BURGER SHOPPE (688 Queen East, at Broadview, 416-850-7026) Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottle of classic Coke. Average main $6. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 9 pm, Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday noon to 10 pm, Sunday noon to 6 pm. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, small room, counter seating, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Now all of three weeks old, Queen and Broadview's Burger Shoppe has generated such buzz on local foodie message boards and blogs that there have been lines out of the tiny take-away's front door since day one.
The converted Riverside barbershop may be small - four tables plus a half-dozen stools at a counter in the bright front window - but first-time restaurateurs Saeed Mohammed and Mustafa Yusuf are already thinking big. The brothers are planning to launch a slew of Burger Shoppes in the downtown core. And while their product is more than commendable, the operation still needs some work.
But let's start with what the Shoppe does right: hamburgers.
The Classic ($5.45) sees a never-frozen 4-ounce patty, specially ground by Kensington's European Meats, charbroiled to well-done - overdone, more like - as per city health department requirements, nestled between a solid commercial sesame-seed-crusted bun.
The organic beef version ups the ante with chuck from prestigious Hungry Butcher, while the cheeseburger comes layered with aged cheddar from Alex Farms.
The eponymous Shoppe burger (all $6.45) goes one step further and adds balsamic caramelized onion to the mix. There are mini-burgers - labelled "petite perfection" on the chalkboard menu - for fashionistas and small-fry ($5 for two/$14 for six).
Toppings stick to tradition - iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickle, mayo, ketchup and mustard. Skinny hand-cut fries ($2.95) verge on frites, properly double-cooked and crisp. Onion rings ($3.95) are cut thick and battered in cornmeal.
The lineup includes organic greens ($3.45) doused with a better-than-expected olive oil vinaigrette.
By their very nature, burgers are fast food and shouldn't take longer than five minutes to prepare. But, as the Shoppe's counter crew explains, these burgers are "restaurant quality" and take a little longer, about an eight-minute wait, they advise (more like 15).
This causes a bit of a backlog; customers who've ordered sit at tables empty-handed, while those in line stand around waiting to be served. On my second visit, I figure I'll play it smart and phone in my order ahead. Arriving 45 minutes later, I'm told they've waited to start cooking my order until I've shown up so that the burgers will be "at their peak quality."
Wrong answer. Next time try, "Sorry for the confusion, they'll be ready right away."
After another half-hour wait, I hightail it home with my swag only to discover that the poutine and two brownies I've paid for are missing.
Returning the following day just before the noon-hour rush, I order a burger, poutine, a chocolate shake and a brownie. No one mentions my missing food, but I'm told that the Shoppe no longer carries Beaches baker Cinzia Ruffolo's Callebaut chocolate brownies ($2) since "they didn't sell very well."
Not so, says Yusuf later, explaining that her brownies are so popular, they sold out. I know, I bought two!
Asked how I'd like my burger garnished, I specify no ketchup or mustard, a vile condiment combo that sets my teeth on edge.
When the burger arrives at table presented in an attractive wire mesh basket lined with tissue paper, it looks fantastic. Lifting the bun to get a better look, I notice its smeared on one side with ketchup, the other mustard and nothing else. Why do I bother?
The poutine ($4.95) finds the Shoppe's already remarkable fries smothered in a retro gravy that the menu describes as "mmm, beefy" - my take: hmmm, beef-ish - and studded with uniformly diced squeak-free cheese curds unlike any I've ever seen. Or heard, for that matter.
And though frothy, my shake ($5.25) tastes more of air than the exemplary Ed's Real Scoop chocolate ice cream it's said to contain.
Still, Burger Shoppe's premise shows a lot of promise. The menu's obviously been well thought out, and the crowds descending on the joint since opening day prove the demand.
But until the kitchen gets a handle on delivering them efficiently, these burgers aren't ready to take on Mickey D's just yet, let alone the likes of Lick's.