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Jul 31, 2007 08:31 PM

Toby's Good Eats - Quick Review

In response to Vinnie V.'s philippic re: Johnny's Burgers, I noted that you were
paying half the price that you paid for a burger at Toby's. I also noted that I worked
across the street at a Texaco gas station, and Johnny's provided many dinners, not
only for me, but for the mechanics, shift boss, and others. Well, today, I was in
"downtown" North York (sorry, Mel, it ain't happening), and decided to have lunch
at the Toby's outlet in the Empress Centre (Yonge, about halfway between Finch
and Sheppard.)

Let's start with the positives: stumbling in from 37+ humidex heat, it was cool and
comfortable. I was greeted and seated within 30 seconds. The waiter was friendly
and prompt. The bathrooms were clean and odour-free. Now, let's consider the

I'm low carbing these days (diabetes sucks!), so I ordered the "Keeping Fit", which
was a bare burger with onion, lettuce, and tomato, and my choice of salad. Since
my normal choice back in the day was "Toby's Courage" (a chili burger), I ordered
it with chili as a topping. I chose the Greek salad.

The Greek salad contained 2 olives, 4 slices of tomato, a few shreds of feta, lots of
lettuce, a little onion, and a dressing that tasted more Italian than Greek. But, since
I like all kinds of salad, this was fine with me.

The burger patty was surprisingly small (half the size of Johnny's), and unlike the "Courage" burgers I remember from my youth, where the chili ran up, down, and sideways
over the burger, this one had a mingy serving of 2-3 tablespoons. The chili was bland
beyond belief, and the burger was about three "wells" past well-done. I had to get to a
meeting, so sending it back was not an option (and being diabetic, going without food
for 16 hours wasn't either; I'd skipped breakfast to get to an early meeting.) I actually
asked for ketchup and mustard (on a chili burger?!) it was so dry.

Beverages? My first question was "Coke or Pepsi?". "Pepsi" said the waiter with just
a hint of pride. "Ice water", I replied. Later, I had coffee, which, like the chili, was to be
noted for its blandness.

The damage? $8.25 for the "Keeping Fit", plus $1.75 for the chili, plus $1.75 for the coffee. With tax, $13.40, with tip, $15.00.

So forget the tip, and assume I'd just had the Toby's Courage with fries and coffee. That would have been ($8.95 + $1.75) *1.14 = $12.20. Value for money spent compared to Johnny's? Pretty low, IMHO.

Yes, Johnny's has no seating other picnic tables where you are under constant attack
from brazen seagulls. You don't get to sit in a comfortable atmosphere, or be waited on
a professional server. On the other hand, burger, fries, and coffee at Johnny's sets you
back less than $6. Is Toby's worth twice the price? Years ago, I would have said "Yes",
but based on today's experience, I'd say "Nuh-uh".

And here's the final reason I love Johnny's; after I left university, I moved to Ottawa to work for a telecom firm there. I came back to visit my parents, and decided to drop in to Johnny's after not being there for at least 3-4 years. I came in wearing a blazer, tie, etc.
John was working the counter. He looked at me for about 10 seconds, and then said,
"Hey, Texaco, cheeseburger?".

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  1. Toby's is just a name. The place at Empress Walk has nothing in common with Toronto's first "modern" burger joint (circa mid 1970s) except for the cute logo.

    RIP Toby ol' dog.

    10 Replies
    1. re: embee

      Has anyone been to the sole remaining 'original' Tobys @ Yonge & Bloor (OK, I know, its not one of the "original original" locations, but its the only one left)? I go by there often and wonder about the food/quality.

      1. re: downtown

        I've been a couple of times (my friend lived nearby and had a crush on one of the waitresses.. otherwise, I'd never have bothered)

        In a word? Bletch. You're better off going around the corner to Harvey's for your burger.

        1. re: tartiflette

          I think that Tom Kristenbrun company was called Chrysalis and at one time they had a vast array of concepts under the umbrellla - Toby's, Bemelman's, Rhodes, The Copa, The Ports (and the many rooms therein ... oh my...this is back into the early 70's fern bars). Bemelman's had the best Eggs Benedict. Toby's used to be open until 3:00 am and at that time of the morning nobody cared that the burger was probably just as KevinB describes it at the beginning of this thread..

          1. re: andyman

            No, Toby's really did have good burgers back then. Not burger nirvana, but among the best available in Toronto at the time. I never did like their frozen fries, but Toronto burgers really didn't come much better. And I didn't need to argue to get one cooked rare.

            1. re: andyman

              I remember enjoying the tasty free hor d'oeuvres at Bemelman's around "happy hour". Twenty Two at the Windsor arms used to do the same thing. Do bars do that these days? Can you get, from what I remember, top-quality tasty tidbits to eat passed around on a tray, just because you're there at a certain time?

          2. re: downtown

            ChefDB shows the original Toby's as running from about 85-93 which seems about right to me. I've been in the B&Y location operating under that name once or twice in the last year. The place looks a lot like it did originally but the product is not at all the same. I always leave wondering why I went. I guess it was the faint hope that someone from the past might have retruned to bring back the Tex or Courage.

            RIP Toby.

            1. re: gothlig

              I remember going to Toby's (on Bloor by Bemelman's) in the late 70s and early 80s. Is that not the same one?

              1. re: JamieK

                No, Yonge & Bloor came later. You were going to the original location.

              2. re: gothlig

                One interesting note to the Toby's at B&Y (which I agree is hideous), if you notice, the sign is now a plain back background and white text. The reason? I happened to be passing by there a number of years ago and they were adjusting (or some kind of maintenance) the original red neon Toby's Good Eats sign, and not more than 5 seconds after I passed under that very sign, it came crashing down behind me...completely destroyed.....kind of symbolic I thought...

                1. re: gothlig

                  The original Toby's on Bloor near Yonge was definitely operating by 1975. Hard to believe now, but I remember taking clients to Toby's for business lunches. I recall Toby himself being somewhat infamous for his male doggie exploits a bit north of there.

            2. Ah, ye olde burger joints. I shed a tear and a few pounds when the Fire Pit at Bloor and Bedford(?) disappeared. Home burger, banquet burger ...

              2 Replies
              1. re: mrbozo

                The (Original) Fire Pit lives on at Huronatrio and Britannia in Mississauga. Still a great burger served by gentlemen with hairy knuckles.

                1. re: ishmael

                  Ah, the good old days. May have to venture out there when an old buddy comes to visit in September.

                  I have memories of a tasty burger loaded down with the works. And onion rings. And fries. Souvlaki was decent too.

                  Greek gents cranking out grub that schmecked with a curt but cooking-pride attitude.

                  This is not necessarily a recommendation, but it is a trip down burger lane.

              2. Toby's Good Eats was the last place I went on a date with a man not my husband. It was bold and new and good fun and the apple cobbler and burgers and brunches were all terrific and sometimes the dog, Toby, would slump in from the back. As I was married in 1979, I am thinking 1976?77?

                1 Reply
                1. re: LJS

                  I agree, back in the 70's, Toby's was great - big, tasty burgers, lots of different styles, great vibe, etc. But, 30 years on, it's not what it was. Whereas Johnny's is the same as it was 40 years ago. I agree with Mr. Bozo - greek gents cranking out grub that schmecked.