First Look: Gangster Burger, a new indie hamburger joint on Queen West
What do you get when two guys from the tattoo industry with a can-do attitude — but zero experience in the food industry — decide to open a burger joint pretty much on a lark? You get Gangster Burger, a takeout spot that opened up two weeks ago at Queen and Portland. Among its first customers was rap star Drake.
“That was a bit of a mixed blessing,” says co-owner Lee Baxter, who also owns the tattoo and piercing shop FY Ink across the street. “We got a lot of attention, but we were just doing a soft opening. We had a bun issue, and we had it figured out by the fourth day, [but we got media attention] on the third day.”
The bun issue seems long behind them, and Baxter says business at Gangster Burger is doing well: the shop sells out of meat every day.
Baxter and FY Ink’s manager, William Nguyen, had long joked about opening their own burger place. Baxter used to eat at Ali Baba’s, the estaurant that previously occupied the space, and got to know the owner fairly well. So when he heard that Ali Baba’s owner wanted to sell, Baxter negotiated a down payment, dropped off the money, walked into his tattoo shop and told Nguyen, “Okay, you know that joke? We’re going to do it.”
While Baxter and Nguyen worked on the interior of the space, including setting up a gangster-themed collage of old photos and news articles on the wall, head chef Adrian Forte, who until recently worked at the ACC as a line cook, spent a month developing a burger menu.
Gangster’s most popular burger is the Dillinger ($7.39), a burger topped with caramelized onion, bacon, dill havarti and spicy house-made ketchup (which Gangster Burger appropriately calls “gangster goo.”)
Fries ($3.55) are cut in-house from Yukon Gold potatoes and seasoned with salt, chopped thyme and cracked pepper.
Gangster Burger offers five house-made sauce sauces to go with the sides, including “blue magic” (made with secret ingredients). Other, less mysterious sauces include garlic aioli and chipotle mayo.
Another popular burger is the Capone ($8), which comes with smoked provolone, roasted red pepper, caramelized red onions and crimini mushrooms sautéed with house-made marinara sauce.
Forte says all supplies come from local neighbourhood businesses. Buns, for example, are poppy seed ones from Silverstein’s Bakery. Burgers are cooked to order, by customer preference.
Baxter says they have gotten some flack for glamourizing gang culture — but he says people are misunderstanding the theme of the restaurant.
“We want to educate on the impact these guys made,” Baxter says. “We’re also showcasing the fictional aspect of gang culture.”
Baxter has already talked to the Toronto police about doing an anti-gun violence fundraiser, and the restaurant is considering heading out to less fortunate neighbourhoods around Queen West to give out burgers and to educate about gun violence.
Gangster Burger, 607 Queen Street West, 647-352-3375