The Localist

Burger Week Toronto: Have a cow, man!

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A relatively new festival popped up in Toronto a couple of years ago, adding to an already jam packed spring/summer festival season. This one is nestled nicely between Hot Docs and the festival orgy that is June (Luminato, TD Toronto Jazz Festival, NXNE, etc). It’s Burger Week (although “week” is used loosely, as it only spans 4 days).  About 70 restaurants across Toronto serve a $5 gourmet burger with their own unique flair. It’s a great excuse to try out some new restaurants, and visit some of those pricier restaurants that cheapskates like me don’t normally frequent.  At the end of the 4 day “Burger Week” is a “Burger Day”, which I am yet to partake in, when participating restaurants meet at Fort York to offer a slider version of their featured burger for $3 (plus a $20 admission this year which is kind of a rip off.)

The festival is organized by The Grid, a free weekly newspaper that you can pick up in newspaper boxes all around Toronto. The week prior to the festival, The Grid dedicates a few pages to the festival, where you can read up on all the participating restaurants and the burgers on offer. The kinds of restaurants that take part vary from take-out/fast-food burger joints to trendy hipster restaurants to finer dining establishments to a ping pong (aka table tennis) bar.

Skeptical of how many spins on a burger there can actually be? Well, there are even participating restaurants from cultures that you wouldn’t expect to consider the burger  a staple food, like the Portuguese, Italians, and Greeks.  Some restaurants also reach out to other cultures for inspiration for their burger creation – think Korean-themed Kalbi style burgers topped with kimchi,  Indian themed burgers topped with mango/chili salsa and a curry aioli, and Hawaiian-themed burgers topped with pineapple and bacon. There is even a burger joint that offered a dessert inspired burger (a burger stuffed with Nutella and topped with coconut sauce and plantain chips). Finally, for our non-carnivorous brethren, there are a handful of joints with vegan and vegetarian options.

Barque Smokehouse (299 Roncesvalles Avenue)

Brisket burger with smoked candied bacon and pommery barbecue sauce on a brioche bun.

What I liked: The crumbly, well seasoned brisket was delectable, and wasn’t overpowered by the simple fixings of fancy lettuce and tomato. The brioche bun, which is apparently French for Ciabatta or something, classed up the burger.

What sucked: The square shape of the brioche bun matched with the round shape of the meat meant a few meatless bites.

Rating: 9 Neighbour’s Annoying Dogs (+1 Annoying Dog for the complimentary barbecue seasoned popcorn provided)

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Gangster Burger (6 Queen Street East)

The Jesse James: Candied bacon marmalade and southern-style slaw over a beef patty finished with honey dijon glaze.

What rocked: The tangy slaw added a nice crunch, I suppose.

What sucked:  I like my burgers oozing with sauce. Aside from the slaw, nothing really stood out.

Rating: 5 Samuel L. Jacksons

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Beer Bistro (18 King Street East)

Bison burger with smoked ketchup, aged white cheddar and house smoked beer bacon on a buttermilk bun.

What I liked: The airy buttermilk bun was soft and not too spongy.  It was like eating a croissant burger. The patty was crumbly and a decent size, which made for a good meat to bun ratio.

What sucked:  Points have to be taken away for making me have to brush off the slimy onions (not listed in the description).  I HATE onions!

Rating: 9 Drunken Stupors (-1 Drunken Stupor for misleading me on the onion debacle)

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Rude Boy (397 Roncesvalles Avenue)

Beef patty with smoked pimento cheese, mustard barbecue sauce, and southern slaw.

What rocked: The southern slaw provided a nice crunchy texture to the burger. The smoked pimento cheese was unique and flavorful.

What sucked: The small patty contributed to a low meat to bun ratio.  It could have used more of the smoked pimento cheese… low ooze ratio.

Rating: 6 R.P. McMurphys

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Cardinal Rule (5 Roncesvalles Avenue)

Swiss Army Burger:  Grounded brisket with Swiss cheese, homemade barbecue sauce and fried onion strings.

What sucked: After thrashing through a poofy generic sesame seed bun, barely toasted, and the bushel of shredded iceberg lettuce (the red–headed stepchild of the lettuce family), I was greeted to a meat patty with the consistency of a gourmet dog food.

What rocked: The delicious post-meal Key Lime pie that cleansed my abused pallet after the lousy burger described above.  Still better than MacDonald’s though.

Rating: 3 Goofy Cardinal Hats

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The Lakeview Restaurant (1132 Dundas Street West)

The Pickled Piper: Ground chuck patty with chopped dill pickle and chili mayo on a sesame seed bun, garnished with a deep-fried pickle.

What rocked: The oozy, drippy dill pickle and chili mayo squirting out of the burger forming a nice puddle on the plate, which allowed for a second dip of the nicely seasoned patty. The deep fried pickle phallus-ing the burger served as a nice appetizer.

What sucked: The sesame seed bun was kinda week but it allowed for the patty and sauce to take centre stage.

Rating: 7 Obscure Hipster TV Show References

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Osteria Dei Ganzi (504 Jarvis Street)

Ganzi Saltimbocca Burger: Ground veal burger topped with tomato-sauced parma, provolone, arugula, sage, and sage aioli.

What rocked: I love Italian food and I love burgers, so combining the two? Sheeeeit…. The veal, the juicy, oozy sauces and cheese, fancy greens… delizioso!

What sucked: The only complaint was that the tomato kept squirting out the back door, which is only a by product of the burger being held together with oozy tomato sauce, sage aioli and provolone… a good thing.

Rating: 10 Silvio Berlusconis

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Hogtown Smoke (1959 Queen Street East)

Angus burger stuffed with pulled pork and topped with cheese, pork belly strips, and pulled pork infused with BBQ sauce and bourbon.

What rocked: I imagined this burger to be something created by someone who likely would not have voted for Barack Obama, and then I thought that maybe these people weren’t so bad if they created something so tasty. We killed an animal, stuffed it with another animal and topped it with another animal, then we got it drunk on our southern hooch. And just to make sure it wasn’t mistaken for health food, we put cheese on it.

What sucked: To dispel the above assumption, the burger patty was small (contributing to a high bun to patty ratio), so maybe the creator wasn’t a Texan.

Rating: 9 NRA memberships

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Burger Week takes place the last week of May.

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