May is National Burger Month and Bareburger is no ordinary burger restaurant.
Bareburger was started by Euripides Pelekanos in Astoria, Queens, in 2009. There are now 23 Bareburgers across the U.S. and a few months ago the first non-U.S. restaurant opened in Toronto. ‘Cause you know, Toronto is like New York but with less stuff.
It’s a very cool chain of restaurants with a very cool brand and beliefs that align with my own.
Potentially addictive onion rings, proper burgers, fascinating salads, delicious desserts, and mostly locally sourced and ethical.
Hell no, GMO.
Barebuger practices environmental sustainability (as much as possible) and supports the local economy in all their markets (mostly). I overheard someone refer to Bareburger as “The Chipotle of burgers”. It’s fitting that I was there for dinner on Earth Day and it’s fitting that I’m sharing this at the start of Burger Month.
- Bareburger’s mission: Local vendors as much as possible, in all markets. (Though their sodas come from Portland, which you’ll read more about below.)
- Bareburger’s meat is all local. That means that the meat for the Toronto restaurant does not come from New York or New Jersey or Connecticut. It comes from Ontario. Bareburger Toronto gets their burger meat from Beretta Farms, located in King City, Ontario, near Toronto. Brisket for poutine comes from a different farm in Ontario. The birds for the buttermilk fried chicken originate from Yorkshire Valley Farms in Peterborough, Ontario.
- Slaughterhouse involvement: The Bareburger team members who oversee the meat know where the animal came from, how was it raised, how it was killed and by whom. They know the entire process. They regularly visit the butchering facilities in Etobicoke (for the Toronto location). They watch and they taste each batch of meat at the slaughterhouse. Their standards are rigorous.
- Beer taps flow with beer from local craft breweries and include Side Launch, Mill Street Brewery and Nickel Brook, Beau’s and Junction Craft Brewing, among others.
- Better sweeteners: The sweeteners in their sauces are unrefined.
- Eco-friendly partners: Furthering their eco-friendly ethos, their sodas are all natural and come from Maine Root in Portland, which offers fair trade certified, organically sweetened soft drinks. For local Portland delivery, Maine Root uses a VW Diesel fuelled with recycled fryer oil collected from local restaurants. By using used oil as fuel it keeps the oil out of landfills with much cleaner emissions. Sounds like something out of the TV show Portlandia, also referenced below.
- Designated farmer: Bareburger has farmer growing corn, pesticide-free and GMO-free, for them.
Starting… oh, around now, the local chefs will start shopping at farmers’ markets for local produce that will be used in specials.
Here’s my experience from a dinner I attended for media. (Disclaimer: We were fed a tasting menu for free.)
None of those eco-friendly practices would matter if the food wasn’t up to quality, but it is. The food was fantastic.
Bareburger onion rings
The onion rings are a secret recipe. Served family-style when I was there, I only had 2. I could have eaten a lot more. I tweeted, “So far want to eat Bareburger’s onion rings forever.” The insides didn’t fall apart like some onion rings do, which is indicative of the onions being the right temperature when they went into the fryer.
Several sauces accompany the onion rings and sweet potato fries. They have their own “special sauce” inspired by Big Mac sauce, habanero mayo, paprika mayo, horseradish remoulade, curry ginger ketchup (naturally sweetened), smoke sauce (a barbecue sauce sweetened with agave), and a dilly buttermilk ranch. There’s no corn syrup in these sauces.
Only available in the Toronto location, the poutine is made from fresh cut fries, home made stock gravy and cheese curds from Montreal.
The salads were impressive. We tried two of six:
The Guapo Chop salad has been Canadianized. The Little Gem lettuce (a miniature variety of lettuce), pickled jalapeños, red onions, spicy pico de gallo, guacamole and tortilla chips are joined by Montreal cheese curds instead of the queso fresco used in the U.S. The salad is dressed with avocado basil dressing. We got the optional buttermilk fried chicken on it.
The salad was alright. I liked the delicate lettuce. I wouldn’t order it again but I would order the fried chicken in a sandwich.
The Cali Fresh is a mix of baby kale, cauliflower hummus, red quinoa, grape tomatoes, watermelon radish, red onion and alfafa sprouts with lemon tahini dressing.
Another salad that I’m interested in trying: The Hudson, with duck bacon and a sunny side egg. I sometimes put soft eggs in my salad and let the yolk sauce the greens.
The question on your mind is, “But what about the burgers??”
Answer: It was the best burger I’d had in a long time.
The meat is cooked medium. Properly medium. Do you know how rare (no pun intended) it is to find a burger that’s pink inside? A burger that’s pink inside still tastes like meat. It’s delicate with a proper mouthfeel. Overcooked meat tastes old, sometimes gamey, even if it’s beef. There are health & safety reasons for this but fresh ground meat is less likely to be contaminated. If you see a pink burger in Toronto it’s likely freshly ground because it needs to be to pass safety inspections.
Want a burger with meat that’s pink inside? Visit Bareburger.
We tried the Farmstead, The Standard, the Blue Elk and El Matador. They were all made into sliders for us because it was a tasting menu, but you’d get the full sized version.
The Bareburger Standard
As the name suggests, the Standard is all beef with their own version of common toppings. The meat is 50% chuck & 50% brisket. It’s topped with colby cheese stout unions, dill pickles and special sauce. It comes on a brioche bun.
The Blue Elk burger
Elk meat, tomato-fig jam, amish bleu cheese & stout griddled onions. It’s served on a sprout bun. A nice combination that would be nicer in the full sized version. It was hard to keep the jam-to-meat ratio ideal in a slider.
El Matador burger
El Matador is a bison burger with cheese curds, guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled jalapeños and green leaf, usually served on a brioche bun.
I was too full for El Matador. I didn’t even eat a little.
A vegan/gluten-free item, we ate this before the meat burgers.
I wouldn’t call this a burger. It’s a wrap. To quote my Instagram caption: “Farmstead Collard Slider: sweet potato & wild rice patty, cauliflower hummus, tomatoes, baby kale. Not that I’d order vegan food, but it’s good.” I wouldn’t order it, but a vegan could do worse. (But if you’re vegan, have one of the salads or build your own burger with the sweet potato & wild rice patty, black bean patty or “farmers quinoa” patty.)
There’s always room for dessert. The ice cream sandwiches and milk shakes were worth it. Ice cream comes from Greg’s. If you’re a restaurant in Toronto and want house-made ice cream without making it in your own “house” you use either Greg’s or Ed’s. Cookies for the ice cream sandwiches are made by a local baker.
There’s a big selection of shakes. In addition to the regular ice cream flavours, Bareburger offers a Banana Foster Milkshake and a Hot Honey Milkshake.
Instead of sports or news, their TVs were on Teletoon Retro. I saw Jetsons, Flintstones, and Johnny Bravo. It added a fun quality to the vibe.
My Portlandia connection
Being a room full of food media and bloggers, there were many questions about ethics and sourcing. The next day whole replaying some of the questions and answers in my head this popped into my head:
I can’t not mention the awesome staff from New York and Toronto. I spent a ton of time chatting with Executive Chef Andrew Sarda who works in New York but is from North Carolina. We chatted BBQ. I left when he was grabbed to pose for this photo:
Find Bareburger online
Find your burger at 111 Dundas St. W., south side of Dundas a few doors west of Bay.
- Main Root’s website – Click on “learn” & select “Bio-Diesel” to learn about their use of deep dryer oil in their delivery vehicle.
- Little Gems romaine lettuce
- Canada’s ‘Better-For-You-Style’ Burger Market Keeps Growing: Analyst (Huffington Post)