There was a time when Torontonians referred to restaurants serving food that was questionable as “hamburger joints.” Today, such derogatory wording should be revised. The humble hamburger has gone gourmet. Although in some instances backyard barbeques and greasy spoons continue to perpetuate the old image of this most common of foods, nowadays the price for a burger in Toronto ranges from a humble $6 to over $40. The choice of extras to add to a burger is almost endless. The comfort-food hamburger of old has matured into a quality entree.
In the downtown core, it is possible to enjoy a burger in a restaurant contained in one of the city’s historic buildings. Recently, I visited the “BQM Diner” on Queen Street West, contained inside the Noble Block, a group of buildings constructed in 1888. The BQM maintains some of the atmosphere of its predecessor, the “Stem Open Kitchen,” which resembled a typical diner of the 1950s. Today, the jukeboxes that played the favourite hits of the mid-century decade are gone from the narrows booths of BQM , but the small rotating stools at the counter remain as reminders of yesteryears. The large sign hanging over the doorway is the original from the 1940s, but the old neon tubes have been removed and the sign greatly altered.
The BQM is located in the same block as Toronto’s exclusive Ultra Supper Club, which has valet parking. Despite this, the BQM has charms that rival its more upscale neighbour. From the patio, a person can view the street-scene of Queen West Street West. A more eclectic collection of the ordinary, the ridiculous, and the sublime is difficult to find. Every-day citizens, as well as the hip, eccentric, ultra-chic, street people, and those with wallets containing every credit card imaginable, mix together with ease. Despite my many idiosyncrasies, even I feel at home on the most diverse street in Toronto. The wide sidewalk provides space for buskers, street artists, musicians and hustlers of endless variety. The streetcars rattling past reinforce the pleasures of dining out-of-doors in a rich urban environment. For me, it beats the highway traffic, mosquitoes, and endless chores of cottage country. I am an urbanite and luxuriate in the decadent pleasures of city in the summer. Okay, for me there is very little decadence, but I live in hope.
One morning, I even met Jesus on Queen Street. He was standing in front on the sidewalk near the BMQ Diner, a shepherd’s staff in hand and wearing a Biblical robe. He was vociferously declaring, “I’m not at all pleased with this city and its sinful ways.” I did not pay too much attention, as I assumed he was referring to the the recent election of Mayor Rob Ford. Amen!
Hamburger served at BQM Diner at 354 Queen Street West
The BQM Diner offers a choice of three different cuts of beef – $7 for chuck steak, $9 for brisket, and $11 for sirloin. The choice of cut determines the price, and the fat content. All meat is advertised as “hormone free.” The greater the fat content, the tastier the burger, but also the more cholesterol. All burgers are served with tomato, pickle, onion, lettuce, mustard, and relish. The hamburger seen above is a relatively unadorned version. However, many other choices are available – blue cheese or mozzarella, caramelized onions, balsamic glaze, horseradish, Portobello mushrooms, garlic aioli, or cheddar cheese. The choice of extras determines the final price. I found the burger delicious, and enjoyed the fries as well as they were narrow and crispy. On the table was sea salt, which was great on the fries.
The Noble Block is the row of seven three-storey shops built of pink-coloured bricks, constructed in 1888. They are on the right-hand side of the photo. The two building of darker brick, on the left-hand side of the picture, were built several year later For more information on these buildings, see The Villages Within, available at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.com.
The sidewalk patio of the BQM at 354 Queen Street West, located in the historic Noble Block. In 1888 the space was occupied by Fawcett and Peterman, tailors.
Interior of the BQM Diner and a view from the inside gazing out at Queen Street West and the diner’s sidewalk patio. It is truly a window on the world.
The historic Noble Block, with its ornate facade and brickwork.
Hamburger served at the Grindhouse on King Street West near Peter Street.