse’s Black Angus burger is really simply topped, with just lettuce, tomato, pickles, and nothing else.  You have to admire a place that’s so confident in their hamburger that they don’t even want condiments to get in the way.

And the large patty certainly looks impressive, with a decent amount of crust from the griddle.

But the texture’s a bit off.  It was dense and chewy, and the well done patty was pretty dry.  It’s certainly not the worst thing ever, but it’s not ideal.

The flavour, too, was off.  It had a vague beefy flavour, but also a mild gaminess that I found unpleasant.  Again, it’s not the worst that I’ve had, but… it’s not great.

Everything else was pretty good.  The toppings were solid, and the bun — though standard-issue supermarket fare — was fresh and suited the burger well.

As for the fries, they were easily the highlight.  They were perfectly fried, and were nicely seasoned with a tasty spice blend.  This can sometimes be overbearing, but in this case it really worked.

2.5 out of 4

Greenwood Smokehouse - the restaurant Greenwood Smokehouse - the restaurant Greenwood Smokehouse - the burger Greenwood Smokehouse - the burger