Aaron S. Bayley
Over the past few years Toronto has been inundated with a bevy of new burger restaurants, some marketed with the "gourmet" angle (Gourmet Burger Co., Hero Certified Burgers), while others appealing to the "blue-collar" crowd (5 Guys Burgers & Fries, Holy Chuck), while still others taking the artisan route (Big Smoke Burger, formerly known as Kraft Burger). Even classic burger joints like A&W, joining the organic or health-conscious trend adopted by some of its competitors, have done away with hormones and preservatives and use only grass-fed beef. Then there's the Burger's Priest, the GTA's latest bandwagon burger that boasts cheeseburgers rather than hamburgers along with a secret menu with offerings such as the Vatican City, the Holy Smoke and the High Priest.
The Burger Priest's owner, Shant Mardirosian, is an Armenian-American from Los Angeles who moved to Toronto in 1984 and attends church every Sunday, hence the restaurant's religious themes and the reason he closes up shop on the Sabbath.
While the Burger's Priest makes a very good cheeseburger, there are some obvious criticisms. First, with it's paper burger holders, limited menu, and secret menu, it is a rip-off of In-N-Out Burger, a fast-food hamburger chain located in California (being from L.A., Mardirosian is surely familiar with the popular chain). Second, the name "Burger's Priest" is awkward; what does it even mean? While "Burger Priest" without the possessive would be a slight improvement, it is still ambiguous. Not as ambiguous, though, as its overly simplistic logo, which, with its use of negative space to form a black and white burger, more closely resembles an Oreo ice cream cookie.
Aesthetics aside, the cheeseburger, served on grocery store buns, is the second best that I've tasted (the first belonging to In-N-Out, whose burgers, fries and chocolate shakes are the real holy trinity). The beef is ground in-house on a griddle and smashed into patties, which is why they appear rough around the edges, unlike conventional fast-food patties which are more or less round. The cheese is not too sweet (think Hooters) and there is no unpleasant aftertaste. Although the chocolate shake is very comparable to that of In-N-Out's, the New York Fries-style fries are a disappointment.
The first time I had a Kraft Burger I thought to myself, "This is the best burger I've ever tasted" (and, at over $11, also the most expensive). When I took a friend of mine there after raving about the food, he bit into his burger and actually said those exact same words. I haven't been back since it became Big Smoke, but if the burgers haven't changed (and hopefully they still play the Motown, funk, and early 80s R&B that made visits there a little more special) I would have to give it the nod over The Burger's Priest. But that's not to say that the Priest is not better than its competitors. The congregation may be a little overzealous, but they're not delusional. The uninitiated only need a single pilgrimage to the Burger's Priest before it becomes a regular ritual.