Monday, 1 October 2007

The Yellow Griffin

Thursday August 16th, 2007

Come with me now to The Yellow Griffin, land of a thousand burgers. Okay, 35-- but still 35 different burgers is pretty damn impressive. You might even say generous. “Care for a burger?” “Please!” “Care for 35 different hamburgers?” “Wha--?!?” And in actual fact there are more than 35 different burgers at The Yellow Griffin, because you can mix and match the toppings and the meat. Beef Burger? Check. Lamb Burger? Check. Turkey Burger, Salmon Burger, Veggie Burger? Check, Check and Check. My buddy and fellow Burger Quester Beau suggested I handle The Yellow Griffin’s bountiful burger offerings in the same manner as a wine tasting: “You should have a bite of each and then spit it out into a giant bucket.” An interesting (albeit disgusting) idea but I’m going to opt for the more traditional route, to wit: walking up Degrassi Street through the beautiful sunshine wearing a loose and billowing shirt my wife bought for me, heading to meet Saira, my friend and fellow burger quester. Together Saira and I head for the streetcar, talking burgers along the way. I’m bitching and moaning about Hal Burger shutting its doors-- that’s right, Hal Burger, the number one entry in the Quest so far, has closed down. Oh how cruel the fates! Alack alay! “Here’s your Texas-style burger, guy.” Smack gobble chomp-- and then it is gone, gone forever. “You never know,” says Saira. “We could be on our way to a new champion.” Yes! Keep hope alive. For what is a Quest but a journey of hope?

In Classical Antiquity The Griffin (also spelled Griffon or Gryphon) was a symbol of divine power, emblazoned on shields, tapestries and manuscripts. If you follow the thrilling world of heraldry-- the practice of designing, displaying, describing and recording coats of arms relating to the duties and responsibilities of officers of arms-- you’ll know that if you combine a Griffin (symbol of divine power, remember) with the color Yellow (also known in heraldry as Gold or ‘Or’) you get not a Wizard-of-Oz-esque Cowardly Griffin but a bold statement about the bearer of the coats of arms: this person is not only full of divine power but is also generous with that power, as Yellow (Gold, Or) most often means generosity. A generous divine burger? That works for me.

The subway disgorges us outside the Runnymede Station and we stumble blindly through the humid city, not exactly sure where the Yellow Griffin is but we know it’s got to be around here somewhere. In another journal, not the one I have clutched under my arm, is the address but of course that doesn’t help us now. “I think it’s this way,” says Saira, so away we go. I fix my eye on a pubby-looking establishment farther along the street but surely that can’t be it, not with the patio bristling with thatched tropical beach style umbrellas. A British-style pub with thatched beach umbrellas? Does-- Not-- Compute. And yet... yep, there it is, a big yellow sign with blocky black lettering: THE YELLOW GRIFFIN.

Into the pub we go to grab a table and wait for our third party, one of Saira’s friends who lives in the neighborhood. Inside The Yellow Griffin is tiny, a few booths and a handful of tables. A server brings us menus that look like the sign, yellow and black and blocky. Our eyes goggle at the menu, burger after burger after mouthwatering succulent burger. Shall I opt for the Bollywood Burger, perhaps with lamb instead of beef as a shout-out to my Hindu friends? Or perhaps the Firehouse Burger for a jolt of that spicy summer heat. The Calypso Burger? The list goes on. Mangos, Avocados, Peanut Butter... Peanut Butter?!? You name it and you can probably find it on top of a Yellow Griffin burger. Our friend joins us and we place our orders. I opt, of course, for The Classic: straight-up beef burger with mustard, onion, pickle, lettuce and tomato. Oh, and some onion rings. Didn’t I say months ago that I was going to cut out the fried sides for the remainder of The Quest? Arnold Schwarzenegger voice: “I Lied.” Or, more to the point, I caved. I folded faster than Superman on laundry day. Sorry, arteries: I just loves me some Onion Rings.

We The Questers kick back and wait for our food, all of us ravenously hungry and growing hungrier by the minute. “Good Food Takes Time,” a sign on the Yellow Griffin’s wall proclaims. Hopefully not too much time. To while away the minutes we chat about summer fun: chicken wing battles (“Whose wings will reign supreme?”) and sunbathing at Hanlan’s Point-- Toronto’s nude beach, frequented mostly by gay men.

After not too long a wait the burgers arrive! My burger is served open on a wooden plate covered in brown paper with four large onion rings on the side. The rings are large, but still-- four? I should’ve gone for the fries. Saira’s friend tells me I should’ve gone for the Sweet Potato Fries, which apparently are the best in the city. I bite into one of hers and she’s right. These are the best darn sweet potato fries I’ve ever had. Crispy on the outside, smooth and creamy on the inside. The onion rings are delicious as well: crispy, oniony, not at all greasy. But I’ve gotten distracted. The Yellow Griffin isn’t about onion rings or fries, sweet potato or otherwise. It’s about BURGERS!

I look down at my almost blackened burger sitting on a toasted bun, a tangle of red onion, pickle, lettuce and three tomato slices piled atop the meat. That blackened burger is pretty damn black... is it overcooked? I take a bite and find I am worried over nothing. That first bite is juicy and bursting with Beef. Yes. Yes. YES. This... this is a burger. I take another bite, bigger this time, letting the flavors roll around my tongue: charred beef and fresh onions and just a hint of salt. Not quite as highfalutin’ as Hal Burger but a worthy substitute. This is so close to what I’ve been searching for, so very close: a big meaty burger that tastes like BEEF. The last bite comes all too quickly, the last beefy delicious morsel disappearing down the hatch.

And with that The Burger Questers disperse, heading back to separate lives in the city but not before making plans to hit another burger joint together, and soon.