A lovely photo of our winner.
Torontoist recently found itself tackling the age-old puzzlement: how do you enjoy the barbeque season without owning a barbeque?
While we acknowledge that the easiest way to accomplish this is to crash someone else’s backyard gathering, we felt that it may be less offensive to your unwitting host if you just trucked on over to your favourite burger joint, got some take-out, and sat on your very own 4×8-foot balcony to soak up those lovely rays.
Torontoist is also of the firm belief that the West End may just have the best non-outdoor grilled burgers on offer in our fair city; and so, with our four person judging panel hungry for some charred goodness, the West Burger Challenge was born!
- Lick’s Homeburger. The only chain in our challenge, Lick’s was founded in 1980 by Denise Meehan. The original location was on Queen Street East, but in keeping with the “west side flavour” of our challenge, we visited them on the Queensway.
- Apache Burger. Opened in 1959, Apache is a favourite of hockey players, politicians, and plebes alike. Apache is also a throw back to earlier times, with its 50s diner décor and refusal to use gloves while handling food.
- Magoo’s Gourmet Hamburgers. Celebrating 20 years in the business, Magoo’s prides itself on using 100% lean ground beef from none other than fancy-shmancy grocer Bruno’s.
- The Magic Spot. Across from Royal York station, The Magic Spot is a favourite of many a Kingsway area resident with a menu that goes beyond burgers to include a few choice Greek items.
- Appearance. Does it look delectable? Is it flat or squishy? /20
- Topping Availability. Do they go above and beyond? Are a wide variety free of charge? Are the toppings in “good nick” (i.e. the tomatoes aren’t grey)? /20
- Burger Quality. Juiciness, meaty flavouresness. Overcooked or not enough (i.e. E.coli here I come)? /20
- Bun Quality. Freshness, complements the patty, does the size of the bun overpower? /20
- Eatability. Is it easy to hold, to bite (sometimes bigger is just annoying), is it messy or contained? /20
In terms of the entrants, some rules had to be adhered to…
- It must be the most basic burger available;
- Toppings must be selected from the “free of charge” section.
Cost was not ranked for this challenge—the basic burgers at all four locations ran from $4.00 to $5.00 (including tax) and we didn’t feel the cost difference was of enough significance.
- Appearance. TIE: Lick’s and Magoo’s—16/20. In both instances the bunnage did not envelop the topping/meat combination, providing the judge with a tantalizing preview.
- Topping Availability. TIE: Lick’s and Magoo’s—16/20. Lick’s free special sauces were a tough match to Magoo’s mustard trinity.
- Burger Quality. Lick’s—18/20. It tasted like beef! Fancy!
- Bun Quality. Lick’s—18/20. Sesame seeds are a source of calcium and crunchy goodness.
- Eatability. Magoo’s—17/20. Minimal topping expulsion.
We had a tie for the overall loser of the challenge, with both Apache and Magic Spot scoring a 61/100. While Magic Spot was no shock, with its utility-grade rubbery patty and extremely basic toppings, Apache’s score was not what we expected. Granted, Apache’s topping offerings weren’t vast, and the patty was thin with an overpowering bun. The flipside to that, however, is the unmistakable great taste of the patty itself. With some work—shrink the bun, grow the patty—Apache would have been a real contender.
The winner, with 82%, was Lick’s. The burger was of good quality with a nice charbroiled flavour and spiciness. The bun wasn’t the best at holding everything together, but it possessed excellent density, and the majority of the toppings were free, including green onions, which pleased us to no end. While Magoo’s, our runner-up, also had great toppings, they charged for many of them, including their “special sauce.” Most importantly, the burger itself was described by our panel as dry and unmistakably loafish in both flavour and appearance.
While Torontoist was, deep down, rooting for the little guy, we can’t deny a clear winner. Lick’s has ten locations in the GTA alone, and while the constant half-assed singing can be irksome, the burger really is the cat’s pyjamas.
Photos by Julie Reitsma.