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The Big Zack (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
The Big Zack (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

joanne kates

M:brgr offers up side of hubris with overcooked fare Add to ...

  • Name M:brgr
  • Location 401 King St. W.
  • Phone 647-729-1747
  • Website www.mbrgr.com
  • Price $40 for dinner for two with beer, tax and tip (minus the $100 burger)
  • Cuisine Hamburgers

Closed Sundays and Mondays

The exploding plethora of so-called "gourmet" burger joints in Toronto makes me laugh. Gourmet? Most of the "gourmet" burgers I've checked out don't come cooked the way I want them, and are burdened with too many toppings that don't taste as fancy as they sound. Secondly, these upmarket burger joints suffer from the narrowness of their menus. Not everybody you go out for dinner with wants to eat burgers.

And that's what got me to m:brgr. That and the $100 burger. It's almost unimaginable. We thought Mark McEwan's $34.95 Bymark burger was the limit, but no. It's quite the sales technique, given how many other new burger bistros are competing for my attention. The other attention-grabber was the menu, which is rich with alternatives to burgers. Main-course salads, fresh tuna, and chicken are all there.

But let's talk more about burgers. A banquet burger is about as close to heaven as I'll ever get. Char-grill a burger rare, add crisp bacon and a slice of melted real cheddar on a gently toasted crusty white bun, with ketchup, mustard, relish, tomato, pickle and onion. Forget all that crap they're putting on burgers to try to sound trendy. Was ground meat put on this planet to partner with fig jam? Absolutely not. Burgers are for ketchup and pickles.

It's the fig jam that sinks the $100 burger at m:brgr. Well, that's one of the things. Maybe it's only on the menu to get press, but the $100 burger is there, so we ordered it.

Nobody asks how we want it cooked, which seems weird. So we ask for medium rare but the server says, "We can't serve our burgers anything other than medium well because we don't grind the meat here."

Not exactly true. Ontario provincial regulations require ground beef to be cooked to an internal temperature of 71 degrees, which is light-pinkish, a.k.a. medium. The regs don't specify where the meat is ground. Nor do they mind if we eat raw beef (steak tartare, carpaccio). Of course we in Ontario are free to have our burger pinkish.

But our $100 burger arrives so well done, it's dried out, with nary a hint of pink. For the $100 there are two desiccated Kobe patties between three buns, constituting a falling-over stack that poses obvious eating challenges. If the patties had not been slathered with that fig jam, we might have been less taken aback. But sweet gooey jam on a burger? There are also about a dozen other garnishes: Grilled pear, soggy bacon, foie gras, cold hard brie, a few grilled asparagus spears, Piave cheese, a lot of quite ordinary ham, porcini mushrooms, honey-truffle aioli and truffle carpaccio. Bottom line: It's too much stuff on a badly overcooked burger that's too tall to get in your mouth.

But the room is so cool it should take off. There are 200 seats in a couple of different areas with great rock playing, and a sepia photo mural of Toronto with the Eiffel Tower and Chrysler Building dropped in. Some regular tables and lots of high ones with black-and-chrome bar stools.

The feel is retro bar. There are a lot of beers and root beer floats on the menu, along with milkshakes both traditional and spiked.

But obviously a normal diner is not going to m:brgr for a $100 burger. You're going to order the AAA beef burger for $8.75 or the Big Zak for $15.75. Or - hey, big spender - the foie gras burger for $39. If you're a beef-phobic wimp (just kidding) you'll go for the tuna brgr (their spelling) for $15.75. And if you're luckier than me, when you order your burger, they'll ask you what toppings you want. Our tuna burger and triple AAA burger both arrived bare naked, which was sad considering that burgers are about the toppings - especially such dried-out overcooked burgers. We asked for some lettuce and tomato, and they came - a lettuce leaf so skimpy a person couldn't cover their privates with it and pale winter tomato slices.

The Kobe beef burger that forms the heart of the $39 foie gras burger is not as dry as the $8.75 AAA beef burger. As for putting foie gras on a burger: why? The delicate fatty liver gets crushed and melted by the hot burger. It leaves behind nice foie gras taste atop the burger, but ketchup would have been just as good. The tuna burger is a decent slice of fresh tuna cooked pretty rare.

Then there are the sides: Truffle potato-chip crusted mac and cheese is precisely as described: Crushed potato chips with a hint of truffle scent atop disappointing mac and cheese. The sauce is thick and rich so you pay the calorie price, but it's horribly underpowered, cheese-wise. No cheddar bite.

Better to stick with the fries. Both sweet and white potato fries are good, but the French fried onions are the reason to go to m:brgr. A basket of these babies plus a boutique beer - that's a happy dinner. They're super-thin and crisp and ungreasy. Any resemblance between them and the big greasy onion rings that most burger joints offer is purely semantic.

The other fun thing that m:brgr does is the deep-dish chocolate-chip cookie with vanilla ice cream. It comes in a Le Creuset frying pan, hot, half-cooked chocolate-chip cookie dough oozing chocolate chips, topped with vanilla ice cream. Show me a person who dislikes half-cooked chocolate-chip cookie dough and I'll show you a person who's allergic to fun. If they used snazzier darker chocolate (instead of too-sweet cheap chocolate chips) and topped it with Gelato Fresco vanilla instead of ordinary vanilla, that dessert would morph from fun to dangerously delicious - precisely what a burger should be, if it were not overcooked to dessication.

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