Charlie's Burgers Does Anti-Burgers

I needed a couple of days to literally and figuratively digest my latest Charlie's Burgers experience. It was so decadent and pleasantly strange, surreal even.

I was instructed to meet 'the man sitting on the wine barrel' outside the Baton Rouge on Front street at 6:40 pm sharp on Easter Sunday. My partner in crime and I arrived with 10 minutes to spare and shuffled around anxiously, awaiting our turn. In this seemingly-eternal waiting period, everyone on the street seemed like they could be headed to the dinner. Suddenly everyone became a suspect. Was the person dressed up? Did they look sketchy or nervous?

Within a short time period, we saw other lurkers who were clearly awaiting their time to meet the barrel man. Our excitement grew.

At 6:40 pm we approached him. He welcomed us warmly and checked our names off the list then handed us a small box containing the clue for where our dinner would be held, a fast food carton, inscribed with the famous initials CB. We were told to put our dinner money in the box to deliver upon arrival at the destination.

We eagerly opened the box to discover a Steamwhistle coaster and concluded that the brewery was our next destination. We made our way down towards the lake and were greeted by a bouncer at the brewery door who welcomed us inside. We placed our money in the fast food container we were welcomed inside.

Inside, we mingled with other patrons as we drank pints and awaited the festivities. The experience felt larger and more mainstream than my previous dealings with Charlie, but not in a bad way. I was pleased to see that the movement had gained real traction in the GTA and cultivated a dedicated fan base

I had strategically starved myself based on my previous Charlie's Burgers experience. By the time we were seated at the long, extended table, I was utterly famished.

First up was the D'Amare Rosso IGT 2007 (Super-Tuscan) Imprunetta to pair along with The Breakfast Burger, courtesy of Chef Scott Vivian from Beast Restaurant. The wine was lovely and low in tannins, as is my preference and experience with real Italian table wines, and I appreciated the heart caribiner keepsake I got to keep from the bottle. The burger was deconstructed, arriving like a stew in a bowl. The flavours were sweet and savoury at once: a cardamom creme fraiche pancake, smoked pork belly, seared foie gras, maple curd, duck fat tator tots and monforte goat's milk cheddar. I polished my bowl ravenously and braced myself for more richness to come.

The Breakfast Burger
The next course was The Mushroom Umami Burger from Howard Dubrovsky at Live and Breathe (L.A.B.) restaurant. It came with tomato anise chutney and smoked old cheddar. I don't know how Dubrovsky managed to get so much umami into that burger, but it certainly lived up to its name. It was spectacular. The wine pairing was a lovely Diadema Bianco IGT 2009 Imprunetta- easily one of the best whites I've ever tasted and certainly not standard LCBO fare. The bottle was adorned with pink Swarovski crystals that pleased all the ladies in the crowd.

It was a pleasant vegetable break in an otherwise carb-and-meat-heavy meal.

Next came The Beast 'Burger' Terrine, complete with caramelized onions, house made ketchup, aioli, and St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout grain mustard. These were likely the best burger condiments I've ever eaten. I typically find that homemade ketchup (anything but Heinz) misses the mark, but this one was rich and flavourful. The mustard was outstanding. My favourite part was the little honey truffled milkshake that came on the plate. I would drink one of those every day if I could.

The Mushroom Umami Burger
This course paired with an Alsatian wine: Kultmann - Platz Riesling 2009 Alsace, France - Les Viticulteurs Reunis de Hunawihr.

By this point my belly was already feeling like it might burst- and two courses remained. I was pleased to have a slight break to catch my breath and chat with our neighbours.

The Beast "Burger" Terrine
As always, the multiple Charlie servers were an absolute pleasure, making sure that everyone knew the details of each course and ensuring that all patrons were enjoying their time. The whole mandate of Charlie's Burgers is to bring back the mandate of pleasure eating, free from the capitalist clutches of The Industry. It's a chance for food lovers to indulge in something they would not normally be able to eat and an opportunity for chefs to play and curate a menu that wouldn't work in a restaurant setting due to cost and eccentricity. The Charlie servers live and breathe by these beliefs and relish in the opportunity to celebrate the joy of cooking and pleasure in food.

Next came dessert...

The Dessert Burger! Chef Dubrovsky wanted it to look like a trashy McDonaldsesque fast food burger and we all agreed that he succeeded.

The burger was composed of two doughnut buns, tomato jellies and "mustard," which I think was a citrus reduction. The patties were made of chocolate meringue. A real trompe l'oeil!

The Dessert Burger
I felt a slight bit of relief after finishing the dessert course, knowing I wouldn't have to find any more space for food. The final course was an optional scotch and cigar course, which we elected to participate in.

Front and center was a Mombacho Corona Cigar - Indonesian seed grown in Nicaragua, that included a blend of tobaccos grown in three different regions. I don't know much about cigars and I could smoke the whole thing, but I did appreciate the smoothness of the flavour and how it complemented the other tobacco-infused components of the final course.

To complement the tobacco in the cigar, we enjoyed a special Glenmorangie Single-Malt Scotch, which genius mixologist Frankie Solarik from Barchef had infused with Nicaraguan tobacco. Again, I don't know too much about scotch, but I noticed how the flavours in the cigar complemented those in the scotch.

The Final Course
Finally, we enjoyed The Beast After Bite, a tobacco-infused chocolate ganache with single-malt scotch caramel, nougat, feullatine, and smoked sea salt. This treat came courtesy of Rachel Vivian, co-owner and pastry chef of Beast.

If you are interested in participating in Charlie's Burgers, Toronto's very own anti-restaurant, sign up on Charlie's website. You will then be sent a questionnaire to fill out, asking you questions about your food preferences. After that, you will be added to the email distribution list which will disclose the featured chef, menu and cost of the next Charlie's Burgers meal. The location is always cryptic (and fun.)

Remember to bring your appetite and a very adventurous palate.

Good luck!


  1. I want every burger I eat from now on to have doughnut buns. I am so jealous

  2. That one was a real keeper. I think we should try to replicate it some time.