I suppose if you have the last name Wahlberg, it makes sense that you throw your at into the burger business, especially where you are backed by two pop culture icons who have graced the big and small screen as well as the music business for 25 years.
Wahlburgers recently opened its first Toronto franchise along side the SOHO hotel on Blue Jays Way. I immediately thought a few things when I entered the place for the first time:
- This place is pretty big.
- What a hideous shade of green.
- Why are the staff acting like I’m in a Parkdale eatery instead of a downtown tourist trap? A black shirt or a cardigan should not make one better than me.
I was seated quickly and ordered a pint. At this point I realized it’s quite hard to get a pint from the burger based joint and be able to watch a tv at the same time. The adhere to a list of local brews on tap and also feature the Wahlbrewski North which is brewed on contract by a local brewery. The price range is $7-7.50. I really had no interest in the $12 adult cocktails (although I will give them credit for using clamato instead of tomato juice in their Caesars..it looks like they did their homework). Their $15 adult frappes look sickly sweet and look as if they would appeal to teens with fake IDs and those who feel comfortable drinking as many calories as they are about to eat (what the hell is whipped cream liquor anyway).
The menu is mainly burgers with the typical sides (salads and fries) but you can also get a portobello burger, a sandwich made of turkey with all the fixings and typical offerings off a kid’s menu if necessary. I ordered the BBQ bacon burger with the sauce in the side. In addition I ordered a side of famous Wahl sauce which is normally served with some of the other burgers on the menu. As a side, we split the fries and an order of tater tots.
While you’re waiting you can watch a montage to the Wahlberg brothers (Donny, Mark and the other guy) on a loop (including new and old footage and plenty of references to the A&E show) which runs on the televisons in strategic positions set throughout the restaurant. Otherwise, you can also read the wordle-like large poster which lists all of Mark’s movies in the event it’s a trivia question or a dinner party conversation starter sometime in the future.
The burger was decent. The patty was not overcooked although I would have been happy if it was closer to medium. The bun/patty ratio was good. I enjoyed both sauces but was glad I didn’t ask for either directly on the burger since I think a little too much would have cut into the taste of the burger overall. The clothespin was a bit woody….but probably better than the fries (see below).
The sides were horrible. The “naturally cut” fried clearly didn’t mean freshly cut and the tater tots were “just like I remember them”…over salted and greasy potato sponges. Given the fries I get can get at other joints for about the same price, these were an embarrassment at $3.50 each.
I will be interested to see the fate of Wahlburgers in Toronto. It has a bit of an identity crisis. I mean, where else can you grab a $7.50 pint to go with your slice of government cheese? Despite the celebrity endorsement, it sill likely be more geared toward a sports fan than it will a patron of the SOHO itself. It’s saving grace may the fact you can get a decent burger at a decent price in a place where dad can have a beer, mom can ogle Marky Mark’s abs and the kids can eat hot dogs and shitty french fries (I swear as long as there’s ketchup there’s no such thing as a bad fry to a child) and wonder why they can’t have a $15 drink called blueberry pie…all at a location within walking distance of a Jays game. Otherwise the tricky parking and popularity of numerous other burger joints in the area may make it an ongoing struggle.
Personally, I I think I could replicate my experience at Wahlburgers with a green sharpie highlighter, a pound of decent ground beef, a Kraft single, a bag of McCain fries or tater tots and a toaster oven; all while watching Muchmusic retro while I talk to my annoying hipster cousin on speaker phone.
With other burger joints like Burger’s Priest, P & L burger and other options like Hero and Five Guys in town, I think this new kid will get knocked off the block pretty quick.