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. Here's the first one! —The Mgmt.
143 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4K 1N2 (map); 416-463-3086; allens.to
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: Thick, tasty, and tall burgers made from Angus beef ground on-site. One of, if not the best options for a high-quality, straight-forward burger in Toronto
Want Fries With That? With the size of the burger, fries aren't really necessary, and Allen's might not be for everyone
Price: Hamburger: $11.25, toppings extra (w/cheese, +$1); fries, $4.25
After 21 months in SoCal, I finally booked a trip home, hoping to discover and share several worthy Toronto burgers, along with a few choice sandwiches and pizza options. Right away, with a visit to Allen's, the trip was off to an auspicious start. Stepping onto the sunny back patio, I saw St-Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale, my most beloved French Canadian brew on the beer menu, which stretched across several blackboards.
Allen's burger looked promising too. Before listing the various toppings and prices, the menu features an explanation of where the beef is sourced from (they get a whole Angus steer delivered each week from a farm in Flamborough, Ontario, which is butchered, ground, and hand-formed into patties on site). Unlike most commercial chuck, which contains trimming from numerous cows, plus binders and fillers, Allen's patties are made from only one steer, with no fillers. If you like your burgers on the blue side of rare, this is one of the safest places in Toronto to go.
The capper for the positive first impressions was sitting just a few seats away from Gord Downie, one of my favo(u)rite Canadian musicians, especially since 24 hours previously, I'd completed a grueling 22 kilometer burger-preparation bike ride while listening to The Tragically Hip's Day for Night.
You can get your burger plain, or add cheese (cheddar, Swiss, goat, or blue), plus options like sautéed mushrooms or onions, and strip or peameal bacon (Canadian bacon to you Yanks). On the side, you get E.D. Smith ketchup, Dijon mustard, and house-made relish. I kept it simple, ordering my burger medium rare, with Ontario white cheddar and the standard lettuce, tomato, and pickle.
When my server told me the burgers are made from sirloin, I could already hear the concerned outcry of AHT'ers. Rest assured, though this wasn't the fattiest burger, it had plenty of juice and was moist and flavorful. The outside of the massive patty was covered with a thin layer of caramelized char while the center oozed with juices. The coarsely ground beef was well seasoned, and had a pure, unadulterated beefy flavor.
The cheese was some of the best cheddar I've ever had on a burger. It was creamy, with a balanced tang that registered over the beef, but didn't overpower it. All of the veggie toppings were spot on as well: The tomato sang with sweetness and the pickle had a good balance of acid to cut through the fat. Even the sesame seed bun was perfect. It was soft and squishy, and toasted just enough to have a bit of crunch.
I still can't make my mind up about the fries. The burger comes à la carte, and if you do decide to order a side of fries in addition, it's best to reset your expectations. The fries at Allen's are more like potato planks. The outer layer is crisp, but the predominant texture is the fluffy potato filling. This works great for the sweet potato spuds (which come with sour cream for dipping) but the russets register as a bit mushy. Whether or not you like them is going to come down to personal potato preferences. I'm not sure if I'd bother with them again, especially since the burger is so large.
It's been a long time since I've had such a well-crafted classic burger whose core elements were so impeccable that no distractingly cheffy upgrades were needed. Everyone in Toronto, and within a 100 mile radius should try this one, especially if you can get to Allen's on a sunny day that's warm enough to sit under the trees on the back patio...and maybe do a little rock icon spotting of your own. Word is, Gord's a regular.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her newly-launched food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax