Give us The WORKS!

After months under wraps, The Works has arrived in Toronto.

This 82-seat gourmet burger bistro, well-known to anyone who’s eaten in Ottawa in the past decade, officially opens May 4 on The Danforth, just east of Pape. It’s the first of four TO locations planned for the next year following the success of the chain’s Oakville restaurant, which opened last December.

President Andy O’Brien, a foodservice veteran who bought the Works in 2010, says the burger craze has been around for 40 years, and it won’t disappear anytime soon.

“A major U.S. city may have 400 to 500 burger restaurants,” he said, “and we may have 10. We’re barely scratching the surface!”

Burgers are the ultimate food, O’Brien says, combining protein, carbohydrates and unlimited customizable flavours. In fact, the Works’ crowded brown-paper menu offers 70 toppings and a total of 420 burger combinations, priced from $12 -$17 if you include the $3.39 elk patty upgrade.

Thankfully, you’ll find a comfy seat and a table while making your choice. There are no TV sets hanging from the ceiling and no bar. O’Brien promises good food, Ontario wine and beer, great service and classic BT breakfast burgerrock and roll played loud.

The Chief Burgerhead also promises something for everyone. When he and his family eat out, he orders a Ring of Fire (R.O.F.) featuring hotter-than-hell sauce, jalapeno, banana and chipotle peppers and jack cheese, his wife orders the Sweet Ride, with caramelized onion, brie and grilled pear half, his son orders a Million Dollar burger topped with Kraft Dinner and his daughter orders a vegetarian patty with eggplant and roasted red pepper.

“We encourage people to get adventurous,” he says. “Peanut butter and bacon is very popular.”

Each bistro’s industrial design reflects its neighbourhood. The Danforth’s features a chalkboard mural of the Bloor Street viaduct, the bridge that connects downtown Toronto to the once-isolated Danforth neighbourhood. A beaded necklace embedded in the bricks above the milkshake station represents franchise owner Zaki Zahur’s first sales venture at age 13.

Next stop in the Works’ ambitious plan to conquer the country is Waterloo, followed by restaurant openings in Peterborough, Toronto’s Beach and Bloor West Village. Halifax and Calgary should get their first Works bistro in the fall, says vice president  and co-owner Bruce Miller.

First impression:

• Loved the lean elk burger, which I paired with a KBC … roasted red pepper, avocado, havarti cheese and a veggie mayo called beechhouse, one of 15 homemade dipping sauces on tap.

• Great buns, boys! Sturdy and flavourful.

• One Tower-O-Rings is enough for the table and looks very cool. Too bad the onions are overwhelmed by the ultra-crunchy batter.

• Fresh-cut fries may be fresh, but I found them flat and bitter. The bright orange sweet potato strings, however, were super yum.

• While these burgermeisters pride themselves on quirky details, like serving food in baking pans alongside lightbulb-shaped salt ’n pepper shakers, I personally dislike drinking water through a plastic straw from a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup.

• The lemon-lime milkshake, one of 18 possibilities, was refreshingly delicious and pretty cute in its 1-cup measuring cup. Another thumbs-up for the chocolate shake.

• The banana “Splitsville” with a scoop of chocolate sauce suspended in ice cream – look ma, another measuring cup! – was forgettable. By this point in the meal you’ll be too full to enjoy it, anyway.

Welcome to TO, burgerheads!

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