Tuesday, May 26, 2015

off the grid: retro t.o. the wimpy awards

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on March 27, 2012. The number of burger joints, especially those with gourmet aspirations, has continued to rise since this piece was originally published. There's even a website (Tasty Burgers) dedicated to review the GTA's purveyors of ground round, or whatever they're tossing in the burgers these days. 

Illustration by Patrick Corrigan. Toronto Star, March 16, 1983.
It’s safe to say Toronto is currently hamburger crazy. Whether you prefer going to an old-school burger joint that retains its 1960s-era appearance, testing a highbrow patty made with gourmet ingredients, or joining the never-ending lineups at The Burger’s Priest, Toronto has rediscovered its love for a slab of ground meat loaded with every topping imaginable (though you still can’t get lettuce at Johnny’s in Scarborough).

Back in March of 1983, Toronto Star food writer Jim White felt the local burger scene needed recognition. Noting that there were so many awards for the arts, White jokingly told readers that to correct a “cultural imbalance,” the paper was launching a series of articles to hand out Oscar-style statuettes to worthy local eateries. To honour Toronto’s best burgers, White devised the Wimpy Awards, which honoured Popeye’s gluttonous pal.

White’s criteria for the Wimpys ruled out “anything pre-fab, served by clowns or named after someone like Harvey or Wendy.” Though he intended to focus on the burger alone, White discovered that “the décor, background music, and ambience of a burger joint can be just as important as the product.” As a control measure, a basic burger and fries were ordered at each restaurant in the competition, as “the quality of French fries colours one’s impression of the burger.”

Some winners from the Wimpy Awards, presented with little fanfare on March 16, 1983:

Best Burger for the Buck: the original location of Lick’s in the Beaches, then a narrow eatery with long lines, two tables, and six stools. For only $1.95, Lick’s served large burgers that White described as “superb and perfectly charbroiled.” He noted that “the only thing missing in this setting is John Belushi shouting ‘Cheezeburgah…cheezeburgah.’” No mention as to whether the chain’s singing schtick was already in place.

Most Expensive Burger in Toronto: For $10, patrons of the Courtyard Café at the Windsor Arms Hotel received a loosely packed patty served with a truffle-tinged artichoke, purposely-undercooked chips, and a bland tomato tart.

Best Staging for a Burger: At the Bloor Street Diner, diners enjoyed their meal amid a backdrop of “pink neon, high-gloss black lacquered trim and stainless steel table tops.” The burger itself had a quality most people would appreciate—it wasn’t “sinewy.”

Best Patty: The Hayloft at 37 Front St. E. offered a burger that was lean, juicy, flavourful, and extremely fresh. Unfortunately, White felt it was ruined by lousy condiments, mediocre bun, and fries that had been sitting around for a while. The server accidentally brought White a cheeseburger, which was topped with “a tasteless, carrot-coloured film to peel off as one peels dried rubber cement off the back of one’s hand.”

Best Burger in a Supporting Role: Both Mr. Greenjeans (Eaton Centre and 120 Adelaide St. E.) and Partners (836 Danforth Ave. and 765 Mount Pleasant Rd.) served their burgers in large wicker baskets filled with Buffalo chips and on what White considered the city’s best burger bun, a light egg roll prepared by Central Bakery.

Toronto’s Darkest Burger: The experience of eating at Toby’s Good Eats at 91 Bloor St. W. on even a sunny day was “like sitting in a cellar during a hydro black-out.” When the waitress told him to enjoy his lunch, White replied “we would if we could see it.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

radio waves and walking tours

Item: I recently appeared on Radio Regent's Dums Dums show, along with Adrienne Coffey from the Archives of Ontario, to discuss how to use archives. Listen to the podcast here.

Item: Along with fellow Historicist writer David Wencer and Heritage Toronto's Plaques and Markers Program Coordinator Michelle Ridout, I'll be leading a walk during Doors Open weekend (May 23-24). The subject: "Sport Stadiums and Lakeside Leisure: Playing Along the Waterfront"

Three walks will be conducted each day, at 10:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 2:00 p.m. I'm leading the 11:00 a.m. walks each day; Michelle will lead the other two Saturday walks, while David will guide the other two Sunday walks.

Want to come? Sign up on the Doors Open site for the slot that best suits your plans for that weekend! The meeting spot is Little Norway Park, located at the southwest corner of Bathurst and Queens Quay.