Tuesday, 30 November 2010

South St. Burger Co.

Saturday April 31, 2010

South St. Burger Co.


Burger May Not Be Exactly As Shown



South St. Burger Co. is a chain restaurant, part of the mighty NY Fries Empire. Burgers… and fries? It's so crazy it just might work!

I head off to meet my wife Emma and her co-worker Stacie and Stacie's husband Rob. While I wait for the bus I estimate there are 375 dandelions in the yard across from the bus stop. Now there's a productive use of my time!

The bus drops me off in front of a big-box strip mall that reminds me a lot of Dallas, right down to the stucco archways. Is this a sign? Does the Dallas-style burger of my dreams lie in wait for me just on the other side of that stucco arch? Only one way to find out!

I step into South St. Burger Co. (which smells amazing-- like burgers. Go figure!) and scan the crowds for my wife. She's not here yet but this joint is jumpin': packed with parents and kids and what looks like two different birthday parties-- or maybe those kids are just really into balloons. Little kids are swarming everywhere, zipping around like neutrinos while harried Moms try to corral them back to their tables. I decide to wait for Em and Stacie and Rob outside.

I grab a wrought-iron seat at an outdoor table and try to block out the music oozing from the speakers. Soft Rock? Adult Contemporary? Lite Jazz? Whatever it is, it's terrible. As Todd Flanders said on The Simpsons, "Ow! My Freaking Ears!"

I watch other folks walk outside with their burgers . The smell of meat and ketchup wafts past my nose and I realize that I am freakin' HUNGRY. The burgers are served wrapped in wax paper on round metal trays. The burgers are BIG. That's a good sign-- or is it? Only if the burgers are any good. It's like that old joke: "The food here is terrible!" "I know-- and such small portions!"

The music shifts to Paul Simon. Adult Contemporary. Where is my wife? I think I got here crazy early. My stomach rumbles. There’s a sign on the door that says ‘Burgers Made Well.’ I like it. Not too braggy. None of the usual “WORLD”S BEST BURGER!!!!” bragging. Still, if the crowds piling into this place are any indication, the burgers here must be pretty tasty.

My wife arrives! We go inside and grab a table. A sticker on the door tells us this restaurant is powered by Green Energy. A paper placemat tells us the beef, buns, potatoes, chicken, cheeses and ice cream are all purchased locally. Em buys us a pre-dinner treat: a strawberry milkshake. It's amazing.

Stacie and Rob join us and Stacie insists on paying for all of us. Well, if you insist… There are tons of toppings to choose from but I stay on the Burger Straight & Narrow: pickles, onions, yellow mustard. I unwrap my burger and take a bite.

The First Bite: It tastes homemade! Straight from the backyard grill. It’s damn tasty. The onion rings are strangly “mealy.” They’re crunchy, but with an odd texture. Onion Rings? What was I thinking? This place is owned by NY Fries!

We eat and talk and get to know each other and then eat some more. I am amazed and impressed that the burgers are so tasty and the toppings so fantastically fresh. Before we leave Em and I split another strawberry shake. It might’ve been overkill but it was so, so good. As Bender said in Futurama, “Goodbye, Moderation!”

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Collegiate Lunch

Friday March 18th, 2010

The Collegiate Lunch
1024 Gerrard St. E.

Sunrise, sunset. Winter turns to spring. Time for a pendulum swing away from hoity-toity Gourmet Burgers and back toward the straight-up burger of the lunch counter. I’m meeting my friend Saira (who has Burger Quested with me before) at The Collegiate Lunch. I was tipped off to this place by Chowhound while looking for information about The Great Burger Kitchen, which is where Saira and I were planning to go today but it’s not open yet. According to the grumblings on Chowhound, The Collegiate Lunch is a few doors away from The Great Burger Kitchen and makes a delicious (and cheap!) diner burger. The Great Burger Kitchen is going to throw off the Burger Equilibrium of the neighorhood! Horrors! Or maybe not. I’m betting that a classic diner and a high-end burger restaurant can peacefully co-exist in the same block. We shall see!

“The Collegiate Lunch” sounds like it should be full of 1950s style college students with blazers, buzz cuts, letterman’s jackets and pipes. Buddy Holly should be playing on the jukebox. Burly football players should be having eating contests (“If you eat 50 burgers, the 51st burger is FREE!”) and a girl named Molly with a ponytail, cardigan and a poodle skirt should be sharing a malt with a nervous fella named Chester. Sh-Boom (the whitewashed version by The Crew Cuts, not the original version by The Chords) should start playing on the jukebox as Chester and Molly fall in love.

This is not what happens. “Gosh, A.G.! You mean the doorway of The Collegiate Lunch isn’t a portal into a movie about the 1950s?” Nope. Maybe we’re all better off. After all, I’m not here for a sock hop, I’m here for the burgers.

The Collegiate Lunch is definitely old school. A row of maroon vinyl booths sit oppose a long lunch counter with vinyl stools. There are a few wooden tables and chairs at the back. Above the lunch counter is a staggering number of Minnie Mouse figurines. The woman who runs this place, I find out later, is named Minnie. A few old men in windbreakers and baseball caps sit socializing in the back booth.

Saira and her baby Amara arrive, ready to chow down. We both order the house special: a bacon cheeseburger. Saira goes all-out and gets a side of gravy for her fries. Then we kick back and wait while a steady stream of regulars come and go. Everyone seems to know everyone else. There’s lots of laughing, shaking hands, and hugging.

After a bit of a wait our food arrives. The burgers are served up on white oval plates with two strips of crisp bacon, grated cheddar cheese and a lightly toasted bun. Along with this I’ve opted for tomato, mustard and onion (hold the relish).

THE FIRST BITE: Meaty! Hot and Juicy. The beef is super tender. The aftertaste is bacon. It’s incredibly delicious: a definite step up from the usual frozen patties found all-to-often in diners these days. And it’s CHEAP! For the price of one Bymark burger I could get ten—count ‘em, ten—of these beauties. Delicious, cheap, friendly—The Collegiate Lunch makes me think the Sh-Boom lyrics were right on the money: “Life could be a dream.” A delicious burgery dream.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Bymark

Bymark
66 Wellington St. W.

Tuesday March 16, 2010

It’s a beautiful spring evening. Thanks to Daylight Savings, the light is still golden and beautiful as I ride the Coxwell bus down to the subway station. I’m heading across town to meet my wife and her aunt and uncle at Bymark, home of the legendary $35 dollar hamburger.

I can see heads exploding all over the internet. “Thirty-five bucks?!? For a HAMBURGER? Is it some kinda Giant Hamburger? Is it served in a wheel barrow? Does it have a solid gold bun?” No, no and no. Bymark is a swanky joint where financial industry types go to throw money around and impress girls. But maybe—just maybe—this burger will be so good it’ll be worth the money.

At Pape Station a woman gets on the subway rockin’ a Post-Apocalyptic ‘Tank Girl’ style outfit (minus Ice-T as a Mutant Kangaroo). These are Post-Financial Meltdown times, but The Recession still lingers, and here I am going to buy a thirty-five dollar hamburger. I feel a twinge of Capitalistic Guilt. This is a decadent splurge, like Roman Emperors gorging in the banquet halls before staggering off to the vomitorium (which apparently never actually happened...) But it’s all for The Quest. I vowed to leave no burger unturned, from the ritziest restaurant to the lowest dive, so now I must brush the dirt from my trousers, drag a comb through my beard and head into The Financial District.

On King Street it’s strangely deserted. Most of the workers have packed up and left for the day, and the few that remain are tucked inside their offices, working late. Outside a bank I see two security guards rousting a hunched-over homeless woman. She is agitated and making sounds like an angry prehistoric bird. She needs help from dedicated mental health professionals, but in this case all she will get is a warning to move on.

Then I step inside the TD Center and begin to negotiate the labyrinth that hopefully will lead me not to a snarling Minotaur but to a tasty hamburger. After a few wrong turns I find Bymark, where my wife Emma and her Aunt Katie and Uncle John are waiting.

The Bymark dining room is gold and cozy. Very tasteful, very swanky. We’re in a basement so there are no windows, but the high ceilings cancel out the “you’re in a basement” effect. I sit down and a server materializes out of nowhere to present me with a choice of three different breads. I opt for the olive bread, which is hot and delicious.

“Olive Bread?” I hear you saying. “What the Hell, man? When are you getting to THE BURGER?” Oh, it’s coming, folks. You can’t rush these things. First we get our appetizers. In keeping with the decadent tone of the evening, we all order another Bymark house specialty, the Butter Braised Lobster Poutine. Oh yes. Crisp frites (that means “fries”, only more expensive) with chunks of lobster covered in b√©arnaise sauce (doesn’t “b√©arnaise” sound like something bears would spread on a sandwich?) and served in a lobster shell. Brothers and Sisters, it is HELLA GOOD.

Then we sit back, visit and wait for our mains. It takes a while but as I said, you can’t rush these things. And then… and then… it arrives.







A beautiful-looking burger, served on a toasted and buttered white bun, nestled next to a tower of onion rings on a white oval plate. THE FIRST BITE is buttery and rich. The brie cheese almost overwhelms the beef, but there is definitely some grilled beef flavor. This burger is big, rich and juicy. The onion rings are amazing. They’re tempura-crisp with flecks of oregano fried into the batter. Afterwards I feel like I should light up a cigar with a hundred dollar bill.


This is by far the most expensive hamburger I’ve ever had. It’s not so much a meal as it is an experience. I’m glad I was fortunate enough to experience it once, but it’s hard to imagine a return visit. Maybe if I stumble into some pirate treasure or win the lottery… who am I kidding? If that happened I would pull an Elvis and fly down to Dallas with my buddies to buy real Texas Hamburgers straight from the source. Still, that Texas-style burger might still be here in Toronto, sizzling away on an open grill, right around the corner. And so The Quest continues!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Gourmet Burger Company

Gourmet Burger Co.

482 Parliament Street


The time, it flies! I’m way, waaaay behind on this here Burger Quest. Time to get back to it!


Say, Gang! Remember Saturday February The 13th? That’s when I decided to mosey on over to The Gourmet Burger Company on Parliament Street. The very idea of a “Gourmet Burger” still strikes me as a bit strange. Nowadays, though, there’s all kinds of hoity-toity burgers for sale all over the world and Toronto is no exception. What would be waiting for me at The Gourmet Burger Company? An ostrich burger with aged gorgonzola sprinkled with gold dust?


My guitar teacher Riaz and I decided to find out. That’s right— after almost ten years of making music with the Music Collective Miracle Beard as well as my own projects Placebo & The Effects and Flat Bread Sammy I decided it was about time I should learn how to play an instrument, you know, for real.


After my guitar lesson Riaz (of the band Red Wing Bridge) and I wandered up to Parliament and Carlton. Inside The Gourmet Burger Co. is decorated in Basic Black and White, with a chalkboard menu. We order: I opt for a straight-up burger (hold the gold dust) with onions, mustard and pickles. Onion rings? Oh, why not?


After a very short wait (five minutes) we’re called up to the counter to get our burgers, which are served on a round metal tray. Our stomachs rumble as we make our way back to our seats. Riaz sips his shake and says, “Wow—good chocolate shake.” He unwraps his burger and it looks so good I must dig into mine.


The First Bite: I pick up the burger. The bun is soft, with a great consistency. (My father-in-law Randy later told me he’s had hamburgers with cold—like right out of the fridge cold—buns from here. Thankfully, on this burgering adventure the buns are just fine.) That grilled meat smell hits my nose. Salivating, I take a big bite and taste MEAT. There’s the perfect amount of juicy goodness. That great grilled meat taste lingers on my tongue. The bun-to-burger ratio is perfect.


The onion rings are crispy, hot and oniony— not too salty. The batter is light and golden.


Riaz says, “This is probably the best shake.”

I say, “The onion rings are up there, too.”


Alas, this burger doesn’t awaken any Texas Memories— ah, the fleeting burger of my youth— but still, a positive burger experience all around! Except for my trip home, when a woman sailed right past the open streetcar doors, oblivious in her SUV. Because of idiots like her, always look for cars before stepping out of the streetcar. Let’s be careful out there, folks!


NEXT UP: Gourmet burgers, you say? Then we must go to Bymark! Featuring burger pics at last!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Welcome To A.G. Pasquella Books!


Howdy folks!

Welcome to the Burger Quest's new URL! You can now find us at http://burgerquest.agpbooks.com. Same site, same burgery goodness: only now the URL is part of my brand-new website, http://agpbooks.com. Do you like the writing on Burger Quest? Come on over to A.G. Pasquella Books and see what else I've got for you!

Plenty more Burger Reviews to come. Stay tuned!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Oh Boy Burger Market


Oh Boy Burger Market
571 Queen St. W.
Toronto, ON

All right! Time to play catch up. Come with me, won't you, to Feb. 2nd, 2010...

A grey day. Ground Hog Day. Ground Hog. Ground Beef. Hamburger. Time to continue The Burger Quest. Remember the Bill Murray movie ‘Ground Hog Day?’ Bill Murray gets stuck in a perpetual time loop, forced to repeat Ground Hog Day again and again. There’s a great scene where he starts feasting like a Roman Emperor, shoveling food into his mouth with wild abandon. Not being stuck in a perpetual time loop, I don’t have this luxury. As hungry as I am, I will have to limit myself to one single burger. Okay, and maybe a side of onion rings.

I set out walking, pondering life’s great mysteries. Will the ground hog see his shadow? Could one predict more winter using the shadow of a hamburger? If I eat a hamburger in the forest, does it make a sound? (Note to self: rent high-end audio equipment and eat a hamburger in the forest. Then remix the recording, add some bumpin’ beats and tour the finest dancehalls of Europe.)

Onto the subway. It’s not crowded, which is nice. Across from me a dusty man, possibly homeless, clutches a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Today is the so-called “Toonie Tuesday.” So called because back in the fabled days of yore, a box of two pieces of KFC chicken and an order of fries would set you back exactly Two (count ‘em, 2) Canadian Dollars, or “Toonies.” Then Inflation began its frantic march. The price soared to $2.22-- technically still “Toonie Tuesday” because just look at all those ‘2’s. Nowadays I believe the price is $2.79. What will happen when the price vaults past three dollars? “Threenie Tuesdays” just doesn’t have the same ring. And what will happen when I am an old man, grandchildren gathered around my feet? Will the “Toonie Tuesday” Special be up to $22.22? $222.22?

“When I was your age, The Toonie Tuesday Special cost a Toonie!”
The Grandkids yawn. “We know, Grampa. You told us.”
The kids blast away, bored in their personal jet packs.

Floating through the subway comes the ever-present blasting of crappy music through crappy speakers, ubiquitous in this iPod Age.
“See, what I did is I downloaded this App called the iTin. It makes the most bass-heavy tracks sound tinny and terrible.”
“What’s the market for that? Why, when I was your age--”
“I know, Grampa.” The kid with the tinny music puts on his personal jet-pack and blasts through the subway roof.

But enough of all that. This isn't Chicken Quest. I get off at the Spadina Subway Station and take the streetcar south through Chinatown. On Queen Street, my old neighborhood, I walk West to Oh Boy Burger where I’m meeting a friend for lunch. Oh Boy Burger is part of Toronto’s Gourmet Burger Explosion. Over the last couple of years, there’s been a Burger Renaissance in this city. Am I happy? Yes and No. More Burgers = More Choice and that’s generally a good thing. Something for everyone, real Democratic-like. But the idea of a “Gourmet Burger” strikes me as strange. What’s wrong with the Traditional Burger of The Lunch Counter? Hot and Juicy, served up quick for cheap: The Meal of The People, not the Tuxedoed Elite. And often these so-called Gourmet Burger restaurants are all about the toppings. Bad meat with a slice of truffle on top is still bad meat. You hear that, Gourmet Burger Cooks? Say it with me: It’s All About The Beef!

I walk into Oh Boy Burger and grab a seat. The decor is pretty swanky, very masculine, lots of black and red. There are brand-new wooden floors and red vinyl booths harkening back to the lunch counters of yore.

I take a look at the menu. There’s what I want: The Oh Boy Classic. “8 oz Premium AAA & Prime Ground Chuck, Sesame Seed Bun, Lettuce, Tomato & Roasted Garlic Mayonaisse.” $7.50. I place my order and upgrade to a combo with onion rings and a drink.

This place smells great. There’s a big pot of chili simmering on the stove in the open kitchen. Burgers sizzle on the grill. I’m getting hungrier and hungrier. The wait drags on, but my friend has arrived and so we bide our time talking about the stock market, energy trading, music, family, life.

At last I’m called to the counter. I ask for onion and pickles. The burger looks great: perfect grill marks. The onion rings look crisp and thick. The burger and rings are served on brown butcher paper on top of a small metal tray. It all looks amazing.

THE FIRST BITE: Disappointment! It’s drier than I expected. Dry, tough and chewy. Overdone. The aftertaste is a big mouthful of garlic mayo, not the big meat taste I was craving. Disappointed, I turn to the onion rings. My mouth shrivels. These are the saltiest onion rings I’ve ever had. What was that Futurama line? "That's the saltiest thing I ever tasted, and I once ate a big heaping bowl of salt."

My friend is also disappointed. “The burger's a bit.. dry.”
“Yeah.”

This has been one of the biggest let-downs of The Quest. I wanted to like this place, folks. I really did. I like the decor, the idea, the whole vibe. On the menu they announce a 13% discount for artists. No tax, just like in Ireland. A nice touch, but it won’t save this food. So disappointing. Oh Boy Burger has become Oh No Burger.

Sadly, I walk through the melting snow and road salt to catch the streetcar home. Even after two big drinks, my mouth still feels as salty as the streets.


UPDATE: FEB. 18, 2011: Oh Boy is no more. Judging from the comments on this blog entry, I wasn't the only one underwhelmed by Oh Boy's burgers or service. It's going to be replaced by a "European style gastropub." The co-owner Paul Boehmer said the burger joint didn't work because "there were just too many burger restaurants." Psst, Paul-- Queen West also has many, many pubs. Ah well-- Best of Luck!