Bareburger

bare
Location
: 111 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://111-dundas-st-w-toronto.bareburger.com/

It makes me really happy when I think about how good it’s gotten for burger-lovers in Toronto over the last several years.  A few years ago, with the dearth of great burger choices in the city, Bareburger would have been a breath of fresh air.  But now?  Not so much.

And Bareburger is a fairly popular chain in the States, with most of its locations around New York City.  I’ve been under the impression that New York had us handily beat in the burger department, but if this place is good enough to thrive there, it might not be so clear-cut.

It’s not even that Bareburger is bad, per se.  It’s fine.  There’s just nothing particularly noteworthy about it.

It’s a nicely designed restaurant, with lots of light coming in from the windows.  Unlike a lot of burger joints in the city, it’s waiter service, with more than just burgers on the menu (and more choices than just beef for the burgers).

You can either pick one of their handful of pre-topped burgers, or you can customize your own.  I went with the Standard: “beef, colby, stout onions, dill pickles, special sauce, brioche bun.”

Like I said, it’s fine.  The griddled burger comes cooked to well done (they say medium well on the menu, but this sucker was gray throughout), and while it was vaguely juicy, it was dryer than I’d like.  It was also a little bit too dense, and somewhat tough.

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The patty has a very mildly beefy flavour, which was entirely wiped out by the burger’s toppings.  In particular, the zesty special sauce completely knocked out any flavour from the beef itself.  It wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong — it was just a bit overwhelming.

The other toppings were pretty good as well.  The fully melted colby cheese was mild and creamy, and the caramelized stout onions were dark brown, with a sweet, rich flavour.

I wasn’t as keen on the brioche bun. It was okay, but it was way too dense and substantial for the task at hand.  It was also a good thirty percent wider than the patty itself, leaving me with a ridiculous amount of bun on my plate after the patty was long gone.  Come on, guys.  Seriously.  This is burger making 101.

I feel like I’m piling on more criticism than this place deserves (again, it’s not bad), but I have to mention that it’s alarmingly expensive.  The burgers are all in the 12 to 15 dollar price range, and that doesn’t include a side.  Fries will run you another three bucks.  Factor a drink and a tip on top of that, and you’re looking at spending well north of twenty bucks.  I don’t always pay a ton of attention to this in my reviews, because it’s the quality of the burger that really concerns me, but these prices are a little bit intense, especially considering the only-average quality of the food.

The fries, too, were good but not great.  But hey, let me close things out with a couple of things I really liked.  They have a handful of interesting sodas on the menu — I have a hard time saying no to a unique soda, so obviously I got one.  I went with blueberry, and it was surprisingly good.  The blueberry flavour was really outstanding; it almost tasted like a blueberry pie in soda form.  It was one of the best sodas I’ve had in quite a while.

For dessert, my dining companion ordered the Snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich; I wound up splitting it with him, and oh man was it good.  I think it might even have Bang Bang beat for the title of best ice cream sandwich in the city.  The cookie was cinnamony and chewy, with the absolute perfect ice cream sandwich consistency — dense, but not too dense, with just the right amount of chew.  And the super creamy ice cream had a satisfyingly intense roasted marshmallow flavour — I think it was either from Greg’s, or very similar to what they serve there.  It was the absolute perfect match for that cookie.  I’m not even kidding: you need to go there just for that sandwich.  It was outstanding.

2.5 out of 4

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The Burger Cellar

cellar
Location
: 3391 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://theburgercellar.com/

The Burger Cellar serves a pretty good burger.  The end.

What, I can’t just leave it at that?  I mean, it is my blog.  I’m pretty sure I can do whatever I want.

Fine, I’ll write a few more words.  This is probably going to be a quick one, though; there are only so many reviews of good-but-not-great burgers I can write before they all start to blend into an interchangeable jumble of phrases like “beefy flavour” and “tightly packed.”

The Burger Cellar bills itself as a “burger grill + wine bar,” so yeah, it’s a bit classier than your average burger joint.  It’s also a bit pricier than your average burger joint, but I guess you should probably expect that from a place with wine pairings on the menu.

Every burger on the menu comes with two beef choices: AAA Black Angus Natural, or Prime, which costs an extra four bucks.  I asked the waitress what the difference was, and she told me the cuts of beef that each choice was made from.  I immediately thought to myself “what a helpful tidbit for my review!” and then promptly forgot everything she said.

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I think — and please don’t quote me on this — the Black Angus is made from chuck, and the Prime is made from brisket, but I might be way off on that one.  I think I might have the worst memory on the planet.  You laugh now, but when it turns out I have ultra early onset Alzheimer’s, it won’t be so hilarious.

I asked the waitress which of the two she recommended, and of course she went with the more expensive choice.  So I ordered that, and went with the Original Classic Burger, which comes topped with “lettuce, vine-ripened tomato, red onion and a kosher dill pickle.”

As I mentioned before, it’s nothing special, but it’s pretty good.  The medium well patty had a mild-but-there beefy flavour, a little bit of juiciness, and an okay texture.  It’s a bit too finely ground and densely packed, and thus a bit on the tough side, but I’ve certainly had worse.

I wasn’t crazy about the sesame seed bun, which was a bit too substantial for the task at hand, and which tasted slightly stale.

Along with the aforementioned toppings (which were fine), ketchup, mustard, relish, and mayo were all provided on the side.    The mayo was actually quite tasty — definitely a cut above the standard Hellmann’s.

The burger doesn’t come with any sides, so I ordered fries.  They were top-notch.

3 out of 4

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Bymark

bymark
Location
: 66 Wellington Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://bymark.mcewangroup.ca/

This being my 100th burger review for this blog (yeah, I can’t believe I made it this far either), I figured something special was probably in order.  And what’s more special than one of the city’s most highly-regarded burgers, and at a whopping 35 bucks, probably its most expensive?

So it was that I found myself at Bymark, a restaurant several orders of magnitude classier than where I typically go for this blog.  It’s the type of place where you look around and you think, everyone in this room probably makes more in a couple of months than I make in year.  But do they have a blog where they get to be snarky about hamburgers?  No?  Well then.

The 8 Ounce P.E.I Grass Fed Burger comes with “brie de meaux, porcini mushrooms, & crisp onion rings or frites.”  I figured the onion rings might be more interesting than fries, so I went with those.  I was also asked how I wanted the burger cooked, and requested medium rare.

I’m not going to lie: I was pretty skeptical that this meal could possibly justify the extra-large price tag.  With that price, it’s about double the cost of even the most expensive burgers I’ve reviewed for the blog thus far.  I was ready to dislike it just on principle.  Where do you get off charging that much for a burger??

Well… It’s a pretty amazing hamburger.  It’s grilled and came cooked to a perfect medium rare — and when I say perfect, I mean perfect.  Normally when you get a burger cooked medium rare, it comes out that way in the centre, with a fairly significant ring around the edges of well done beef.  That phenomenon is minimized to a ridiculously impressive degree here, with amazingly consistent medium rare beef practically the whole way through.  I have no idea how they managed to cook it this evenly from edge to edge (sous vide, perhaps?), but however it’s done, it is glorious.

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The patty was coarsely ground and a bit densely packed — but oddly enough, not in a bad way.  Though a loosely packed burger is normally what you’re looking for, this patty had a rich, almost steak-like consistency, without ever losing its hamburgery goodness.  It was actually quite unlike any burger I’ve ever had, but in an amazing way.

It’s also one of the tastier burgers I’ve had in a while, with a nicely beefy flavour that’s fairly pronounced, even if it could be stronger (Allen’s definitely has it beat in this regard).

Oh, and it was super juicy, too; it made me want to parade it around to most of Toronto’s burger joints and say “See?  See how juicy this is?  This is how juicy a burger is supposed to be.   Stop being an idiot.”

Are you getting the sense that I liked this burger?  Because yeah, I kinda liked it.

The toppings were pretty great as well.  The brie was super creamy, with a distinctively nutty but not overly sharp flavour that complimented the beef perfectly.  The mushrooms were garlicky and intensely flavourful; they were crazy delicious, though I do think they were a little bit overwhelming — one of the burger’s few weak points.

I quite liked the bun, too.  Though it was more substantial than I typically want, with a burger this big, rich, and juicy, you need that kind of substance or it’ll fall apart.

I will say that I wasn’t crazy about the onion rings.  They were fine, but there wasn’t anything all that special about them.  And though the smaller ones at the top of the pile were crispy and perfectly cooked, the larger ones at the bottom were doughy and underdone.  That didn’t stop me from eating all of them, of course, but after that superb burger they couldn’t help but feel like a pretty big let-down.

I honestly didn’t think that this review was going to go this way, but you know what?  This burger was absolutely worth the 35 bucks.  It’s not something you’re going to get all the time, but as a special treat?  Hell yeah.  It’s amazingly rich and flavourful, with a heady decadence and an overall level of quality that really is in a league of its own.

I kind of wish that I hadn’t eaten it, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to be craving it all the time now.  It’s a very strong contender for the best burger in the city.

4 out of 4

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Wahlburgers

wahl
Location
: 46 Blue Jays Way, Toronto
Websitehttp://wahlburgers.ca/

Kudos to whichever Wahlberg brother realized that their name made them ideally suited to open a burger joint, and double-kudos to whichever one decided that they should actually make good on what I can only assume started as a silly joke. As a fan of cheesy puns and general wordplay, I approve.

And if you want to eat a hamburger while basking in the reflected glory of a famous movie star and a semi-famous TV star (and a third guy you probably don’t care about), then Wahlburgers will fit the bill.

Of course, there’s a good chance that you don’t care about such things, and are just looking for a tasty burger. Thankfully, Wahlburgers is more than just a Planet Hollywood-esque shrine to celebrity-adjacent dining; it’s certainly nothing anyone is going to go too crazy over, but they serve a pretty good burger.

It’s a fairly large, full-service restaurant with long list of pre-topped burgers to be had. Each Wahlberg has his favourite burger labelled on the menu: Donnie’s got a BBQ bacon burger, Mark has a turkey burger, and Paul (i.e. the Wahlberg you haven’t heard of –- and the chef) has a simple cheeseburger. I went with Paul’s choice, dubbed Our Burger: “Paul’s signature Wahl sauce, dill pickles, government cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion.”

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The griddled burger was cooked all the way to well done (despite the claim that they cook to medium on the menu), but was somewhat juicy regardless. It was definitely a bit more dry than I’d like, particularly around the edges, but I’ve certainly had worse. It was also too tightly packed and a little bit dense, making it a bit more tough than it needed to be.

Still, it’s a pretty good cheeseburger outside of those two beefs (no pun intended… oh, who am I kidding? Pun absolutely intended). The meat has a decent –- if somewhat mild –- beefy flavour, and the American cheese on top is nicely gooey. Though the bun looks a little bit big, it’s not overwhelming at all and actually suits the burger perfectly.

The other toppings were all solid — particularly the onions, oddly enough. I normally find raw onions to be a bit too overwhelming for my tastes, but these were very thinly sliced and nice and mild. They added some crunch and oniony character without over-asserting themselves, as onions tend to do.

The burgers don’t come with any sides, so I got an order of tater tots.  I could have gotten fries as per usual, but who can say no to tater tots?  Nobody, that’s who.  They pretty much tasted like run-of-the-mill cafeteria tots.  This isn’t a bad thing.  I also tried the onion rings, which are more like onion strings than what you’d expect.  They were pretty good as well.

3 out of 4

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The Tavern by Trevor

tavern
Location
: 147 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.tavernbytrevor.com/

Though The Tavern by Trevor isn’t technically on Toronto Life’s list of the twenty best burgers in the city, it’s a spin-off of a restaurant that is (Trevor Kitchen and Bar), so I sort of figured I was in good hands.

The burger they serve is labelled as a Kobe burger. Excuse me for going on a brief rant, but this is misguided on several levels, not the least of which being that anything called Kobe beef in Canada is almost certainly not actually Kobe beef. Kobe beef refers to a specific breed of cattle raised in a specific part of Japan (Kobe), and is pretty much never exported to Canada — not legally, at least. It’s far more likely that what’s being served here is Wagyu beef, which is similar enough to Kobe that many restaurants feel okay labeling it as such, even if it’s not really true.

That’s not to mention that the biggest appeal of Kobe (or Wagyu) beef is its prodigious marbling, which is rendered entirely moot when you grind it up for a hamburger.

So basically, labeling something as a Kobe burger is completely meaningless. It is a marketing ploy at best, and an excuse to overcharge at worst. Fortunately the latter isn’t the case here; at ten bucks (plus an additional five for fries), the price is about on par with what you’d expect at a restaurant like this.

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The 6 oz Kobe Burger is described as coming with “horseradish mayo, smoked cheddar & caramelized onion.”

The grilled burger came cooked to medium rare and was reasonably juicy. I think, however, that the heat was too high, as the exterior of the burger was thoroughly charred, with an unpleasantly acrid, bitter flavour.

The patty was also too tightly packed and, I think, a bit too finely ground. It was fine in the medium rare centre, but the well done edges were dry, dense, and unpleasant.

Still, the bulk of the patty (i.e. everything but the edges) is fairly tasty with a good texture, though the pervasive bitterness is unfortunate.

The smoked cheddar is creamy, nicely melted and not too sharp, allowing the beef to be the star of the show. The horseradish mayo also suits the burger pretty well.

Sadly, the bun was awful. Dry, unpleasantly dense, and — I think — more than a little bit stale, it’s a complete fiasco. It’s definitely one of the shoddiest buns I’ve had in quite a long time.

Basically, it’s a good burger with a few pretty major flaws.  With a fresh bun and without being way over-charred it actually could have been really good, but sadly they served what they served.

As for the fries, they were outstanding.  Really tasty and addictively crispy without ever becoming too crunchy, they were pretty great.

3 out of 4

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Stack


Location3265 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://stackrestaurant.ca/

Like The Stockyards, Stack is BBQ joint run by people who have clearly put a great deal of care into the burger selection on their menu.  If their website is to be believed, they initially planned on specializing in burgers, but ultimately decided to shift their focus to southern-style BBQ.

It’s clear that they could have made Stack a burger joint and done just fine — these are burgers done (mostly) right.

There are some interesting looking burgers on the menu, but in keeping with my preference when I’m reviewing a place, I kept it simple with the Stack Classic, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onion.

I also asked for mayonnaise on the side, which turned out to be a wise move; the creamy, flavourful mayo is infused with roasted garlic and is clearly made in-house — this ain’t no Hellmann’s, that’s for sure.  It was good on the burger, but even better as a dipping sauce for their amazing fries.

Like at The Stockyards, the burger is griddle-cooked and seasoned with little more than salt and pepper (as it should be).  Sadly, like at The Stockyards (and pretty much every other burger joint in Toronto), the beef in the burger is a little bit too lean, resulting in a burger that’s a bit drier than it should be.  Thankfully, there is still some juiciness here, so it’s certainly a minor offender in Toronto’s ongoing quest to completely dry out my mouth with well-done, too-lean patties.

Aside from the dryness issue, this is an outstanding hamburger.  The well-done, loosely packed patty had a good amount of crust from the griddle (though not quite as much as at The Stockyards or Burger’s Priest).

It’s also clear that Stack is using beef that is well above average, as this was one of the most richly beefy burgers I’ve had in quite a while.  Eating it, I had something of a eureka moment: oh right, this is how a burger is supposed to taste.

The fresh sesame seed bun complimented the burger perfectly, as did the toppings (particularly the aforementioned fresh mayonnaise — if you find yourself at Stack, ask for this mayo).

As I mentioned earlier, the fries were crazy delicious.  Perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with an amazingly robust flavour, they were almost ludicrously good when dipped in that delicious garlicky mayonnaise.

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Bier Markt


Location199 North Queen Street, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://www.thebiermarkt.com/

Bier Markt is an upscale Toronto-area chain, akin to Milestones or Earl’s.  They’ve recently expanded into the west-end with an Etobicoke location, which is the one that I checked out.  I went on a Sunday afternoon and they had a musician performing live, which thankfully wasn’t too loud, as I didn’t particularly feel like having to yell and strain to hear my dining companion (how much of an old curmudgeon am I, exactly?).

The menu features two burgers: the Classic Burger, and the T-Bone Burger, which is made with Kobe beef.  The T-Bone Burger is 24 dollars (!), so I went with the Classic Burger, which isn’t cheap itself at 15 dollars.

No, this place isn’t exactly the best deal in the city.

I wasn’t in a beer mood, so I just went for a soda, but the place has an impressive beer list (over 150, according to the website), which is probably one of its bigger selling points.

The burger comes topped with lettuce, tomato, onion (which I removed), and pickles, with two small ramekins of ketchup and mustard on the side.

The grilled burger was (of course) cooked to well done, and had a pleasantly beefy flavour.  Clearly, they’re using above-average meat.  As well, the burger had some char from the grill, which added a good amount of flavour and texture.

Sadly, there’s a big caveat here: what should have been a great burger was marred by excessive dryness.

Of course, cooking a burger to well done never helps in the juiciness department, but even then it’s clear that the beef Bier Markt is using is far too lean.  The menu specifies sirloin, which if true does explain a lot.  Sirloin is an exceptionally lean cut of beef, and thus is completely inappropriate for use in a hamburger.

I’m tempted to go off on a rant about how a hamburger needs a decent amount of fat to be really good, but I think I’ve done that in at least half of the reviews I’ve written for this blog, so I’ll just point you to the archives.  Seriously: I love Toronto, but an alarming amount of people here just have no conception of what makes a hamburger great.  It’s frustrating, but what can you do?  Ultimately it’s an American food, and we’re not in America.

As for the rest of the burger: the toppings were all quite good, and the fresh brioche bun complimented the patty perfectly.

All the components were there — good toppings, good quality beef, good cooking technique, and a nice, fresh bun.  If only they were using fattier beef, this could have been an amazing burger.  C’est la vie.

Oddly, the burger came with “root vegetable crisps” on the side instead of fries.  They were essentially like thickly-cut chips, and were a bit bland, but were satisfyingly crunchy and kind of addictive.

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