Partner/chef Jim Grontis (left front) flips the burgers at Great Burger Kitchen, where the poutine options (right) are also substantial.
GREAT BURGER KITCHEN (1056 Gerrard East, at Jones, 416-778-0111, greatburger.ca) Complete meals for $15, including all taxes, tip and a soda. Average main $7. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNN
Another week, another glammed-up burger joint. Or so it seems.
The runaway success of Burger Shoppe and Gourmet Burger Company has inspired a legion of imitators, Craft, Acme and Grindhouse among them. NTTAWWT. Every foodie knows that our Hogtown originals are knockoffs of New York City's Shake Shack and the UK's Gourmet Burger Kitchen, right down to the locavore manifesto and decor.
Over on the east side, Great Burger Kitchen is no exception. The weeks-old would-be chain promises to "support a healthy, ethical, sustainable, local food culture." It also sees itself as "a purveyor of fine poutines." Pass the Lipitor.
The smartly appointed room sticks to the formula: exposed brick on the walls, retro diner light fixtures overhead and a counter seating eight in the window. A newly installed distressed laminate floor suggests that the airy storefront was previously home to an angry troop of flamenco dancers.
There's enough on the chalkboard menu to make most everybody happy. Cumbrae supplies the naturally raised brisket and chuck that make their way into GBK's 5-ounce patties, and nearby Brick Street Bakery provides the buns. The basic Classic burger ($5.95) comes dressed with regulation iceburg lettuce as well as tomato, onion and pickle (hold the ketchup and mustard), while the Great burger ($9.95) doubles up the beef and adds aged cheddar, lean Canadian bacon and GBK barbecue sauce. The Voodoo version ($6.95) throws guacamole, salsa and optional pickled jalapeños into the messy mix.
When placing your order, make sure to specify how you'd like your burger cooked. No one bothers to ask us on either visit, and two different kitchen crews deliver two very different results, the first batch more medium-well than we'd have preferred, the second spot-on medium verging on medium-rare.
Yukon Gold fries are a bit chunkier than the norm but crispy nonetheless. Shame the same can't be said for Kitchen's over-battered and under-seasoned onion rings (both $3.95). And though most of the "fine" poutines are variations on chips and gravy with melted cheese - Swiss Poutine ($5.95), anyone? - the Montreal version ($5.25) is the real deal. And, yes, the cheese curds squeak.
Knowing that the folks behind GBK are Ted and Mary Koutsogiannopoulos - they used to own Leslieville's Joy Bistro before buying Jamie Kennedy's Wine Bar last fall - and Jim Grontis (Johnny G's Greece-y spoon on Parliament), we're not surprised they can turn out a proper Greek salad with nary a carrot or purple cabbage strip in sight. Their lamb burger with roasted red peppers and tzatsiki (both $6.95) is another don't-miss, though you might want to switch out its too-strong blue cheese for a milder feta or Brie.
The only dud of the bunch, the Kitchen's stingy one-note take on pulled pork ($7.50) could use less sugar and more vinegar tang, this despite the addition of wimpy Niagara hot pickle (50 cents). But a generously portioned boneless chicken breast ($7.95) comes expertly grilled à point, its toppings of scallion aioli and onions caramelized in balsamic the perfect complement.
Now for the inevitable veggie burger: I've eaten enough Yves's patties passed off as "house-made" to recognize cardboard across the room. Not GBK's ($6.50), a fabulously tasty - dare I say meaty? - mash of millet, garbanzos and kidney beans run through the garden à la Golden Star.
So why would someone who's just taken over one of Canada's most-respected restos take on Harvey's?
"My roots are burger joints," says Ted Koutsogiannopoulos. "My very first restaurant was Mr. Tasty Burgers at Queen and Parliament. I call it desert island food. If I could only eat one thing every day for the rest of my life, it'd be a burger."