Earth Day. Sitting in a restaurant with a bunch of other writerly types eating burgers. The irony isn’t lost on me. We are sitting in Toronto’s Bareburger which promises to be local, organic and delicious. Looking at the tasting menu of two salads, four sliders, two sides and two desserts ends in a little cognitive dissonance. Conflicted.
Beef is one of the most intensive meats to raise. Organic isn’t more nutritious. Local may not be the most economical or environmental. These things are complicated. First are sides and greens. Onion rings & sweet fries served with origin story and sauces. Euripides, the CEO tells the story of someone who ended up making a franchise out of trying to just cook good burgers.
Why Toronto? Answers in many parts over the evening given by many different parts. Is it?
- Raghu, the new franchisee’s wife dragged him out when in New York and he had to bring it to Toronto.
- Euripides loves Montreal but then came to Toronto and all the Greek people, some guys and stuff. I like Euripides. His answers are rambling, off the cuff and not polished. He is a business man, a guy who likes food and if you believe him, just fell into this gig.
- The Giraffe sauce guy who supplies the chain told them they should come to TO.
- Andrew, the executive chef, says it is a good food city and close to New York.
All of these are true. It’s complicated.
Soundless cartoons play on the telly, starting with Garfield. Poutine arrives with Montreal curds and a proper sauce. Could use more gravy.Greens come with quinoa. Andrew explains that they try their best to do as much local as possible. Some things are just not available but the majority of items will be local and that means seasonal. Seasonal in Canada can be weird. He says that they will try their best and will work with local producers to get more local, organic and fair trade. Sincere. That’s fine, I like bananas and coffee. One of the salads comes with fried chicken as an add on. You could put smoked brisket on it and make it a meal. Anything you want with in reason and on the menu could be put together. I get the sense that they really mean it. Good salads for a burger joint.
Four sliders make their way out slowly. A vegetarian Farmstead Collard Slider with a sweet potato patty is wrapped in a collard green which I mistake for kale. I am sorely glad that I am wrong. The patty is a little odd in the texture but if it was a meat patty, I might say the same thing cause it is wrapped in food that food eats.
Blue Elk has tomato fig jam with bleu cheese. Meat is cooked to a really good medium rare and not blue at all. Not everyone likes the combo. This is followed by a beef standard that has special sauce and a special nod to another burger joint.
The straggler is the El Matador that has avocado and cheese and bison. Not sure which bull fighter has fought a bison but there it is. We saw this combo of avocado cheese on an earlier salad and it is a bit odd which brings me to this point.
Not everyone will agree with the way the burgers are put together but the individual ingredients are carefully chosen. Sauces and extras taste good and the attitude of having anything you want within in reason makes this an interesting pick to take a group of friends – you know, the gluten free guy, vegetarian couple, vegan student, carbless aunt and carnivorous uncle. While this may smack of trendiness, it seems as if this is borne of the chef or owner having a friend who eats this way.
A local beer is served alongside the first of the sliders. All the beer taps are local, as long as you extend the local to Montreal and Vankleek Hill and all Canadian. Pretty impressive for a chain. Yes, the local tag extends to Alberta for some of the meat as well but as Andrew says, they are trying to do the right thing within the confines of business. Of course, it also has to taste good.
This is a complicated restaurant for complicated times. This is a responsive and responsible restaurant. The untouched burgers are sent back to be given to the homeless. An aside worthy of mentioning here.
A chain burger restaurant that wants to deal with organic and fair trade aspects taking into account taste and seasonality? Greg’s ice cream and homemade cookies put a finishing touch as the Jetson’s and their past futures play out on the still silent screen.
Eating is a political act. These guys don’t have all the answers. They may be part of a trend that will challenge the dominant food industry or be co-opted by big food but they attempt to treat the food minimally and respectfully. Can they help fast food shed gain a more thoughtful and healthy attitude? That, at least, deserves your attention. Much like Earth Day, the little things can draw attention the bigger issues.
The writer was a guest of Bareburger. The restaurant did not review or approve this article.