Marben

marben
Location
488 Wellington Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.marbenrestaurant.com/

After the recent Pizzaburger fiasco (which I reviewed at A Hamburger Today), I kind of felt like going for a safer bet.  The awfulness of that Pizzaburger will haunt my dreams.  I needed something that actually tasted good.

So I decided to take another gander at Toronto Life’s list of the best burgers in the city, and wound up at Marben — home of Toronto’s second best burger, by their approximation.

The menu was actually fairly interesting, but of course, I was there with a purpose.  I zeroed in on John’s Burger, described on the menu as coming with “Branston Pickle, braised beef short-ribs, aged cheddar, coleslaw, fries.”

(For the unaware — and I know I was — Branston Pickle is, as per Wikipedia, “a jarred pickled chutney.”  It’s a British thing, apparently.)

This is not a traditional hamburger.  Similar to Daniel Buloud’s famous burger, which is sadly not available at his Toronto outpost, the patty is stuffed with braised short ribs.  This addition changes the hamburger’s essential character, and naturally, takes away from its burgeriness.

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Is that a bad thing?  It’s up to you, I suppose.  I certainly can’t deny that the final product is good, though whether this modification is severe enough to make a burger no longer a burger is up for debate.

The short rib has some kind of Worcestershire-esque sauce, which is tasty enough, if somewhat overpowering.

This means that the centre of the burger, which is chock-full of the saucy, shredded short rib, is less hamburger and more upscale sloppy joe.

The short rib-less outer edges is where this tastes more like a traditional hamburger.  These parts are good, but not great.

The beef is obviously of a fairly good quality, with a mildly beefy flavour.   But it’s a little bit too tightly packed and dense (I would imagine that it would be difficult to stuff a patty with short ribs without overhandling the beef).  This, combined with beef that is a bit on the lean side, results in an unfortunately dry burger.  This is not particularly noticeable in the centre, where the medium rare ground beef mingles with the saucy short ribs, but around the edges it is clearly an issue.

The rest of the burger is quite good; the cheese and the soft, toasted bun compliment the patty very well.

When the burger arrived, I was a bit shocked by how small it is.  It’s certainly not the largest hamburger in the city, but combined with the generous portion of fries, there is no risk that you’ll leave here hungry.

And those fries are seriously delicious.  They’re the polar opposite of the mediocre frozen fries I was recently served at Boston Pizza; they’re crispy, potatoey, and amazingly addictive.

As for Toronto Life’s proclamation that this is the second best burger in the city?  No.  I seriously doubt it would be in my top 20 at all, let alone number two.  It’s certainly tasty, but it’s a bit too bastardized for my tastes — and even setting that aside, it has too many issues to be considered an upper-echelon burger.

Marben - the restaurant Marben - the menu Marben - the open kitchen Marben - the restaurant Marben - John's Burger and fries Marben - John's Burger Marben - John's Burger
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On Toronto Life’s List of the 25 Best Burgers in the City


Toronto Life posted its list of the 25 best burgers in the city a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a so-so list that’s mostly acceptable, though it does have a handful of questionable choices (Apache?  Really?).  It’s hard to fault the author of the list, however; I think the mediocrity of the list is, to a large degree, a reflection on Toronto’s still-burgeoning burger scene.

Yes, despite my positive outlook in my Slab Burgers review, things are not all wine and roses in Toronto.

Things are probably no better in any other Canadian city. As ubiquitous as they are, I think burgers are ingrained in the American culture in a way that they’re simply not here in Canada. It seems odd, given how simple they are, but hamburgers are an American food, and we just don’t have the same relationship with them here in Canada that they do in the States.

Don’t get me wrong — I think in the last five years or so, Toronto has moved forward by leaps and bounds when it comes to burgers. But if you look at Toronto Life’s list, there is an abundance of fancy-pants burgers, and it saddens me that most of the best hamburgers in Toronto are apparently made by upscale restaurants. Of course a restaurant with the talent and resources (and the pricing) of a Harbord Room or a Nota Bene is going to be able to make a great burger. That should be a given.

What concerns me is how few burger joints of note there are in the GTA. If you wanted to recommend absolute can’t-miss burger joints to a visitor to our city, what would you recommend? Burger’s Priest, Holy Chuck, and… that’s pretty much it.  There are a lot of good burger joints in the city these days, but very few that are worth going out of your way to try.

Whereas if you go to pretty much any big American city, there are dozens of unassuming diners and burger joints that, if they were to open in Toronto, would immediately be one of the best places in the city (and that serve up burgers that cost something like half of what burger places in Toronto charge). Even American fast food, setting aside the big guys, outshines something like 95% of the burger joints in Toronto — places like In-N-Out, Steak and Shake, Culver’s, Shake Shack, etc., all consistently put out better burgers than almost anywhere in Toronto.

Not to mention the burger styles that go completely unrepresented here. I’m thinking, most notably, of sliders — real sliders. Though the term has pretty much come to mean a small burger, a slider is a very specific (and delicious) way of cooking a burger that is completely lacking in Toronto.

I do, however, think that things are heading in the right direction, and that Torontonians finally seem to realize that a burger can be more than a flavourless puck of meat or an overseasoned meatloaf sandwich that you cram into your mouth when you need something cheap on the go. I think if things continue the way they’re going, maybe in something like five years, Toronto will be able to compete with cities in the States.  But we’re not there yet.