Sunday, 9 September 2007

Utopia


Sat. Aug. 11, 2007


It’s a beautiful day, full-on summer sun lighting up the sky. At the Degrassi/Gerrard crosswalk I press the button, point to the other side of the street and start crossing. Some dyed blonde woman in sunglasses blabbering on her cellphone plows through the crosswalk in her SUV. On the other side of the road a long-haired dude shouts out, “Get off the phone, you idiot!” I grin and say, “Yeah, really.” Walking across these push-button crosswalks is always a gamble. Traffic Roulette. Be alert, fellow pedestrians!

Onto the streetcar I climb. I’m heading over to College St. and Clinton, the heart of Little Italy. Pizza Burger? Pasta Burger? No, I am meeting my wife for lunch at Utopia. No less than twelve-- count ‘em, twelve-- people have told me to go to Utopia to find the burger of my dreams. Does this bode well? I’m expecting a tasty burger but in Greek Utopia translates to “No Place” which is what Sir Thomas More, author of “Utopia,” was getting at: there’s no such thing as a Perfect Society and there may indeed be no such thing as a perfect Texas-style hamburger here in Toronto. We shall see, we shall see.

On the streetcar I sail through the streets, past the homeless woman at College and Bay sitting on the sidewalk with a dirty pillow (no case) behind her back, past the steely-eyed stone griffins guarding the outside of the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library (which reminds me, I still need to go to The Yellow Griffin, fabled land of 35 different types of hamburgers) and onwards, heading West. To the South The Goodyear Blimp is circling and a thought flickers through my head: why is The Goodyear Blimp circling over Kensington Market? “Yeah, uh, I need some saffron, papayas, chocolate-covered coffee beans, a jumbo chicken empanada and... uh...” Looking up, one hand shielding eyes from the sun, Goodyear Blimp turning its lazy circles in the sky. “Oh yeah! Four steel-belted radial tires, please.” It’s more likely that The Goodyear Blimp isn’t circling over the coffee houses and dive bars of Kensington, it’s circling over the rides and fried dough stands of The Ex (AKA The Canadian National Exhibition).

No fried dough for me, no-- not today. Today only a burger can satisfy. I jump off the streetcar at College and Clinton and two and a half minutes later (give or take-- it’s not like I was sitting crouched at my table with a gigantic cartoon-style stopwatch in my hand) Emma walks in and joins me. We peruse the menu and my eyes slide right to the hamburger. “Homemade Charbroiled Burger. A 1/2 pound of lean ground beef, grilled and served on a sesame seed bun topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, relish, pickles and green onion mayo.” Green onion mayo, eh? MUSIC NERD JOKE ALERT: What, is this place run by Booker T. and the MGs? AND NOW, for those of you who are not obsessive music geeks: Booker T. and the MGs (including Donald “Duck” Dunn) recorded a song called ‘Green Onions.’ What’s that old saying about jokes? Oh, yes-- if you have to explain them, they ain’t funny.

Em wants a burger, too, which is tricky because she can’t eat wheat. The menu gives her a brief ray of hope-- “Look! A Potato bun! You think it’s made with only potato flour? I can eat that!” But nope, unfortunately not. Also, the server goes on to tell us, there are bread crumbs in the beef. My heart sinks for my sweetheart but it also sinks for the notion of a delicious 100% beef burger. Man, folks sure like to stretch out the meat with all kinds of crazy shit. Bread crumbs, eggs, oats... OATS?!? I don’t want a meatloaf, I want a hamburger. Echoes from the epigram of this book: “You’ll get nothing! And like it!” (Caddyshack). Still, you never know. Never say die! I order a burger with everything except relish and my hunny orders a smoked salmon salad.

We lean back in the casual hipness of the restaurant and wait for our food. Em grabs a napkin and wipes off our table. “This table is covered with sugar!” She’s right: the tabletop is grainy, gritty and sticky. Music is pumping through the speakers and the music is too loud. WHAT’S THAT, GRAMPA? Yep, I have crossed the hipster rubicon and there’s no going back now. Time to put on loafers and a faded yellow cardigan.

The food arrives! The burger looks great: big and juicy, charred meat resting nicely on toasted bun. THE FIRST BITE is as juicy as it looks. Rivulets of mayo and meat juice cascade down my chin. This is a good burger, a very good burger but it’s also a bit of a head-scratcher. As good as this burger is, it’s not ‘twelve people telling me to go to Utopia’ good. Then again, those people and I are working with different measuring sticks. This Utopia burger is a very tasty Canadian-style burger but... Exactly. Not what I’m looking for.

I settle back with my burger and fries. These fries are fantastic, salty and hot, very crispy on the outside, light and fluffy inside. I share the fries with my wife and we have a tense conversation about housing and money and I mean belly-constricting tense. No fun at all but we manage to pull it together and head back into the city streets to wait for a streetcar that never comes. We hop into a cab and together we head for home.

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