BURGER BONANZA!: A Progressively Positive Look at the Toronto Burger Scene


ACME Burger Company

A little place called ACME Burger Company exists just west of Bathurst along Bloor street, and with thoughts of Road Runner and Coyote running through my head, I look above me to check for the requisite anvil drop. The coast looks clear so I stop to grab a burger.

An unusually peppy worker greets me, so I return her genuine smile and check out the menu. Looks like a fairly standard burger joint upon first glance, jazzing up their menu with salads, wraps and the always noticeable milkshake… oh so tempting, but with only ten dollars in my wallet I decide to get a bigger burger. I notice that my seating options include a comfortable booth with leather casing – the place may look verbatim to a fast food Harvey's, allowing you to add your own toppings from the counter, but shows extra effort through non-plastic seating and a higher happy worker to surly staff ratio. I maneuver myself into a booth and wait for my order: a six-ounce burger, pre-wrapped and pre-toothpicked for me, with an order of freshly cut fries and a Mug root beer. I am able to stay within my price range, the meal ringing in at $9.88.

I start blazing through the fries to ensure that I better savour my burger, but the fries are straight out of the oil and I nearly burn my mouth. I appreciate that the fries are freshly dipped all the same. I unwrap the burger and check it out: onions, lettuce, pickles and ACME Sauce, recommended by my bubbly cashier that consists chiefly of creamy garlic sauce. Sure, lather it on, I’ll give it a whirl.

The sauce ended up as nothing special but the burger was great: meat that tastes like a homemade piece of beef, cooked well done with toppings of my own choosing. The place shows me that for a small, hole-in-the-wall burger joint, ACME can outstrip any fast food market that comes around and I admire that tenacity.

Hero Certified Burger

Hero Burger

From ACME, I head south along Bathurst and head west to Queen a few blocks to Hero Burger. Upon entering I take in the clean, polished environment and the sign on top of the fountain drinks that proudly displays Eye Weekly People’s Choice Award from 2008. Good credentials and a sparkling sitting room signify a great burger to come.

I check out the menu and settle on what they describe as their “Signature Burger,” consisting of the patty, a slice of cheddar, Hero’s certified sauce and tomatoes. The giant picture of the burger behind the cashier has a stamp that states each patty is made with 100% Angus Beef and the manifesto next to my table guarantees me that there are no additives or preservatives in said beef.

“Every HERO makes a difference.”

I can embrace that, yet when I ask the cashier what makes the sauce certified he declares that it is “ranchy.”

I get my burger, which sports an appealing poppy and sesame seed bun, but when I pop the top I have a single, tiny tomato plopped into a minimal smattering of sauce. The only place that Hero gets generous is in the cheese department; I admit that Hero gives this burger a rather large slice of cheddar.

The burger tastes irritatingly like a frozen burger that I frequently buy from the grocery store: the precisely shaped, straight edged burgers don’t ring true for a burger made in house. Oh, and the upstairs of Hero’s may seem polished, but take a gander at the ceiling, the theme continues down to the bathroom. I don’t usually nit pick about the lavatories, but the walk downstairs was inordinately sketchy after the facade upstairs.

The people may have spoken, but I’m not convinced. The hey-day of Hero Burger is certainly over.


Gourmet Burger Company

North of Carlton along Parliament is officially the place to be.

First off you have Jet Fuel, a coffee house hosting free wireless internet that serves pint glass full of latte for just three dollars. Positive vibes and a conducive work environment are both great things!

And now this: Gourmet Burger Co. I have had the privilege of eating at this location twice now and both burgers were fucking scrumptious.

The first time I went I tested their spicy Cajun burger: jalapeños and jalapeño-studded havarti headed the rush of flavour, tempered by tomatoes and avocado, ultimately necessary to deflect the clout of this burger. Refined with Cajun spice and honey mayo flavoured with chipotle, the price of the six-ounce burger was five ninety-five, the cheapest burger on their menu.

I’ve also sampled the smokey bacon burger: this six-ounce glorious slice of cow was improved with the addition of two little stripes of pig; smoked pig at that. Wide eyed I noticed the Gouda cheese... what burger place actually has Gouda on staff? Not to mention the extra cheeses you can add for a dollar, including some serious elites: herbed goat cheese and Brie. They mix the mayo with roasted garlic and Dijon mustard, adding some quality to an already thoroughly smoked burger. I was satisfied that the price sat at six ninety-five, the addition of bacon and Gouda only raising costs one dollar over the Spicy Cajun.

There isn't much room to sit, but when I had a spot at their counter a Toronto Star greeted me and moist towelettes saw me off, a huge help in my case of topping overflow. They have oodles of complimentary condiments, not all of which are easily thrown together: sautéed mushrooms, balsamic marinated caramelized onions and roasted red peppers are all offered freely. I need to restudy that menu; there are tonnes of delicious ideas bouncing around my head of what combination to try next. Definitely worth checking out.


BQM Burgershoppe, Quality Meats

But then I travel west and hit Mecca, burger-wise.

One long trestle bench lines a wall decked out with old books and photos. Large bulb lights hang periodically across the ceiling and a blackboard at the back outline a generous wine catalogue, which overhangs the large countered bar that dominates the back corner of the restaurant – coffee to order and good beer on tap. I sit along the opposite wall at a small two-seater and wait to see how this quaint Burgershoppe just south of Dundas along Ossington will treat me.

I’m brought the menu and immediately informed that the beef used in my burger is local, raised on grain and absolutely drug free, Rowe farms approved. I look at the menu and am presented front and center with the recommended burger, the Sirloin: “Naturally raised Ontario AAA sirloin steak ground in-house with horseradish, mayo, caramelized onions, greens and tomato – medium rare.” Twelve dollars.

So I’m not just getting a burger, but a steak on a bun. But as I am a lowly student, I cannot resist the lowered price of the Riverside burger to nine dollars, where they spread their own specially crafted barbecue sauce onto a bun topped with bacon, greens, tomato, mayo, mozzarella and a few onion rings. I replace the mozzarella with old white cheddar and ask for the burger to be cooked medium rare.

They serve the burger open face, a playful squiggle of mayo across the toppings laid out elegantly on both halves of the bun, the first truly artful display of a burger that I’ve ever come across in Toronto. Yeah, the Burgershoppe’s fairly pricey but, as at all times in capitalism, the labour that goes into the product becomes reflected in the price. They have one hell of a kitchen, a distinguished menu and use local ingredients; I’m impressed.

So when in the east end, check out Gourmet Burger Co., but if craving a truly well-crafted burger, journey to the west end and check out BQM. If stuck in the center, ACME will deliver well enough to warrant a visit, but Hero burger, alas, I cannot recommend.