It’s pretty easy to identify the top and bottom restaurant in a particular group of ten but how do we distinguish between the rest? What are the controls and the markers? An easy, though not very accurate measure, is to only consider one dish that they all have in common. In my younger, innocent days that was my dedicated modus operandi.
At first it was Caesar salad. I ate every combination of romaine lettuce, bacon, croutons, and dressing I could get my hands on. It being the late nineties –also therein lies my defense, I was seventeen or so–that was an easy task to accomplish. Also in my defense there are few salads as savoury as Caesar’s combination of parmesan cheese, bacon, and worcestershire sauce and let’s not forget that when properly prepared this salad has the stones to include raw egg. I was also really into the adult control that could be had in directing exactly how much black pepper I wanted dispensed from those giant grinders.
Next, I moved to crème brûlée and here I think I am safer from scorn. This is a dessert which requires special equipment (a blowtorch) or at least a very well-calibrated broiler to pull off properly. It’s somewhat difficult to prepare so is a perfect candidate for restaurant consumption. But crème brûlée’s time as a fashionable dish has passed and even more than Chef Cardini’s creation has fallen into disfavour with restauranteurs and their customers.
Without realising it, I think the burger has taken the subconscious role of a marker I use to casually compare restaurants. I’ve been consistently seduced by the bistros, gastropubs, and general restaurants who are willing to subvert Ontario’s burger law and serve a “ground meat preparation” at my desired “medium-rare side of medium”.
Things started off well several months ago at the Drake and Harbord Room and I was pleasantly surprised to find a pub doing a good job of the task for less than ten dollars at the Lion on the Beach but otherwise I have been disappointed. The grind (hand chop, technically, but results matter) of meat at the Queen & Beaver is too coarse and the beef is overwhelmed by the very good bacon. Texture is a bit better at Weezie’s but the flavour isn’t beefy enough and they do a very inconsistent job of delivering the doneness requested.
Maybe I will have to admit that somehow burger preparation has become more complicated in the last sixty years and really does need to be left to the experts–and the cooks at the Stockyards who seem to be expert at everything. Happily I have now been introduced to the newest expert: Burger’s Priest at Queen and Coxwell.
The patties at the Priest are made from freshly-ground beef, pressed thin on a flat-top, seasoned as they cook, topped with American cheese, and served on a custom-made bun. The result is magnificient and delicous. The ambiance is stark but accented by framed pictures the American temples of this particular sandwich. I am comforted by a conversation with the owner about how difficult it is to find a good hamburger bun in Toronto in place of the desperate eye contact I normally use to gauge whether a server can actually deliver on her promise of a medium-rare burger.
The menu is without frills and rookies are steered towards either the Double Down (two patties, two slices of cheese) or the Priest which adds the only-slightly gimmicky “Option”. On my visit this was a deep-fried Portabello and cheese bomb which while it muddied the purity waters slightly, was absolutely delicious. Also, the swimming hole of surplus cheese made a great place to dip the excellent fries–thin and crispy the way they will be if there is a Golden Arches behind the Pearly Gates. The drinks cooler has all the childhood flavours I remember (except one: my kingdom for a Lime Crush) and doesn’t feel the need to stray into the esoteric, trendy, and ridiculously expensive.
The joint is small and every time the door opens the below-counter space heater struggles to compete but I’ll definitely be back when the weather is more conducive to taking my burger to go.
The Burger’s Priest: 1636 Queen Street East; 647-346-0617; call ahead to place pickup orders.