The Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory
Location
: 3401 Dufferin Street, North York (inside Yorkdale Mall)
Websitehttps://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/

I don’t know, man.  What do you want me to say about yet another generic, mediocre hamburger from a big chain restaurant?  Seriously: what can I say about this burger that I haven’t said about countless others?

I guess I could say that it could be worse, because it definitely could be worse.  I found that out very recently.

I don’t think too many people are even ordering the burger at the Cheesecake Factory.  They’re known more for their heaping, super-sized portions of American comfort food, such as the breakfast burrito that weighs in at a comical 2730 calories, and of course the eponymous cheesecake.

The Cheesecake Factory

And even if people are ordering the burger, they’re probably ordering the more elaborate concoctions, such as the one topped with mac and cheese, or the one filled with gooey cheddar.

I, on the other hand, ordered the Old Fashioned, which comes topped with a very basic assortment of lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and mayo.

The Cheesecake Factory

The waitress asked me if I wanted it cooked to well done or medium well.  Since the burger at a place like this usually comes cooked to well done by default, I appreciated that.

I asked for medium well, which was nice because I suspect that the burger otherwise would have been quite dry, but it was actually able to retain some moisture.

The Cheesecake Factory

Otherwise?  It wasn’t bad, I guess.  The texture was okay and it had a nice bit of char from the grill.  It didn’t taste particularly beefy, but it didn’t taste bad, either.  The soft bun was okay, too.  The whole thing was fine.  It existed and I ate it and I’m not mad about it.  I guess you can’t ask for much more than that at a chain like this.

As for the fries, they were also fine, but they were pale, lifeless, and personality-free.

2 out of 4

The Loose Moose


Location: 146 Front Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://theloosemoose.ca/

The Loose Moose isn’t part of a chain (though it is owned by SIR Corp, the restaurant conglomerate behind places like Jack Astor’s, Canyon Creek, and Scaddabush), but it serves a prototypically lousy chain restaurant burger: it’s exceptionally dry, it features personality-free flavourless beef, and it’s just an absolute bummer to eat.

It’s the type of burger that gives burgers a bad name.  I could see someone who doesn’t eat a lot of of them ordering this, eating it, and then thinking “oh, I guess I don’t like hamburgers then?”  Because it’s so far removed from what makes a good burger so great that it’s almost like an entirely different dish.  It’s unpleasant.

I got the Classic Burger, which is completely no-frills, topped only with lettuce, tomato, and pickle.

This is going to be brief, because if they’re not going to put any effort into making it, I shouldn’t have to put any effort into writing about it.

The griddled patty had a decent amount of crust, but it was cooked way past well done, it was too finely ground, and it was just the driest thing in the history of dry.  It was brutal.  The flavour was fine, I guess (it was inoffensive, at least) but it was so incredibly dry that having to actually eat it was such a chore.

The toppings were okay, as was the bun (though it was a bit too dense).  Who cares, though?  That stupid jerk of a patty needs to take a long walk off a short pier.

As for the fries, they were ultra-generic frozen fries.  Because why not, right?  The restaurant’s on a very high-traffic section of Front Street, so I guess it’ll be busy regardless of how the food actually tastes.  So why not serve the most low-effort, cheapest garbage you can find?  People will eat it regardless, apparently!  It’s just good business.  I have a certain amount of grudging respect for that.  I just wish I didn’t have to suffer through eating there myself.

1 out of 4

The Loose Moose - the outside The Loose Moose - the restaurant The Loose Moose - the burger The Loose Moose - the burger

Portland Variety


Location
: 587 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.portlandvariety.com/

I often feel like a broken record writing burger reviews.  I’ve written almost 200 of these things at this point, and there are only so many ways you can describe a hamburger before you start repeating yourself (and repeating yourself, and repeating yourself).

Of course, the vast majority of people reading any given review will have popped in based on a Google search; they’ll read the review they came for, and that’s that.  Those people have no idea how repetitive these reviews can be, which, oddly, makes me feel a little bit better about the whole thing.

But if you’re one of the much smaller group of people who have read a bunch of these reviews… get ready for some greatest hits.  These complaints are all going to seem pretty familiar.

And yes, it’s mostly complaints, sadly.  Though I’ve actually heard very good things about the burger at Portland Variety, the one I was served wasn’t particularly good.

The PV Burger, per the restaurant’s menu: “House made milk bun, smoked applewood cheddar, zucchini pickle, gherkin aioli, cassava frites.”

The main problem?  The texture.  The patty was way, way too finely ground and tightly packed (I’ve never made that complaint before, right guys??).  It wasn’t too bad around the medium-well middle, but the well done edges were dry, dense, and chewy.  It has that saltine effect, where you feel like you need to take a drink of water between each bite to prevent your mouth from completely drying out.

Otherwise, the burger is either fine or slightly better than fine. Aside from the aforementioned issues, the patty was decent enough (if a bit too peppery), with a mild beefy flavour and a decent amount of juiciness (at least around the middle).  If it weren’t for the fine grind and the dense texture, it would have been a solid burger.

This would be the part of the review where I’d mention if it was griddled or grilled, but to be honest, despite the fact that it’s only been a few hours since I ate it, I’ve already forgotten.  It wasn’t particularly memorable.

As for the toppings, the pickles were fine, and the cheddar was probably a bit too strong, but it was melty and tasty.  The “gherkin aioli” basically just tasted like a grainy mustard.  It wasn’t bad — I generally find mustard a little overpowering on a burger, but this had a nice zing without getting in the way.

The bun was great.  It was easily the best part of the burger.  It was soft and fresh, with the perfect amount of substance.

The cassava fries were interesting.  They were mostly quite tasty, with a very crispy exterior and a creamy, slightly chewy interior.  But one of them featured a papery skin I couldn’t bite through, and the mayo-based dipping sauce was seriously bland, with a broken emulsion that made it unpleasantly greasy.

2 out of 4

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Fancy Franks


Location: 326 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://fancyfranks.com/

Though the hot dogs are clearly the thing to order here (they are fancy, after all), there is a burger on the menu at Fancy Franks.

You can get a single cheeseburger, a double cheeseburger, a bacon cheeseburger, or a Fancy Patty, which comes with lettuce, chicken bacon, and Fancy sauce.  I went simple with the single cheeseburger, and had it topped with tomato, pickles, and mayo.

There’s nothing that particularly stands out about it, but it’s a solid burger.  I have very few complaints.

As you’d expect, it’s a smashed and griddled burger, and it’s nicely prepared.  There’s an impressive amount of crust from the griddle (maybe even a little too much?  It’s slightly crunchier than you’d like), and the American cheese is satisfyingly gooey.  And while the flavour of the patty isn’t particularly beefy, it’s not unpleasant.

It’s cooked to well done and then some, however; while I wouldn’t call it dry, it’s not particularly juicy, either.  The grind is also slightly too fine, but otherwise everything is pretty much where it should be.  It’s a tasty burger.

The condiments were standard issue (though the mayo was globbed on a little bit too enthusiastically), and the soft, lightly toasted sesame seed bun was supermarket fare — but it works.

As for the fries, they were a little bit oily and weren’t quite as crispy as they should have been, but they were still tasty enough.

3 out of 4

Fancy Franks - the outside Fancy Franks - the restaurant Fancy Franks - the fries Fancy Franks - the cheeseburger Fancy Franks - the cheeseburger

Momofuku Kojin

Momofuku Kojin
Location: 190 University Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://kojin.momofuku.com/

I actually really liked Momofuku Daisho (including, of course, the burger, though their brunch was also quite delicious).  Alas, both it and the more upscale Shoto shut down earlier this year to make way for Kojin, which is essentially Momofuku’s take on a steakhouse.

Considering how meat-based the menu is, I had very, very high hopes for their hamburger.  And indeed, it is (almost) as delicious as you’d hope.  Almost!  But I have a few nitpicks, because I’m me so of course I have a few nitpicks.

One of the bigger issues is obvious as soon as you take a look at the burger; it’s got these big, ridiculous Gruyere cheese wings.  In theory, these things should be amazing.  You can just snap them off and then eat them as a side dish, which is what I did.  They’re like big fat cheese chips.  They’re great.

The problem is inside the burger.  The cheese was obviously cooked separately from the patty and then placed on top after it had melted.  So the whole thing is crispy, not just the edges.

Momofuku Kojin

I shouldn’t even have to say this, but the cheese on a cheeseburger needs to be gooey and to melt into all of the crags and crevices of the patty.  It shouldn’t be crunchy.  That’s just… what is that??

Even worse: because of how much moisture there is inside the burger from the juicy patty and all of the sauce, the once-crispy cheese sogs up, and is actually more chewy than anything else.  It’s weird and hard and wrong.  I removed it altogether in the second half of my burger, and it came right off (which is how you know something is seriously amiss — the cheese and the patty should meld into one.  They should be inseparable).

The burger is also topped with pickles, braised onions, and garlic mayo.  The toppings are mostly quite good, though the mayo is way stronger than it needs to be.  It takes away from the amazing flavour of the beef.

Because yes, the beef is pretty special.  It’s cooked to a perfect rare, it’s extremely juicy, it has a great amount of crust from the griddle, and an intensely beefy flavour that’s beyond satisfying.  It’s really obvious that they’re using great quality beef, because the flavour is spectacular.

My only issue with the patty — and it’s a minor one — is that the grind is a little bit too coarse.  I think it might even be hand-chopped rather than ground.  It’s certainly delicious, but it has a substantial, steaky chew; it comes dangerously close to tipping the scales from hamburger to steak sandwich.  It never quite gets there, but it’s a tad closer than I’d like.  I want my hamburger to taste like a hamburger.  If I wanted a steak sandwich, I’d order a steak sandwich.

Still, it’s so delicious that it’s hard to complain too much.  I have a lot of little issues with the burger, but that patty is so damn good that they all just fade away.  It’s amazing.

Okay, one more complaint: the bun.  It’s actually very good, but it’s quite soft and it just isn’t up to the task.  The very juicy, saucy burger defeated it.   By the last few bites it had pretty much disintegrated into mush.  The burger clearly needs something with a bit more heft and sturdiness.

It comes with a couple of enormous onion rings and ranch dipping sauce instead of fries.  They’re not the best onion rings I’ve ever had, but they’re nicely cooked and tasty.

Oh, also: it’s seriously expensive at 25 bucks.  It doesn’t feel overpriced because of how amazing the beef is, but I think it needed to be mentioned.

3.5 out of 4

Momofuku Kojin - the outside Momofuku Kojin - the restaurant Momofuku Kojin - the pickled fruits/veggies Momofuku Kojin - the onion rings Momofuku Kojin - the burger Momofuku Kojin - the burger

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

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Burger Fighter

Burger Fighter
Location: 1181 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/Burger-Fighter-Hot-Shawarma-187553741995504/

I must have driven by Burger Fighter a few dozen times, but I never gave it a second thought until it was featured on the @zachdoesburgers Instagram account (you should probably be following him, along with @burgerlab_to if you like burgers and you’re on Instagram).

Burger Fighter is an extremely unassuming hamburger/shawarma restaurant, so it’s easy enough to assume the burger is going to be lousy (Nader’s Middle Eastern Grill & Bakery in Mississauga comes to mind).

The burger is not lousy.  It’s actually quite good!  Not only that, it’s ridiculously inexpensive — I ordered the lunch special, which comes with a cheeseburger, a generous amount of fries, and a drink for $7.99.  Even McDonald’s isn’t that cheap.  That’s nuts.

Burger Fighter

And it’s a good quality burger.  It’s certainly not the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had — the flavour could have been a bit beefier, I wish there were more crust from the griddle, and the American cheese wasn’t quite as gooey as it should have been.  But the grind is nice and coarse, it hasn’t been overhandled, and it’s quite juicy despite being cooked all the way to well done.

It has a pleasant (if somewhat mild) beefy flavour that’s sadly obscured by the many toppings (they globbed on an obscene amount of ketchup and mayo, along with the usual lettuce, tomato, and pickles).

The bun, too, could have been better; it was a bit too dense and much too big for the patty, resulting in a bun-to-beef ratio that’s way off.

But for the price, and for how unimpressive the place looks from the outside, it’s a shockingly good burger.  I actually quite enjoyed it, and the fries were downright excellent.

3 out of 4

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