Rick McGinnis/Metro Toronto
Address: 244 Adelaide St. W.
Hours: Mon. 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Tues. to Sat 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $45
**** 1/2 (out of five)
Looking at it objectively, it would be hard to find a more perfect meal than the hamburger. Its basic ingredients are simple, though it can be transformed and elaborated almost infinitely, while remaining basically recognizable to anyone. It’s easy to eat, comes in almost any price range, and unique among foods, contains within its very name a droll little joke — after all, you don’t actually need ham to make a hamburger.
Peter LeFave opened Hal Burgers a few months ago in the middle of the club and entertainment district, with a menu centered around a customizable, high quality patty, and an à la carte selection of gourmet burgers built with blackened beef, lamb, pork, veal, chicken, venison and veggie fillings. A 25-year veteran of the restaurant business, LeFave’s last gig was running Boba on Avenue Road, and his resumé included two of Jamie Kennedy’s restaurants and Scaramouche — an impressive cook’s tour of fine dining in the city.
The restaurant is named after his dad — “a barbecue guy,” as LeFave describes him — and opened after a brief false start. “It started out we were going to do a place out in Etobicoke in a plaza,” he says, “and I did a very pedestrian menu, very safe, and I wasn’t very happy with it. So my wife got this cookbook and said ‘Look at these’ — there were all these high-end burgers and concepts. So we worked that out and scrounged together some money and then we stumbled on this place.”
A former pub has been made over with cool, bright colours and graphic art, and the burgers have been embellished with starters like a hearty Cobb Salad and specials like a tomato salad smothered in fresh mint — almost an obligation now that tomato season is here, that month-long window where the fruit that could be a vegetable suddenly becomes flavourful and complex.
You can end your meal with a very brief dessert menu that features a homemade butter tart, chocolate cake and Kawartha Dairy ice cream, more distinctly retro notes to enhance the comfort food factor. “It was the stuff that my wife and I really enjoy and love, and have fond memories of — like the butter tart thing came from going to the cottage and stopping at Granny’s Bakery in Bobcaygeon and since no one in Toronto was doing a butter tart, so we thought it would be unique.”
The high-end burger has become conspicuous on menus these days — there’s Bymark’s legendary $40 burger, a similarly elaborate patty sold by Czehoski on Queen, and the 99-cent lunch burger at Barberian’s Steak House, sold only with bottles of hundred dollar-plus bottles of wine. Still, breaking the $10 barrier on a burger menu is till considered outrageous by some customers. “The consumer is a lot smarter and they do notice the difference,” LeFave says. “They can tell — we grind all our own meat and everything; everything’s done in house. They can tell the difference. The ones who come in and complain about the price — hey, you’re not getting it. You feel more comfortable at Harvey’s, and there’s a lot of people who get it and they come back.”