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In Praise of the Gourmet Burger

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Since McDonald's fast food restaurants were brought to their knees by Morgan Spurlock's "Supersize Me" documentary, patronage has dropped quite considerably. Despite people's growing aversion to the golden arches, the collective craving for a hamburger hasn't diminished. What's helped satiate the ground beef patty itch is the recent trend of the gourmet burger.

Even though they're three to four times more expensive than their Mickey Dee counterparts, most of these burgers surpass it in taste by six to eight times. For naysayers, liken it to the day you wiped your ass on 3-ply toilet paper after a lifetime of using crumbling dollar store 1-ply sheets and maybe then you can start to understand the difference. Remember also the day you tried going back to said 1-ply paper and sadly realized you couldn't. The same can be said of the day you try your first perfectly made gourmet burger.

As the hamburger becomes a more accepted item on dinner menus, the compulsion to have the "best hamburger in town" will slowly become a mark of esteem rather than a blemish to the fine dining restaurant. In Toronto, we are seeing a hamburger renaissance where patrons are willing to wait in the blistering cold and/or fork over costly sums in order to bridge the gap between their plebeian palates and their refined urbanity. Raised eyebrows be damned for I am one of these people.

Recently, I visited Marben, a fine dining restaurant in downtown Toronto that, no matter how succulent the rest of the menu is, gets introduced with a "you gotta try their burger." "John's Burger", as it's plainly named, is deliberately presented like every other burger you'd order at a greasy joint except that it will make your Top Ten list of best hamburgers you've ever eaten in your life.

If you haven't eaten food in the last hour or so, its description alone may get you frothing at the mouth - braised short ribs shredded and then mixed inside red angus meat from local Dingo Farms. It's topped with aged cheddar and a Branston pickle spread. Describing it without using F words wouldn't do it justice.

Yet, as burger sophisticated as it gets with John's Burger from Marben, and as lowest common denominator as one can get with the Big Mac, signature sandwich of the McDonald's food corporation, there's one thing they both have in common that has arguably put them a cut above the rest - no Tomatoes.

I dislike tomatoes on hamburgers. Actually, I hate tomatoes on hamburgers. Don't get me wrong, BLTs, topping salads, tomato sauce or with mozzarella, tomatoes are fantastic. However, hamburgers are no place for tomatoes. Tomatoes, usually cut cold and placed chilled on top of a steaming hot beef patty makes for the most imperfect coupling in food preparation. It's like serving hot chocolate with ice cubes. Even the revolting "Hawaiian Pizza", with its pineapple topping, doesn't come close to this edible aberration. Does the proliferation of the "tomato-as-hamburger-topping" stem from a general hankering for the vegetable-like fruit or is it just an unconscious reflex after years of indoctrination?

For some reason there is a generally accepted selection of hamburger toppings that are automatically found on a burger and rarely with customer consultation - lettuce, mustard, ketchup and tomatoes. Even cheese, despite it being proven over and over again to increase the flavour of a hamburger from bland to scrumptious, is left to the customer to choose before ordering. While onions, due to societal dictates of one's breath, are cautiously ordered after the fact.

Whether it's hard as a rock or soft as a jellyfish, the consistency of a tomato can never compliment the hamburger. When cut crisp, its hardness ends up competing with the patty to unpalatable degrees, while when cut a tad overripe will inevitably sog up the bun; turning an otherwise delicious meal into a wet ball.

If people think they're offsetting their risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes when eating greased hamburgers by stuffing them with the healthy goodness of tomatoes then they're in for one rude awakening. Hell, you can put crushed multi-vitamins in place of chocolate sprinkles on your vanilla ice cream but you're still gonna gain weight.

What's weirder still is that ketchup, in its essence, is made out of tomatoes, thus already bestowing the burger with tomato flavour. Why, after adding a subtle and beloved tomato-like paste, would you add real tomatoes? It's like drinking orange flavoured Kool-Aid after eating an orange.

I'm well aware that there are bigger problems in the world but my contempt for tomatoes in hamburgers isn't a problem, it's a minor annoyance. Minor annoyances can be easily overlooked but not easily forgotten. Sometimes minor annoyances simmer quietly for years and most of the time left unsolved. But don't think for a second that anyone is above accumulating their own list of annoyances like - people who stand in doorways, people who answer a text with an email or vice versa, people who make left turns over yellow lines, people who deliberately sprinkle their speak with ebonics to sound hip, negative online comments with spelling mistakes...

Although, those are more grievances from my own list.

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