Shalom Life | April 17, 2014

Lunchtime has Become a Religious Experience

I finally paid a long and overdue visit to the “Priest”. What's with all the Hebrew?

By: Daniel Horowitz

Published: February 7th, 2012 in Culture » Food » News

Lunchtime has Become a Religious Experience
As a Jewish man, I’m sorry to report that until recently, I had never really had what I would describe as a religious “epiphany.”

That was, until I finally changed my ways and paid a long overdue visit to the Priest this week.

Since opening his original location in Toronto’s east end on Queen Street two summers ago, The Burger's Priest's owner Shant Marrdirosian has created a devout following of burger-lovers, who are by now officially addicted to his California-style beef patties which are made of – and this is important – his own heavenly recipe of freshly ground, never frozen beef. The Burger’s Priest newest cathedral is a 1,200 square foot space at 3397 Yonge Street, between Lawrence and Don Mills, and situated next door to the Burger Cellar, and directly across the street from a McDonalds.

I lunched with my publisher who was the first one to put the concept and taste of the Priest’s burgers into my head over a year ago, with no expectations that the experience would ignite me to sit down and write a story about a simple hamburger lunch, but that’s precisely what it did.

Was there something in my burger that inspired me, almost against my will, to make this a working lunch? Perhaps it was a paranormal experience that happens to Jews who enjoy the Priest’s devilishly delicious fare? Perhaps the can of soda I was sipping while awaiting my meal was really holy water?

More importantly, does this mean that I can submit my lunch bill to said publisher as an expense?

Regardless of what the experience did to me, if I was able, and not quite so concerned with maintaining my girlish figure, I would eat lunch and dinner there on a daily basis before visiting a confessional (why don’t shul’s have those?) and saying three Hail Mary’s and at least two Our Father’s.

And, as much as all the talk about the new northern location of this vaunted throwback to the classic California roadhouses whetted my appetite, it almost turned me off even going. All I heard was, ‘Oh, you’re crazy, it’s good, but you’ll never get in”, or “there’s no parking”, or, “if you do get through the front door, good luck finding somewhere to sit!”

I arrived at 11:55 a.m., and found it surprisingly easy to not only get in, but to quickly claim one of the establishment’s 16 seats.

I’ve never been afraid to order food. One look at me and you’ll see that right off. I really like food, and ordering it can, in itself, be a sexual experience for me. But, suddenly, standing in line waiting to give my order, I became a tad intimidated as if I was waiting to order soup from The Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame. It was all too obvious that I was a Priest virgin. I didn’t have the confident swagger of the others who ordered their burgers nonchalantly while bantering back and forth. Suddenly, it was my turn. I ordered a double patty burger and a Diet Coke. They took my money and asked me my name. Since the young lady behind the cash register was quite attractive and probably 25 years younger than me, I gave her my name as well as my phone number.

Finally, after hearing about the Burger’s Priest for two years, mostly from said publisher, I was about to taste his wonder.

After one bite, my conversion was underway. I can no longer eat my lunches at South Street Burger, Harvey’s, Wendy’s or – God forbid – McDonalds. That would be sacrilegious. Suddenly it became all too clear to me why some people have reportedly traveled from Montreal to taste a Priest’s burger.

It was then, much to my shock and amazement, that I noticed a massive mural on the Priest’s southern wall with Hebrew writing and the English translation opposite it.

Although my Hebrew vocabulary consists of “lila tov”, “boker tov”, abba”, “eema” and “sheket”, the latter of which I learned during my futile years at Hebrew school as teacher after teacher screamed it at me while I was intent on discussing the latest Leafs’ game with classmates.

But, as a Jew, there was something extremely comforting about reading Hebrew while I ate. Food for thought, perhaps?

Now, as a devout Priest parishioner, I needed answers to some of the place’s mysteries, starting off with what the hell (sorry, Father) does Marrdirosian put in his meat that makes it the best burger I’ve ever tasted and how is he redeeming the burger, as it says on his website.

“It was meant to be tongue in cheek, but the redemption aspect definitely is in line with my beliefs,” says the 34-year-old Protestant.

“We ground our beef fresh every hour between 7 a.m. to 5 pm, which, in itself, is redemption in a world of frozen burgers. We will never, ever use frozen patties. The redemption also comes in the simplicity of our toppings and the fact that we cook them on a simple, flat griddle top to medium and then place them on a bun with simple condiments.”

And, why a Hebrew mural in the presence of a “priest?”

“I spent more time at Toronto’s Tyndale Seminary studying books on the tanac and the torah more than anything else,” he says. “I just felt a connection to the Hebrew and I’d argue that Christians really can’t understand Jesus outside of his Jewish context. The specific passage up on the wall is important to not only my faith, but to others as well. It talks about three men standing up to a madman and, unbowing, saying that we are not going to change who we are for you, not only if it means our death.”

And, Marrdirosian is hardly a fool, knowing who comprises much of his clientele.

“Let’s put it this way,” he says, “Business is down by 20 percent during Passover already. We have a lot of Jewish customers.”

And, for a business that sells more than 5,000 four-ounce beef patties each week, 20 percent is not insignificant.

So, what’s with all these gourmet burger joints popping up all over Hogtown in the last couple of years?

“We live in a very globalized culture today,” explains the man behind the Priest. “Hong Kong is a lot more similar to Toronto than the city an hour north of Toronto. Things, whether it’s fashion trends or food, used to be in New York for 15 years before it would come to Toronto. Now, it’s maybe two or three years. The food coming to Toronto these days is just off the hook. And, frankly, the burger war started in New York around six years ago, and I firmly believe that Toronto is feeling the effects of that war today.”

After my first visit to The Burger’s Priest, I can safely say that being a casualty of war has never tasted better.
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