Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Old Guard

SignIn 1980 Joe Batshon, along with the rest of the family immigrated to Canada from Israel. Within a year the family had purchased a restaurant and began a local tradition. Jumping in on the independent fast food movement at the time they sold, much like a lot of places that dotted the GTA landscape at the time, burgers, souvlaki, steak on a bun and fabulous onion rings. Many, such as Fire Pit and Lick’s expanded, lost control and either went away or are shaddows of their former glory.
Joe stuck with the business, didn’t sell out and today is the owner of what has become a community landmark. An integral part of this small town, long ago swallowed up as Toronto pushed it’s boundaries, that never really came to grips with progress. The Burger Shack, as much as any other restaurant in Forest Hill, is the heart and soul of the neighbourhood. Even though it lies just outside the Forest Hill postal district.

Burger ShackThere was a time in the not too distant past that, when charged with locating Toronto’s best burgers, people would invariably point to The Burger Shack. The crown seems to have been lost over the last few years but not through their own misguidance. The simple fact is, while they still crank out the same quality burgers, the competition has stepped up. Some of the most recent surveys in the local publications are full of Johnny-come-latelys and their upgraded takes on this simple yet easy to screw up sandwich. Sticking with tradition can sometimes be a double edge sword. Joe’s burgers are no less tasty than when they reigned supreme. It’s just that restaurants see that as the bar they need to hurdle. Some, as you’ve probably read, have cleared that level very handsomely. Still, it’s nice to have those food memories from ones childhood. It's also nice to have a good, solid place that cranks out consistently terrific eats.

BS InteriorBurger Shack sits in what is now the northern edge of mid town. The small cash only place seats a couple dozen or so and does a steady, if not, bustling business. The seating screams fast food as does the modest d├ęcor. There’s plenty of articles heralding their success, collected over the years, framed and hanging on the walls.
There’s an open kitchen where burgers and what have you are flame broiled and rings and things are deep fried.
The back kitchen is a buzz with food prep. Just about everything here is made in house. Burgers are hand formed daily, sauces, gravies, dressings, fries cut, onions diced, it’s just a whirl wind of activity.

So let’s get a look at what’s cooking at The Burger Shack.

Onion RingsAt one time every independent fast food place made great onion rings. In fact, as much as any other offering, places were selected for their rings. Usually of the beer batter style.
The Shack’s version is just as good as I remember from my childhood. Plump, fluffy and oniony. Nicely crispy, golden brown on the outside and velvety on the inside. Easily passing the pinch and pull tests. Still some of the best this city has to offer.

PoutinePoutine, for those not familiar, is a dish native to Quebec. Once referred to by Tony Bourdain as a “gastronomical train wreck.” Fresh cut fries covered with cheese curds and gravy. While not quite traditional in that they use beef instead of chicken gravy this incarnation is incredibly tasty. Traditionalists will deduct points for non squeaky curds but I, for one, really don’t care. I actually love to let the dish sit a bit and those curds melt into a gooey mess. While few places in the city do it incredibly well, this is enough tide you over until a trip to the Eastern Townships occurs.

Souvlaki on a BunIf I were eating at a Greek fast food restaurant I’d have my Souvlaki on a pita. But here I am at a burger joint. As such, I’ll stick with my old favourite, Souvlaki on a Bun. At one time in the late 80’s I worked directly across the street from a place that served this and, again, a trip down memory lane was in order.
This did not disappoint. The pork souvlaki is just as it should be. Well seasoned and garlicky. The tzatziki could’ve been a little bolder but it was still good. I keep it simple with onion and tomato. It all comes on a lightly toasted large sesame seed hot dog bun.

Bacon CheeseburgerYou just can’t do a review of a burger place and not have a burger. It’s just not allowed.
I will caution you up front about one thing. Many places like this sell a homemade burger and a cheaper frozen patty burger. You don’t want that one. Stick with the homemade.
As I said above, the burgers are made fresh daily from meat delivered from a local butcher and triple ground in house. Unlike the new craze, smashed burgers, these are flame grilled and thoroughly spiced. Every purveyor had their own secret blend of spices and Joe is no different. One thing for sure though, they all have garlic in them. I’ve always thought the best measure of these types of burgers is the garlic burps that follow. There are exceptions to every rule however these are among the less garlic infused specimens I’ve had. This is their most popular, the Banquet Burger. Meaning it has cheese and bacon.

The Shack does a nice homemade breakfast as well. There’s nothing “Special” about their morning offerings. Your standard bacon and eggs type stuff. All done to a higher standard than most as you can well imagine.

So there you have it folks. Some good, solid, scratch made food that brings me back to a time when I had no mortgage payments, I was still an NHL prospect and about to start working on my first million. Sadly far too many of these places are now A & W’s, KFC’s or the like.

You can find The Burger Shack at 233 Eglinton Ave. W.

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You can also “Like” them on facebook.
Burger Shack on Urbanspoon
Burger Shack on Foodio54

Well that’s all for now folks, see ya next time in the food court.

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