My food awakening really blossomed in Kensington Market when I lived in an apartment on Baldwin St. on the east side of Spadina. Not technically in the market but we did have neighbours who raised chickens in their front (!) yard. With Patty King, meat from European, cheese from Global, and fruit and veggies from any of the corner establishments how could one shop in Kensington and not be a foodie? The section of Kensington on Augusta between Baldwin and College has changed a lot since I lived near the market. Wanda’s, Big Fat Burrito, Supermarket, and Torito are all new arrivals but the most recent change is the conversion of the Rice Bar into the Burger Bar.
I visited on their very first day in operation so this is by no means a full review. Just my early impressions of an establishment whose development I will follow with interest.
I remember dinners as a kid at restaurants that had those paper place mats with pictures of cocktails–during an age, I suppose, when parents sensibly didn’t care that little Johnie was doodling between pictures of Manhattans and Old Fashioneds so long as he did it peacefully–when I was absolutely fascinated by the variety of cocktails available to adults. Singapore Sling, Rusty Nail, Brown Cow these were really evocative names for a kid and to their great credit The Burger Bar has brought back the Classic Canadian Cocktails place mats. Combined with the red-and-white checked tablecloths, cardboard antlers on the wall, and eclectic mix of chairs this place feels quietly Canadian with only the slightest Kensington touch. The slanting light from the fading October sun setting over Torito probably helped solidify the Canadian ethos.
On picking up the concise menu I note that their burgers only have tomatoes when they can find them ripe and in-season. Now that’s a line that warms by heart. It’s a little odd that they consider pickles an extra topping (with a $1.50 surcharge) but these are really good pickles (possibly house-made?) with only the slightest kick of added vinegar.
We started with the cheeseburger spring rolls ($5) which seems like a good idea on paper but they have two problems here. Ironic takes on spring rolls can definitely have lots of meat but the meat really needs to be cut by something. In this case I’d love to see finely-diced pickles and onions mixed into the deep-fried ground beef. The other problem is that when the rolls are filled too tightly the skin bursts and some of the meat burns before the rest is cooked.
The burger ($8) patty is thick in the New York pub-style of burger. Mine came cooked well-medium-well which is past ideal but I was really amazed to find how juicy and flavourful it was. The coarser grind texture helps and my experience with homemade burgers has made me think that the naturally-raised beef probably also helps. The only better pub-style burger patty (the Stockyards excellent burger is in the flattened style of California drive-ins and midwest diners) in Toronto that comes to mind is the Drake Burger. In unfortunate contrast to the patty, the bun at the Burger Bar is all wrong. A hamburger bun needs to be soft and moist with definite nods to potato, egg and butter. I’m willing to hear arguments against richness but the crusty, chewy bun at the Burger Bar is definitely a no-go for me. The chew of the crust is almost akin to what you would expect from a baguette and distracts attention from the excellently ground meat. This is easily fixed.
The fries ($4 add-on to the burger) were definitely a highlight for me. The perfect combination of a soft potato centre and just crispy ends make for a french fry that is the ideal for the old-style Swiss Chalet fries. I’m pleased to see that they season the fries, properly, with just salt instead of that seasoning salt which leaves the unpleasantly sweet aftertaste of dried onion powder.
The draught selection needs work. Mill St. Organic, two from Amsterdam, and Steamwhistle is an alright place to start but how about something more unusual? I’d be really happy if I could take my pint of Mike Duggan #9 IPA from Caplansky’s around the corner and enjoy it in the ambiance and with the food at The Burger Bar.