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.

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

The County General

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Location
: 936 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://thecountygeneral.ca/

Given that the burger at the County General has received pretty much nothing but praise (including nabbing the number nine spot on Toronto Life’s list of the best burgers in the city), I’m a little bit surprised that it’s taken me this long to check it out.  But given my blistering biweekly update schedule, it can sometimes take me a while to get to a place I want to try.

The County General actually just opened a second location on the other side of Queen, so they’re obviously doing okay.  I tend to gravitate towards the west end of the city, so I visited the original.

The place was pretty much packed when my dining companion and I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, though we were able to grab a couple of seats at the bar.  We both ordered the 6oz. County Burger, which is described as follows on the menu: “Cumbraes Aged Beef, Mustard, Mayo, Pickle.”

They asked how each of us wanted it cooked, which is always a delightful question since the default in this city seems to be well done, and I prefer medium rare.

The grilled patty came out a perfect medium rare, and was absolutely outstanding.  Coarsely ground and juicy, it had an amazing texture and a really pronounced beefy flavour.  There is, however, a but.  A big but.

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BUT… the patty’s amazing flavour was largely diminished by an insanely overpowering horseradish mustard.  And I mean insane.  This was like horseradish mustard on steroids.  If this mustard were a person, it would be on a Hulk-esque rampage, flipping over cars and leveling buildings with one monstrous blow.

It was strong, is what I’m saying.

I typically like my condiments on the subtler side — to extend my “if it were a person” analogy, I like my condiments to be less Incredible Hulk, and more Lionel Richie.  But even my dining companion, who is typically unperturbed by such things, found the mustard to be overbearing.  He actually suggested that they should rename the hamburger to a horseradish sandwich with meat; sadly, this wasn’t even much of an exaggeration.

It’s a real shame, because that patty was pretty damn close to perfection.  It’s seriously good.  It was hard to tell, but in the few bites I got where there wasn’t as much of the mustard, it was very obvious that the burger was made with top-shelf meat.  Not to mention that it was cooked perfectly, and featured a really fresh bun that complimented it perfectly.  Without that mustard it is easily a top ten contender.  Probably even top five.  But the mustard kind of kills it, as much as it pains me to say so.

As for the fries, they too were well above average: crispy, perfectly cooked french fry goodness.

Seriously though, as much as I hated that mustard, don’t let it dissuade you from ordering this hamburger, which is otherwise one of the best in the city.  Just ask for the mustard on the side.  Or even better, not at all.  A burger this good has so much beefy flavour that any kind of mustard, even a non-radioactive-monster mustard, only serves to distract from what makes the burger so great in the first place.

The County General - the restaurant The County General - the bar The County General - the burger and fries The County General - the burger
The County General on Urbanspoon

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.

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Marben on Urbanspoon

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.