Hidden Burger may be Toronto’s smallest and least-accessible burger joint, and co-owner Wayne Cowley is fine with that description if you add that it has the city’s best burger.
“It’s a great, great burger,” says Cowley, a former professional hockey goalie with a long and distinguished career but just one (Dec. 11, 1993) appearance in the net for an NHL team. After that career ended, he opened Bottom Line, a sports-themed restaurant next door to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
A year ago, the restaurant adjacent to Bottom Line closed. The space was renovated but the kitchen was left, accessible from the back of Cowley’s restaurant. “We couldn’t join the kitchens so we had to do something with the [small] kitchen. We figured burgers are so popular, why not do that?” And so Hidden Burger was born as a counter at the back of Bottom Line. You can’t see it when you walk in the main restaurant; you have to know it’s there, and Cowley and Hidden Burger co-owner Olivier Centner have fun with its near-invisibility.
Open only from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, the burger counter targets young workers in Toronto’s surrounding financial district. To keep the line moving, there’s a very, very limited menu: a cheeseburger ($7.50), double cheeseburger ($12) and veggie burger ($7.50), plus fries, canned soft drinks and water. And the veggie burger was added only because Cowley says they were persuaded it was necessary for the city’s diverse population.
But that’s it. There will be no chicken burger, no salads, no more additions, Cowley says. “That’s as far as we’ll go. I want the focus to be on our burger,” he says. “Our burger is ground chuck and beef brisket with salt and pepper. That’s it. We found a perfect patty that travels; that’s great for lunch.
“No substitutions. The burger comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion, ketchup and mustard. You don’t want ketchup or mustard or a pickle? You take it off. We want the customer’s experience to be quick and the burger be amazing.”
Combos with fries and a canned soft drink are $10. Available for office deliver is the Jughead Platter (playing off Hidden Burger’s “Archie” comics décor): 10 cheeseburgers with fries and an appropriately secret spicy jalapeňo dipping sauce. That’s $100.
The staff is limited to one cashier and two cooks, all of whom may be familiar to customers from the Hidden Burger videos that popped up in April when it opened, tempting burger lovers to try and find the burger counter. Those who texted “Wayne” to the number provided with the video got a free burger. “But it didn’t tell them where we are,” said Cowley.
The next step? “Really we’re just kind of walking with it still. We’ve already had investors come to us and ask, ‘What about location No. 2?’ I tell them we’re working on No. 1.”