It was my first year covering TIFF for Metro Newspaper and after hopping around town the previous eve I found myself swaying on the curb outside of the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel. It was a lovely warm September afternoon and while I tried to find the energy to look, listen and feel a massive crowd had gathered along Wellington Street for the big reveal.
The sidewalk at Wahlburgers Toronto had been outfitted with a plush green carpet in homage to Boston based burger joint Wahlburgers who were announcing their launch in Canada via film festival pop up party. And then all of a sudden Marky Mark is standing in front of me and I’m staring up his nose. He’s shorter than I imagined, basically my height. While I paused to adore his handsomeness my belly grumbled and moments later shot up the hotels elevator to the burger-centric soiree.
Wahlburgers Toronto officially launched in the middle of November with a star studded, razzle dazzle soiree. Blue Jays Way was closed off to traffic outside of the Soho Metropolitan Hotel and a massive crowd of Wahlberg fans and media stood shivering in the cold as guests arrived along the green carpet. The crowd went wild when New Kids on the Block throwback Donnie Wahlberg arrived with his blond bombshell Jenny McCarthy.
I brought my friend Nico along for the evening and after checking in at the media desk we skipped up a few flights of stairs to a white tented rooftop party. A live band performed as a crowd of cocktail dressed pretty ladies and their Bay Street boyfriends nibbled on tater tots and wolfed down petite burgers while juggling glasses of wine, beer and creamy frappe shooters.
By 11pm the Wahlburgers Toronto party was winding down but it was still a bit of a gong show as a huge crowd had gathered to take selfies with Donnie and Jenna who were ever so gracious, spending their entire evening taking photos with fans. As I headed for the exit I notice a circle of women marching to the beat of their own drum, letting loose while awkwardly dancing as if at a long lost relatives wedding. Fist pumps to the sky induced by smug mugged burger binge.
A week earlier I had been invited into Wahlburgers Toronto and had my friend Jeremy join me for a Marky Mark approved burger bacchanal. Wahlburgers Toronto was buzzing and upon arrival took the time to wander through its unique layout. Foodies looking for a “by the bar” experience can hop up on a stool and watch the game on screens overhead.
If you’re looking for a more intimate experience the tables and banquets on the main floor of Wahlburgers Toronto offer an opportunity to enjoy a casual feast thanks to an army smiling servers. The windows double as doors and will swing open in the summer, offering new thrills to patio loving beer and burger aficionado’s in the downtown core. If you walk to the back of the restaurant they’ve set up a quick service space for those looking for speedy fast food or takeout.
Jeremy and I plop ourselves down at a bench and spend the next few moments wagging our finger through the menu as a portrait of Mark Wahlberg winks down at us (so distracting). Wahlburgers restaurant in Toronto perhaps has received the most buzz via its A&E Emmy-nominated reality show which offers viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the titled restaurant owned by chef Paul Wahlberg and his brothers, actors Mark and Donnie.
Wahlburgers Toronto offers a breath of fresh air to the city’s competitive gourmet burger space. While the brand is based in Boston chef Paul has made a point of ensuring local ingredients are celebrated at his first Canadian outpost. The kitchen grinds its own 100% Canadian Beef (tres bon) and the brewmasters at Mill Street Brewery in Toronto’s own Distillery District have crafted a hoppy IPA just for the restaurant which they cutely call the Walbrewski North. The Adult Frappes are a decadent boozy treat which offers a nice replacement to the classic milkshake when your back hurts and you need a little voddy’ in yo’ body. The bartender also whips up a refreshing list of cocktails dubbed Wahlcoctions, many of which tip their hat to Canada via inclusions of Canadian whiskey, maple syrup and that Classic Caesar.
I had the opportunity to sample through a significant amount of the Wahlburgers Toronto menu and I think my favourites might surprise. While I am definitely a beef burger fan, it was the Thanksgiving Burger (Mark’s favourite) that truly wooed me. Fresh ground seasoned turkey is layered with holiday stuffing, orange cranberry sauce, roasted butternut squash and mayonnaise. Holy cow literally screaming in your mouth. Fans of the fish will also enjoy the crispy crunch of the Haddock Sandwich while the Spinach Salad adorned with sweet gala apples, creamy gorgonzola and smokey bacon offers an “almost healthy” alternative for those trying to make good decisions in the worst place possible (leave your calorie counter at the door girls).
My largest thrill was perhaps the snackability offered by tator tots (served both as classic potatoes or sweet potatoes) and bucket of crispy fried bermuda onions. The fat, sugar and salt was all washed down with a duo of pie inspired adult frappes which offered blueberry and chocolate fans a happy finale.
samuel adams boston lager, beau’s lug tread lager
cherry coke, northern reflections, the wahlbanger
BBQ Bacon Burger
beef patty, white cheddar cheese, bacon, avocado, fresh jalapeno, bbq sauce
ground turkey patty, stuffing, orange cranberry sauce, roasted butternut squash, mayonnaise
Crispy Haddock Sandwich
panko breaded haddock fillet, lettuce, tomato, balsamic tartar sauce
red onion, sweet peppers, parsley, creamy mayo
crispy bacon, gala apples, radicchio, gorgonzola
Sweet Potato Tater Tots
Yukon Gold Fries
Mud Pie Frappe
vanilla and chocolate ice cream, vanilla vodka, kahlua, creme de cocao, crumbled oreo
Blueberry Pie Frappe
vanilla ice cream, blueberry vodka, vanilla vodka, graham cracker crumble