Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Royal Meats BBQ


Royal Meats BBQ
710 Kipling Avenue
Etobicoke, ON

Let's be honest. Am I going to find the Texas Burger of my youth here at a Serbian BBQ restaurant? Probably not. But you never know. The Quest winds on, over hill and dale, carrying me along to some unforeseen Burger Destinations. And when it was proposed that my father-in-law, grandfather-in-law (is that a real thing?), brother-in-law and nephew stop for lunch at this Serbian BBQ place my father-in-law Randy knows about, who am I to say no?

That's right. This leg of The Quest is multigenerational: Grampa Paul (Grandfather-In-Law), Randy (Father-In-Law), Phet (Brother-In-Law), Ji Hong (Nephew) and myself went to Royal Meats BBQ to experience a Burger Quest First: Four Generations coming together to share the magic of hamburgers.

Judging by the display screen behind the counter, these burgers are magical indeed. A giant Pixelated animated burger spins majestically and then explodes into a shower of smaller burgers. It's trippy yet accurate. It is possible to get small burgers here but there is also a burger on the menu I cannot resist: the one-pounder. Forget your quarter pounds or your six ounces-- this here is one pound of gut-busting burger meat, grilled fresh and covered with your choice of toppings, which includes two different kinds of Serbian cheese spreads: a red spread with peppers and feta and a white spread with cream cheese. Do I want Serbian cream cheese on my one pound hamburger? What is this, Rhetorical Day?

YES, YES, YES. This burger is truly unlike any I have had before. The meat isn't just ground beef. It's a mixture of pork and veal that cooks into a chewier patty than a regular burger. At the table Phet laughs as he cuts a fourth of his one pounder for his son Ji. "That's a Quarter Pounder," he says. "And look how much hamburger I have left!"

So it's not the burger of my youth. Does that burger even exist? Am I tilting at burger-shaped windmills? If you can't step into the same river twice and you can't go home again, does that mean I can never find that perfect burger from my Texas Childhood? Have I idealized my dream burger out of all proportions? Isn't it better to forget the past and concentrate on living in the here and now? The delicious one-pound burger in my belly says YES.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Apache Burger

Apache Burger

5236 Dundas St. West

I first noticed this burger joint while taking the bus to the airport-- the 192 Airport Express, vastly superior to the old nonexpress bus which leaves from Lawrence West station and then winds its merry way through the hinterlands of Toronto. The first time I took that 90 minute tour I felt like Lisa Simpson when she took the bus by herself to get to the Springfield Museum Simpsons Episode 5F17, "Lost Our Lisa." ). Lisa gets on the wrong bus( ("How could I confuse bus 22 with 22-a?") and gets farther and farther from her goal: "Crackton! This stop, Crackton!" The Airport Express, on the other hand, takes only about half an hour and leaves from Kipling Station, which is just down the road from Apache Burger.

When first I glanced out the window and saw the name of this restaurant my mind started to churn. Apache Burger? APACHE BURGER? Are they rockin' some kind of retro-racist Cleveland Indians Mascot style vibe? If I go in there, am I going to be served a burger by the Chocolate Smoking Aztec? Problematic indeed.

I filed Apache Burger away in my the back of my mind as a strange curiosity, something to ponder every time I rode out to the airport. Apaches... why Apaches? Historically there were no Apaches in Toronto. Why didn't they call it Iroquois Burger? Historically there were very few Apaches in Texas as well. There was an offshoot, the Lipan Apaches, who lived in Texas but the main Apache territory was Arizona and New Mexico. The Plains Apaches lived mostly in Oklahoma. Were Apaches known for their burger-making skills? The more I pondered, the more questions bubbled to the surface.

Then I started this Burger Quest and quickly discovered that Apache Burger is a much-beloved Toronto Burger Destination, fulfilling the burger needs of the West Side the same way Johnny's, another legendary Toronto burger spot, serves the folks over on The East Side (I haven't been to Johnny's yet, but it's on my list... stay tuned!). I had to steel myself against the possibility of racist cartoon stereotypes and make the trek to Apache Burger to taste the legend for myself.

My father-in-law Randy (who has joined me on The Quest several times before) and I drove out to Apache Burger one beautiful winter day. Not quite burger season but the sun was shining and there was only a light dusting of snow on the rooftops but more importantly, we were HUNGRY.

We stepped into the restaurant and instantly I was relieved at the absence of cartoon racism. Instead, the interior of the restaurant was decorated in 50s retro red with accents of black and white with a touch of sleek chrome. There was a red neon guitar on the ceiling and a tile mosaic of Marilyn Monroe on the wall. On another wall a plaque informed me that Apache Burger was established in 1969. They must be doing something right because on that winter day the place was packed but the line was zippin' right along. Randy and I both opted for double cheeseburgers with BBQ sauce, a bit of a departure from my standard order but I heard through the grapevine that Apache Burger was known for their BBQ sauce so what the heck, right? Throw it on there! Should I order another plain burger as a "Control Group?" No! Scientific Method be damned!

We get our big foil-wrapped burgers and our onion rings, then find a booth and dig in. Unwrapped, the burger is dripping with grease and cheese. My tastebuds are tingling. THE FIRST BITE, surprise surprise, is cheesy and greasy and DAMN DELCIOUS. The BBQ sauce gives it a tangy zip. This ain't no gourmet snooty burger, no-- this is a hearty sloppy eleven-thirty at night after drivin' around with your high school buddies type of burger, the kind of burger that sticks in your memory and inspires life-long devotion. The onion rings, on the other hand... they're golden and crispy and greasy, but they could be more oniony. They're too thick with batter, like donuts or apple fritters. Does that stop us from eating them? HELL, NO.

Outside the restaurant condos are springing up all around us, growing Jack-And-The-Beanstalk-style toward the sky. We head for the car, hungry no more.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Bronto Burger

Bronto Burger
2982 Dundas Street West

October 19th (I think) Friday, 2007

It's a surprisingly hot and humid October day. "Ah, tropical October!" Of course. On the Broadview streetcar is a classic Canadian sight: some folks are bundled up in fur-lined parkas, others are sitting comfortably in short sleeved shirts. I'm on my way to Dundas West to meet the 2nd vegetarian to join me on the quest: Mr. Jason Lapeyre. We're headin' to The Junction in search of Burger Goodness. Lapeyre, being a Junction local, has a hot tip on a burger joint but, being a vegetarian, can't sample the wares himself. That's where I come in.

We meet at Dundas West station. Lapeyre is grinning happily. "See that woman?" He says. "Seconds before you got here, she was belting out Gospel songs!" A good sign. We catch the bus and head North.

The Junction reminds me of Kingston, Ontario: a similar mix of ramshackle homes and record stores, restaurants and halfway houses. We meander a bit along the street and spot Bronto Burger. Brontos may be big but this restaurant is a tiny cube. Inside is one table and six stools. The back wall has been decorated to look like a fake cave. There's a big "Dino" from The Flintstones licking his purple chops.

We saunter up to the counter. Jay opts for the Veggie Burger and I go for the gusto: a fourteen ounce 'Bam Bam Burger' and an order of onion rings (I know, I know-- my heart hurts just writing that sentence.) The service is super-fast and in what seems like seconds we're pointing to the condiments we want. Lapeyre's Veggie Burger looks great, by which I mean it looks like MEAT. The buns are toasted. Another good sign.

My 'Bam Bam Burger' is two seven-ounce patties on a sesame seed toasted bun. That grilled meat smell hits my nose and I want to dive right in. First I get it loaded up: red onions, pickles, tomatoes, mustard and mayo. We comandeer the single table and get down to it.

THE FIRST BITE is hot and delicious, but also mildly disappointing. The smell, that powerful grilled meat smell doesn't quite match the taste. This burger doesn't have that overwhelming MEAT taste I'm craving. It's filling, though-- that's for sure. The onion rings are delicious-- large and ultra-crispy. All in all, a funky little restaurant with a not-bad burger-- but not The Burger of My Dreams.

Where are you, Dream Burger? Are you out there? If so, I'll find you. This I vow!