“You can’t get a good burger in Toronto”
There was a time not too long ago when trying to get a great burger in Toronto was a real challenge. Particularly if you’re a fan, like myself, of the Classic American Burger. Sure, you could get a good, maybe even really good flame grilled beef patty with plenty of extenders and flavourizers. Those can fill a void but the truly great burger, in my humble opinion, is basically fresh ground beef with minimal seasoning (usually salt and pepper only), done on a flat top, topped with American Cheese and on a Wonderbread style bun. It’s a hamburger (or cheeseburger) at it’s most primal. It’s back to it’s roots. Simple yet challenging but when done right, a thing of beauty.
In Toronto there was precious few places to find one of these classic gems. Your best bet would be at a diner. The problem is, there’s so many and most just use frozen patties. Very quietly though a little diner on Gerrard St in Riverdale was producing a very inexpensive and quite honestly, superb version. Collegiate Lunch is a run down relic of the 60’s but their Banquet Burger is one tasty sandwich and with a Coke and fries can be had for less than $10. A steal based on what a similar version can fetch these days.
The beauty of the flat top is really two fold. First of all, the burger releases some of it’s fat and begins to fry in it’s own juices. All that luscious fat that would drip down onto the fire now splashes back onto the meat, basting it as well as cooking. Secondly, with fat being an outstanding cooking medium, the meat begins to cook to a hard, caramelized crust. Searing in juices and adding more flavour. No it’s not the healthiest way to cook a burger but really, who cares?? It’s about the taste. If I’m worried about my health, I’ll eat a salad.
In the late spring of 2010 the burger landscape in Toronto would change. A revolution would begin in a tiny store on the edge of Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. Shant Madrosian, an expat from California, longed for the simple burger. The type on which empires were built. In SoCal you could just drive a block to In n Out Burger. One of the most highly respected chains for foregoing profit in the form of expansion to preserve quality and reputation. Necessity being the mother of invention, former seminary student Shant decided to fill the void and opened The Burger’s Priest. His plan was simple, redeem the burger one at a time. Celebrating it’s 3rd anniversary at the time of this writing he’s shunned franchising for control and has opened 2 more locations with a 3rd, flagship store in the works. As far as burgers go, BP may possibly make the best burgers I’ve ever had. Certainly the best in the city.
Johnny Prassoulis and Bill Koutroubis were so impressed with BP that they wanted in. Shant wasn’t about to let anyone else in on what he had going so John and Bill devised their own burger strategy. In the late summer of 2011 they opened Holy Chuck in mid town. Taking that basic burger and adding their own spin. While BP had started to introduce a secret menu, HC’s more extravagant novelty burgers were right on the wall. The result was a burger that fell JUST shy of the standard set by BP. It’s a great burger.
They plan on opening a second location in the summer.
Since 2010 a host of upstarts have opened. Trying to cash in on the success of Burger’s Priest. All serving the same flat top burger, known generally in this areas as a “Smashed burger” for the way most places squish a meat ball onto the griddle. For the most part, they’ve been successful. I’ve sampled quite a few and have seen a few that really seem to be more “concept” or just seem to be people trying to cash in on the latest craze. Trying to sell the sizzle not the steak as it were.
There is also one place that precedes the Priest by about a month that is serving the same type burger along with signature burgers mixed in with BBQ favourites and other southern inspired goodies. The Stockyards burger is in the conversation for best in TO. Recognizing the great crust that the flat top gives, they push the envelope and produce a burger with easily the best crust.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tasty burgers that aren’t done on a flat top. Heck, my buddy Gus makes a hand formed patty on the grill that is as good as anything you’ll find in a restaurant. But it aint my favourite. Nope, unless it’s seen that wide expanse of stainless steel, it won’t rival those in the pantheon of greatness.
So for what it’s worth, here’s a list of my top 5 burgers the city of Toronto has to offer. All have opened or made their reputation since that little burger shop in Queen St. E opened 3 years ago. My default order is a Bacon Double (4oz. patties) Cheeseburger with pickle, raw onion and mustard. But I do vary.
1) The Burger’s Priest. 3 locations as of spring 2013 and possibly the best burger ever. If you want to get a little bit crazy and don’t want to worry about your waist line, try the Vatican City. A Double Double (two patties with two slices of cheese) with grilled cheeses used for buns. Add bacon to it but skip the jalapenos.
2) Holy Chuck. My favourite burger place (they exceed BP in most other categories) in town and almost as good as BP. Make sure you grab a shake. (I suggest Salted Caramel Nutella) If you’re in a diet busting mood, the Farmer’s Threesome, consisting of 1 patty each of ground beef, ground lamb and ground bacon is awesome. All are topped with cheese and the whole thing is topped with more bacon and sautéed onion. The addition of mustard rounds it out very nicely. Make sure you get a shake as well.
3) The Stockyards. Stick with the Classic here. A single 6 oz. patty topped the way you like if you don’t like how they suggest. The meat is great, the crust is incredible and it’s just an all around outstanding burger. There’s plenty of other great things on the menu as well but we’re talking burgers here.
4) Stack Smmmoked. While this burger can be a bit hit and miss, it’s mostly hit and when it’s on, it’s terrific. Bill, the owner is a big believer in the “Dirty burger” as he calls it and worked to perfect his. Version 2.0 is really is a terrific burger and for those who abhor “plastic” cheese, they use real cheddar. The bacon get’s a second tour in their smoker for added goodness.
5) I’m torn about putting this last place on here because I just had their burger for the first time. White Squirrel Snack Shop produces one burger, topped with sautéed onion, pickles and Dijon on an egg bun. I would love to do it up my way and see how it stacks up but for now, I’ll stick with the data at hand. What really puts this into the top 5 is the beef. It’s as good as anything on a bun any place serves.
Honourable mention goes to Big Moe’s. Resist the temptation to get the Juicy Lucy and stick with a Double Cheeseburger. No bacon here as this place is Halal but you won’t it. They serve a great tasting burger.
As well the afore mentioned Collegiate Lunch. Their fresh ground beef with cheddar and bacon is a great burger and even better value when you factor in the fact that you get fries along with it for less than the cost of a 5 Guys Bacon Cheeseburger.
So a happy 3rd anniversary to The Burger’s Priest and a heartfelt thank you for popularizing the greatest style of burger ever.
That’s all for now folks, see ya next time in the food court