Editor's note: San Diego contributor Erin Jackson recently returned from Toronto, and will be reporting on several burger finds from her hometown over the next few weeks. —The Mgmt.
The Burger's Priest
1636 Queen Street East., Toronto ON (map); 647-346-0617; theburgerspriest.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: Easily one of the best burgers in the city, whether you go for a classic cheeseburger, or something more complicated
Want Fries With That? The fries are just ok, you'd be better off getting a bigger (or second) burger
Price: Cheeseburger, $5.29; The Priest, $9.99; fries, $3.29
Notes: Second location at 3397 Yonge Street (with seating and a restroom)
In Toronto's burger scene, The Burger's Priest is a phenom. Two years after opening the first location in "no-man's land" on Queen Street East, the take-out spot earned a third-place finish in the 2012 Zagat survey for best food in Toronto, on the heels of two significantly more upscale restaurants. Now with two locations, and a rumored third in the works, owner Shant Mardirosian has eclipsed his original goal of selling 20 burgers a day, just enough to scrape by.
Mardirosian is a seminary grad and would-be priest who decided to pursue (what some might say is) an even higher calling: redeeming the burger, one at a time. References to his faith don't end with the name of the restaurant, or the menu items (both regular and "secret"). The shop is closed on Sundays "for church" and a section of the website titled "The Gospel" links to Grace Toronto Church. Still, even if you believe firmly in the separation of church and burger, you've got to give it up for The Priest, the only spot in town that grinds their beef in house, three times a day.
On the posted menu, burgers range from a classic cheeseburger to more complicated items like The Priest (a nod to the Shake Shack's Shack Stack), while the not-so secret menu has more inspired options. You can also tweak any burger by asking for it "Vatican-style", which swaps out buns for grilled cheese sandwiches (made out of buns), "Jarge-style", which is essentially Animal-style, or add breaded and fried jalapeño peppers by asking for "smoke."
Let me get the bad news out of the way: the Queen Street location has no seating. Well, that's not completely accurate: there are a handful of seats, but in front of them is a sign kindly asking you not to sit there. This, combined with a particularly blustery day made getting proper photographs challenging, since the only suitable spot I could find to eat was a wind-swept gazebo in the adjacent park, where it was so windy, my top bun blew off twice. I hope you'll forgive the less than stellar pics.
After finally tasting the cheeseburger, I was instantly smitten. The freshly ground, loosely packed four-ounce patty was glistening with moisture and full of flavor. The griddled beef had a good sear on both sides and remained juicy, despite being cooked through. Patties were seasoned just enough to accentuate their beefiness, and topped with fresh veggies and a slice of cheddar that melted perfectly. The soft and squishy bun was lightly toasted and had a sweet, milky undertone. It felt deliciously wrong to let loose a stream of expletives while eating a burger from such a holy place, but also so very right.
After biting into my second burger, all pretensions were gone: The Priest is just too delicious to eat like a lady. It has all the same goodness as the cheeseburger, with an "option" on top: a deep-fried, shredded cheese stuffed, portabello mushroom cap, with a touch of garlic. The explosion of gooey, crisp, and chewy textures from the mushroom cap elevated the burger into previously unknown realms of deliciousness and the garlic cut through all of the fat, bringing a savory undertone to the burger. I've never tried a Shack Stack, but I'd put up money that this interpretation is equally good.
The hand-cut fries were the only miss. Mardirosian has called them "the bane of [his] existence" and is still working on perfecting his technique. Most of the fries were reasonably crisp, but some had wilted. The browned spuds were comparable to what you'd get from one of the chip trucks parked around Nathan Phillps Square (City Hall)—good, but not worth wasting calories on when the burgers are so much better. If you feel incomplete ordering a burger without fries, you'll only be out an extra $3.29, but I'd order a more complicated burger instead (or add another patty and cheese for $2.79).
Now that I'm back in San Diego, I know at any moment, an intense craving for one of these burgers is going to hit. If you're within striking distance of The Burger's Priest, you owe it to yourself to make the pilgrimage.