Now Playing…Wahlburgers: Identity Crisis…Starring Mark, Donnie and the Other Guy.

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:

  1. This place is pretty big.
  2. What a hideous shade of green.
  3. 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).

BBQ Bacon Burger $9.95
BBQ  Bacon Burger $9.95
Wahl Sauce
Wahl Sauce

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.

Fries and Tater Tots $3.50 each
Fries and Tater Tots $3.50 each

My Take

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.

Wahlburgers on Urbanspoon

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The P & L Burger: Recognizing Big Boy as the Original Hipster

Parts and Labour’s offspring, P &L burger, was in part due to its performance on Burger Wars, in which it beat out rivals Burger’s Priest and Dangerous Dan’s to claim supremacy.  It opened its doors recently near Queen and Spadina, only a few doors down from Burger’s Priest and in an  area with an ever increasing number of fast/snack food options. Upon entry, I was greeted by a young lady with modern enthusiasm who quickly took my order. Fifteen minutes later, almost to the second, my number was called and I proceeded to the counter.  The cook was as cool as his facial hair and engaged me in a very pleasant conversation about the weather, cycling and growing up in Windsor, Ontario…a far cry from the less than enjoyable service I often receive from other places in the area.

Let’s do a quick historical recount of the evolution of the burger culture in the United States. It would be hard to argue that the Big Mac is not one of the most iconic and recognizable food on earth.  In fact, economic models use the cost of a Big Mac to standardize the state of the economy across the globe.  The brilliance of the Big Mac lies partially in the use of a secret sauce to add some tanginess to the other layers of flavours one would associate with a burger.  The Big Mac was “invented” by a Pittsburgh franchisee in 1967 who developed it to compete with the Big Boy (developed circa 1937), the flagship burger of the restaurant of the same name. The Big Boy is a three layered burger, served on a sesame bun with all the fixings including a special sauce (sound familiar?).  Once a presence throughout the United States, Big Boy still exists although primarily within the state lines of Michigan although a few still exist in Ohio and California.

What struck me the minute I tried the deluxe was the fact that I was eating a hipster Big Mac. It had most of the components with an extra emphasis on the the huge beef patty, which was cooked a juicy medium-well.  The P&L sauce was an excellent condiment and resembled the special sauce that made the Big Mac famous.  The cheese was melted nicely and crispy bacon pieces lined the thick patty.  It was a big, sloppy and delicious mess.  Consuming it did make me wonder why too many other burger places haven’t made an effort to mimic one of America’s favorite and most recognizable foodstuffs.  As far as the sides, I found the fries rather soggy and the slaw unappealing in both colour and taste.

The Deluxe $9
The Deluxe $9 (aka The Hipster Big Mac)

 

Somewhat Soggy Fries
Somewhat Soggy Fries (plus $3 with drink)

 

P & L Slaw
P & L Slaw ($3)

My Take

Not only did Big Boy invent the saucy burger, I argue they invented the hipster.  I mean, look at the mascot:

1. He wears checkered clothing.

2. He has a clean side part and a a flip in the front.

3. He is wearing light blue shoes.

4. He has that “I’m cool because I’m about to eat a burger” look on his face.

Big Boy- The Original Hipster
Big Boy- The Original Hipster

Now McDonald’s stole the Big Mac concept but  alienated the hipster concept and instead introduced Ronald McDonald in 1963.  The famous clown (which apparently has 96% recognition in the USA), was created by Willard Scott (yes…the same Willard Scott who gained fame as a Today show weatherman).  Since then, there have been eight actors who have portrayed the famous clown and none of them have worn, plaid, plastic rimmed glasses or parted their hair to the side.

Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald- This would be enough to make me a vegetarian
Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald- This would be enough to make me a vegetarian

P&L has created a DELICIOUS burger which competes for the best under $10 in Toronto.  The sauce is the key, adding a tangy cut through the richness of the thick beef patty and accompanying melted Amercian cheese and bacon.  The bun is terrific and the condiments are as harmonious as the Big Mac song itself.  The fries were soggy and the slaw was unremarkable.  You’re likely in for about a 15 minute wait but I think it’s worth it (after all some people in Toronto have no issue waiting hours for a stool tucked in the corner of a popular snack bar). Now that I’ve read a bit about burger history I realize that in fact the classic sandwich is the perfect food for the modern day hipster; you can dress like Big Boy and act like a clown.

 

The P & L Burger on Urbanspoon