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.”

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!