Richmond Station

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Location
: 1 Richmond Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://richmondstation.ca/

People have been raving about the burger at Richmond Station since it opened a couple of years ago.  So of course, the place has been on my list for quite a while (and this is a literal list, FYI – I have a Google map that I keep updated with about a hundred burgers I need to check out.  I’ll empty out that map one day.  One day).

The chef here, Carl Heinrich, previously worked at Marben, and set out on his own after winning Top Chef Canada.  The Marben connection is super obvious when you taste the burger; it is very, very similar.

In fact, you could probably just read my Marben review and get a pretty good idea of what I thought about this one, but they are different enough that I guess I should write a few words.

The Stn. Burger, as per the menu: “lettuce, beet chutney, aged cheddar, milk bun.”

The biggest connection between the two restaurants is unmentioned on the menu.  Like the burger at Marben, the one here is stuffed with braised short ribs.

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They’re also both about the same size, and though they appear small, they’re substantial.  There’s very little risk that you’ll walk away hungry.

Fortunately, though the short ribs at Marben were a bit overpowering, they seem to have a more subtle flavour here.  I compared the burger there to an upscale sloppy joe, and that’s less of an issue here.  It tastes more like a traditional hamburger.

The ground beef at Marben was also a little bit too lean, resulting in a slightly dry burger. Again, that’s less of an issue here.  The burger is quite juicy.

What is an issue, however?  The beef (which has a mild but satisfying beefy flavour) is way too densely packed, and has an oddly chewy, rubbery texture that’s closer to sausage than to hamburger.

There’s a video online of Heinrich making the burger, and you can see him squeezing the hell out of the patty with some kind of industrial squeezing machine.  I guess that’s necessary to keep the short ribs from bursting out during the cooking process, but it definitely doesn’t do the burger’s texture any favours.

As for the sausage-like texture, I’m not sure; it’s possible that they’re making and salting the patties well in advance, with the salt affecting the beef from the outside, and the short ribs affecting it from the inside.

Still, despite the textural weirdness, it’s definitely tasty, and it’s definitely satisfying.  The melted cheddar isn’t too overpowering, and the beet chutney and pickled onions add some zing while still allowing the beef to be the star of the show.  The toasted bun is nice and fresh, and holds up nicely to the messy burger.

The patty is grilled, apparently, though I couldn’t see or taste any evidence of that on the patty.  If I hadn’t watched the aforementioned video, I honestly wouldn’t have known how they cooked it.

As for the fries, they were amazing.  Perfectly cooked and tinged with rosemary, they were delicious on their own but even better with the horseradish-infused dipping sauce.  Seriously, seriously good.

3 out of 4

Richmond Station - the outside Richmond Station - the restaurant Richmond Station - the burger and fries Richmond Station - the burger

O&B Canteen

canteen
Location
330 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://oliverbonacini.com/Canteen.aspx

I’m at the Lightbox to watch movies semi-regularly, so I’m actually kind of surprised it took me this long to check the Canteen out.  I used to enjoy getting pastries from here when I was on my way to a movie, but a couple of TIFFs ago I got a croissant that totally put me off the place.  It looked like a croissant but tasted like Wonder Bread.  It was shockingly bad.

The O&B Canteen has an all-over-the-place menu that ranges from jerk chicken and prawn curry to pulled pork and pizza.  And of course, a burger.  It’s a mish-mash of dishes that might lead you to believe that the restaurant is a Jack of all trades, master of none, and… well, you’d be correct (at least if the burger is anything to go by).

The Canteen Burger comes topped with “bacon, aged cheddar, pickled jalapeño, herb mayo, hot house tomato,” and also includes a side order of fries.

It’s fine, I guess.  The well done patty generally has a decent texture, though it’s dryer than I’d like.  The taste is a bit more questionable.  The beef is pretty tasteless, and has a vague gamy flavour that was kind of unpleasant.  However, this is less of an issue than you’d think; it’s nearly impossible to taste the beef with all the stuff they’ve got piled on top of it.

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The toppings are pretty tasty, at least, which is good because that’s where about 95 percent of this burger’s flavour comes from.  Though the cheddar was almost completely unmelted, it tasted good. The sharp cheese and creamy mayo contrasted nicely with the vinegary bite of the abundant pickled jalapeños, and though the tomatoes kind of got lost in the mix, it was overall a pretty good combo.  It doesn’t quite make you forget how mediocre the burger itself is, but it helps.

The bun was amazing.  Super fresh, with a very delicately crackly exterior and a fluffy interior that still had enough substance to hold up to the many toppings, it was pretty close to bun perfection (I guess I should give their pastries another chance).

The fries were also above average, and came with a delicious curry-tinged ketchup for dipping.  So basically, everything was actually pretty good — except for the burger patty itself.  Which is kind of an important element in a hamburger.  You know, just a little bit.

Since I mentioned prices in my last review, it’s only fair for me to point out that for 17 bucks for the burger and fries, it’s a bit expensive.  This wouldn’t be a problem if the burger was great.  The burger was not great.

2.5 out of 4

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Bareburger

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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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