Bareburger: A Haven for Hipbillys and Hippysters Alike

There was a degree of fanfare with the opening of Bareburger, the small New York based chain which offers organic and healthier options to the slew of greasy options which fill the streets of every town and city in North America. One of those cities is now Toronto, more specifically the intersection of Bay and Dundas.

The theme is hipster meets hippy meets hillbilly.  The hipster is the fact that there are usually line-ups at mealtimes and the staff is a mix of lumbersexuals, plastic spectacle wearing stylists and guys with man buns as big as those on the burgers. The hippy is the zen focus on clean eating such as vegetarian and vegan burgers, organic pasture-raised, no hormone meats, non-GMO/pesticide free produce and fair trade purchasing practices to appease the moral consciousness of the anti-capitalists.  The hillbilly comes from unique meat choices including duck, wild boar, bison and elk along with the use of recycled barns and wood for the roof and floor respectively no to mention the bear heads (although not real) hanging on the wall.

The drink list offers a select list of microbrews, wines and spirits but what be more unique are the non-alcoholic drinks such as homemade unsweetened ice teas and 10 different sodas including a traditional cola and not so traditional blueberry .  I was on the clock so I opted for the white peach ice tea ($3.25) served a glass which looked like a billboard for clean eating. It was quite refreshing.

White Peach Ice Tea ($3.25)
White Peach Ice Tea ($3.25)

I started with a jar of spicy pickles which is supposedly a 100 year old family recipe.  They had great spice and flavour and were served in the quintessential  hillbilly/hispter glassware…the mason jar.

The burgers are the main event but Bareburgers offers other sandwiches and salads as well.  You have the choice of building your own or trusting the chefs who have devised 14 different choices using a variety of meat, buns and toppings.  I opted for the blue elk ($13.65) which was elk topped with elk, amish blue, back bacon, stout onions and tomato fig jam all served on a sprout bun.  The meat was cooked perfectly but the taste was hidden a little by the intense flavour of the jam and the bun.  All in all, it was a good burger and clearly unique from most of the others in the area and despite the richness of some of the ingredients, didn’t leave that gross feeling in my stomach despite the side of fries and onion rings ($5.70) which I split with my table mate who also ordered the buttermilk buffalo ($10.90).  It was buffalo fried chicken, amish blue, buttermilk ranch, green leaf and a brioche bun. I snuck a piece and was thoroughly impressed.The sauce was not your typical frank’s red.  It was much deeper in flavour.  The chicken itself was moist and delicious and complemented well with the cheese and sauce. The fries were quite good and the rings were among some of the best I’ve had; crispy and well seasoned versus greasy and salty.  Special mention goes to the Sir Kensington’s ketchup available at the table which was much fresher than the Heinz which typically graces the tables of every other burger joint in town.

Blue Elk Burger ($13.85) and Spicy Pickles ($3.85)
Blue Elk Burger ($13.65) and Spicy Pickles ($3.85)
Buttermilk Buffalo ($10.90) and Side Fries/Rings ($5.70)
Buttermilk Buffalo ($10.90) and Side Fries/Rings ($5.70)
Cooked to a Sweet Medium
Cooked to a Sweet Medium

My Take

What do you call a hillybilly, hipster and hippy all in one?  A hillster? Hipbilly? Hiphilly? Hippyster?  Regardless, Bareburger would make any combination of the three feel at home.  The rustic decor, organic meat choices and man buns would appeal to all of their desires at the same time.  I’m not sure if it is the best burger I’ve ever had but it is certainly one of the more unique.  The meat was cooked beautifully and the toppings, although a bit overwhelming resulted in one of the more unique burgers I’ve had, probably because it relied on fresh ingredients instead of grease and salt as the primary means of flavour.  The chicken sandwich was a step above many (I’d put that shit on everything), especially those which usually play second fiddle in a typical burger joint.  The fries held their own (especially with Sir Kensington’s help) and the rings were divine. When all is said and done a burger, fries and drink will run you $20 which can buy you a whole lotta karma, a cocktail at a hipster haven or an official duck commander quack pack duck call so I’ll let you decide.

Bareburger on Urbanspoon

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Review:Toronto:Downtown:Hawthorne Food and Drink

Hawthorne recently opened in downtown with a bit of a mysterious aura.  It has no website and relays all its information, including its menu, through its facebook page. The about tab describes the food as:

American (New)
American (Traditional)
Barbeque
Brunch
Hawaiian
Moroccan
Singaporean
Soul Food
Vegan
Vegetarian

It takes up the street level corner of 60 Richmond St which sits about a block southeast of the Eaton Centre. It has the layout out of a old school diner but with chic furniture, shelves of  mason jars full of colourful pickled vegetables and on-table dessert menus  held up with used wine corks.  The menu is highlighted by a signature foursquare tasting meal offering small plates (literally presented on a single square plate) featuring fresh and seasonal ingredients.

Must

Beef brisket is available everywhere and Hawthorne’s offering ($13) competes with some of the best southern joints in the city.   Sliced a tad thinner than most, the abundant use of whiskey BBQ sauce and the fattiness of the cut made the sandwich rich and moist and the brioche bun was able to withstand  the drippy-goodness.  The fries were cut slightly thick and served hot. The homemade ketchup was tasty although quite unorthodox, highlighted by a predominant smoky flavour.

Brisket Sandwich and Kennebec Fries ($13)
Brisket Sandwich and Kennebec Fries ($13)

I’m a sucker for homemade soda and was pleased to see the  Hawthorne offering.  I opted for pear-cardamom and quite enjoyed its delicate and refreshing taste. It was not sickly sweet and was as refreshing a a cold Steamwhistle pilsner, the only other drink I’ve ever been served in a glass boot.  A shot of gin from the well stocked bar would have made it a neat spin on a gin and tonic if I was in the mood and position for a potent potable.

Housemade Pear-Cardamom Soda
Housemade Pear-Cardamom Soda

Maybe

The soup of the day was the unique combination of collard green and lentil which was served in a clear glass pot.  Although it was a bit thick, it had consistent texture and a freshness reminding me that the phenols would do their best to protect me from cardiac assault of  the upcoming brisket.

Hawthorne Collard Green and Lentil Soup
Hawthorne Collard Green and Lentil Soup

I was intrigued by the paella bombs which were described as crispy rice cake, sausage, crab and tomato pepper relish.  They were presented beautifully but were covered with mussels and clams which I found odd given the description on the menu.The flavours were great although it taste more like a jambalaya or a pot of mussels  and less like  a paella. The biggest issue is they were presented cold.  I addressed this with the waitress who checked with the kitchen and confirmed they should have been hot. She did offer to heat them up but by then I was almost done.

Paella Bombs ($9)
Paella Bombs ($9)

Mundane

I was told the menu was new so I can understand a few items being lost in translation. However, mussels and clams on a paella is a pretty significant oversight.  In addition, the menu indicated that the brisket came with housemade pickles.  As a diner who will sometimes order an entree to get such pickles, I was irritated to see their absence.  At first the waitress ensured me they were on the sandwich.  A surgical dissection of the brisket confirmed otherwise and she went to the kitchen to inquire.  The explanation was a typo on the menu and her peace offering was a rather dismal display of a few pickled carrots and sunchokes despite the wide array of options surrounding me.

Hawthorne Pickles
Hawthorne Pickles

My Take

There are obvious execution errors (temperature and menu descriptions) and waitstaff who seem a bit uninformed and disorganized.  Both should be ironed out with time and practice.  That said, the food is tasty and the environment is fresh and vibrant.  I left generally satisfied despite a minor case of pickle envy.

Hawthorne is a bit confusing to the point where it lacks identity.  It is designed like a high-end diner. The staff are dressed in foodie plaid.  Some of the dishes are presented in fine dining style.   The location (Richmond and Church) would mainly appeal to business folk and downtown dwellers.  It’s a place that a larger group may all be alright with but you wouldn’t  choose for any particular reason.

A famous author once wrote:

“Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world , individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever”.

Although I’m quite sure this 19th century quote was not meant to predict the Toronto dining scene in 2013, I think there are certain elements which are highly applicable. Today’s restaurants cannot be everything to everybody.  You can’t be farm to table, nose to tail, organic,  foodie-friendly, fine dining and a speakeasy (mentioned on their twitter account  and a term coined in 1889 referring to an illegal alcohol establishment) all in one.  If you don’t identify who you are, you will be forgettable amongst the many eateries lining the surrounding streets.  Hawthorne’s success will hinge on its ability to fit in, without confusion, to a diverse and  finicky Toronto dining crowd,  a concept ironically penned in 1835 by American author and namesake Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Hawthorne Food and Drink on Urbanspoon