Harper’s Burger Bar

Kingstonian’s taste buds and arteries have been on stand by since we announced that four new burger, fry and poutine purveyors would be opening up this Fall.  While Smoke’s Poutinerie was the first horse out of the gate, we had to wait until mid-October for Harper’s Burger Bar to open their doors and drop their deep fryers. Based on past experiences where we’ve jumped at the opportunity to review new restaurants, only to be disappointed as a result of opening week jitters, we decided to give Harper’s a bit of time to work out the kinks. Needless to say the wait was unbearable, as we had to endure countless mouth watering recommendations from friends.  In the end, good things come to those who wait.
Harper's Burger Bar, Kingston, OntarioHarper’s is owned by the same group that’s behind the often praised le Chien Noir and Atomica Pizza and Wine Bar.  Patrons of both of those establishments have come to expect fine dining in a posh setting with a price tag to match.  Harper’s is no exception, and as soon as you step foot inside, it’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into designing the perfect gourmet burger bar experience.  From the interesting light fixtures to the wall-sized menu board, unique condiments on the tables, and a drink menu that includes everything from beer floats to spiked shakes, it will take you a few trips to appreciate every little detail they’ve packed inside.  That said, I’m not convinced four flat screen televisions were essential to pulling it off, but they’re easy enough to ignore.
Harper's Burger Bar, Kingston, OntarioWe expected a bit of a wait at the door during the dinner hour last Friday, but we were seated in less than 10 minutes. Table service was very prompt, as our drink order was taken and delivered in no time at all. From there we proceeded to make our main course selections, while I also decided to try out their caesar salad as a starter. The bowl of Romaine hearts, house caeser dressing, sourdough croutons, and parmesan was a pretty decent size for the price ($7.50), however I found it to be very light on the dressing. That’s probably a good thing though, because we visited Harper’s to indulge in burgers, not creamy salad dressing.
Harper's Burger Bar, Kingston, OntarioHarpers has eight different varieties of burgers on their menu, while you have your choice of beef, turkey or chickpea patty, chicken breast or wild salmon fillet. My high school finite teacher would be proud that I can still figure out the number of possible choices, and suffice to say it will take you a while to eat through their entire menu. Rather than taste only one burger on our first outing, we opted for the slider option ($12.50), which affords you the luxury of selecting three different mini-burgers and a bowl of their hand cut Yukon gold fries.  Going clockwise around the plate pictured above, I sampled the #6 Umami (brie, balsamic candied onions, tamari glazed mushrooms, white truffle aioli), #8 Deluxe (Monterey jack, avocado, local bacon, roasted garlic-rosemary mayo) and #5 Bull’s Eye (Monterey jack, fried farm egg, local bacon, grilled jalapeños, South Carolina BBQ sauce).  I must admit that I hesitated to order the Bull’s Eye, as the idea of an egg topped burger seemed unappealing. I was sold after my first bite, as this was easily the tastiest thing on my plate.  Don’t get me wrong though, each burger was amazing in their own right.
Harper's Burger Bar, Kingston, OntarioMy dining companion opted for the sliders as well, while she ordered two of the same burgers as I did, Umami and Deluxe, she mixed it up by selecting #3 Blue (blue cheese, bacon, tomato marmalade) and a side of poutine.  All in all the burgers were cooked to perfection, just a little pink on the inside, without an obscene amount of grease dripping off of them.  The fries were amazingly crispy and not over salted, however I was less than impressed with their poutine, which was not layered nor mixed very well.  I would likely try one of their seven gourmet dips next time around (roasted garlic-rosemary mayo, smoked paprika ketchup, house 1000 Islands, South Carolina BBQ, Thai red coconut-curry or Blue cheese, White truffle aioli).

Due to the close proximity of our table to the register, we were unfortunate victims of a landslides involving menus and cutlery.  This far from ruined our dining experience, and without asking we were quickly treated to a couple of glasses of wine on the house.  Another great example of the quality service at this exciting establishment.  On our way out we noticed that those waiting for a seat were cramped pretty close to diners, which could be a bit uncomfortable for some.  Otherwise without a proper vestibule, the constant in and out at the front door could make those sitting nearby rather chilly during the cold winter months.  Being busy isn’t a bad thing though, and averall, Harper’s far exceeded our expectations of what a gourmet burger could be.  We’ll be back again soon.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

31 thoughts on “Harper’s Burger Bar

  • Thanks for the review. I am really looking forward to dining at Harper's.

    • The chickpea burger is quite tasty there. Certainly the best veggie-burger option I've found in town. Go in hungry, it's thick!

  • I love this place! Don't forget to try the Anchor Beer from San Francisco (which essentially started the micro-brew trend in the 60's on) and perhaps a Belgian 'sour' lambic beer. Bon appetit!

  • A diner in Ottawa has a burger with cream cheese on it. Had it years ago and they still have it on the menu.

  • Being a fan of high end burger joints (i.e. Splits in Whistler, Vera's in Vancouver, Ruby's and In n' Out in LA, The Works in Ottawa) i was excited to see something similar in little old Kingston. Haper Burger has got many things right but misses on a few key points. First, get rid of the TV's, funky background music will do just fine, TV's are distracting and meant for sports bars. Second, the portions were kinda small. Potatoes cost nothing, impress customers with a generous helping of fries. In addition, compared to other burger joints listed above the burger was a little on the small side. The patty was fine but a small piece of lettuce and two tiny tomato slices did not cut it. Don't get me wrong, it was a fine burger but for $40 for two people and no beers it kinda left me unstatisfied. and still hungry. You can get a similar product at the Mansion for $7 for burger and fries, plus their huge schooner of beer gets you out for about $17 and you have the start of a nice buzz. Looking forward to checking out Five Guys. I have heard good things.

    • Been to Splits, Vera's and the Works (all totally different concepts) – found Harper's to be the best of the bunch (Vera's has TV's as does the Works) the music at Harpers rocks and there is no sound on the TV's – also you have to consider the local factor with regards to the sourcing of the beef – would you eat a med – rare burger at In-N-Out? Anyway sounds like you are a little confused with what a high end burger joint is, the places you have mentioned are not. Five guys is a factory (read pumped with all kinds of nasty things) beef mega chain from the states – I guess it depends on whether you care where your food comes from and if you prefer to support local or not. And regardless of the food politics it is really a great addition to the dining scene in Kingston. You must have a big appetite too as everytime my friends and I go (6 times now !) to Harpers we leave stuffed!

  • Oooh, those sliders look great. And $12.50 suits me fine for some interesting flavour combos. Perhaps tonight….why buy groceries when you can eat somewhere fun & new?

  • Having read many of the reviews on Kingstonist, and contributed a little to the discussions, I am beginning to think that my wife and I may just have a totally different idea of what constitutes 'good food' to most people here!

    • So I take it you disagree with my review, no worries there. I'd love to hear how your experience and review differed from mine, rather than receive some vague comment about what "good food" tastes like. Surely we've yet to review a place that serves good food </sarcasm>

      • Harvey, I've already written about what I thought of Harvey's on the other thread so the sarcasm is unecessary – and incidentally, being British, sarcasm doesn't need pointing out to me! ;-) And I didn't think it was bad at all, just slightly overpriced.

        It wasn't actually a comment directed at you, it was exactly what it said. If you think it's irrelevent, remove the comment by all means. I am just finding that my perception of what I expect or would like from restaurants to be rather different to others here. I didn't say my taste is 'superior' and I didn't mean that. I'm living in a very small town for the first time and an entirely new country, which is sometimes disguised by the commonality of languages, so occasionally the differences surprise me.

        I think my commrnt is a reflection of a bigger issue – there's something I am increasingly noticing about Kingston, which is that it is punching below its weight (and this goes for food as much as anything else). With all the great produce around this area, Kingston should be foodie-central. It should be excellent. But it's merely 'okay'. I'd rather like Kingston (food and everything else) to be a bit more than 'okay' and I get the feeling most of the people involved with Kingstonist do too – it's what attracted me to get involved with discussion here in the first place.

        The people behind Harper's have some record here – and Atomica is a place I like quite a lot and I don't find it overpriced compared to Harper's BTW (although I would say that the Chien Noir definitely is overpriced). I guess I hoped Harper's might be a bit more special, and it's not, it's just… you know… 'okay'. ;-)

        • Hmmmm…Having lived in several Canadian cities, I have to say that I LOVE what Kingston has to in "foodie" terms. Pretty much everyone who visits me comments on what great variety, quality, and good prices we have.

          Maybe my tastes are simply inferior in relation to the great food the UK has to offer?

        • So what do you consider more than OK? And incidentally being British (you sound like a snob) how can you claim gastronomic superiortiy coming from a country that revels in all things bland and deep fried. Sorry that Kingston disapoints you so much.

          • The British reference was entirely related to the question of sarcasm not food and it was a joke hence the ;-) My ideas about food are shaped by having lived in many different countries in the world, most recently in Japan. And I'm the first to admit that I have little idea about the standard of food in the rest of Canada, apart from very small parts of Toronto and Montreal.

            However, I'm not trying to do down Kingston, just taking it how it is, and thinking about the resources around it. I'm interested in an honest and friendly discussion about the place in which we all live and how it can be as good as it has the potential to be. And as Foodfan shows below, I'm not the only one who thinks things are okay but could be better. I'm curious as to what people think is wrong with wanting things to be better.

            BTW, you can argue with my views as much as you like, but I'd appreciate people keeping their prejudices to themselves. I'm as much part of his community as any of you, and that's all that matters. So please argue with what I say, not with your prejudices about who you think I am. Thanks! :-)

          • I certainly won't argue with the fact that things in Kingston could better, but they could be far worse as well. I would love to see more variety instead of 5 new sushi, or burger joints opening up at any given point in time, but at the end of the day higher priced places such as Harper's are a bit more of a gamble for owners. Kingston's got a great local food movement started, and I think there's lots of room for it to grow and spread throughout the independent, non-chain restos. It seems as though some of the new places that open either lack the experience or funding to really enable them to flourish, and get people in the doors. Relating back to this post, I don't think that Harper's will suffer that fate, as the group backing it have a great track record.

          • Absolutely, I wouldn't disagree, Harvey – I already said I'm a fan of Atomica (for lots of reasons). Anyway, I think I've said more than enough for this thread!

          • I apologize but the comment was based on how what you wrote sounded not who you are – I don't know you. However you did make a blanket comment that all food in Kingston is 'merely okay' of course that is going to upset our small town minds. I would argue though that if you compared the food scene here to other cities in North America (we are not in Europe or Asia) of a similar size things here are pretty good. There is definetely room for improvement as there is always in any trade or endevour anywhere, after all who is perfect. But I think you and FoodFan are wrong to think that there has not or is not an effort being put forth to by local chefs to utilize the bounty and artisan products that surround us. I suppose that my issue with the all the critism is that peolple rarely go online to say anything positive. The discussion is good and having witnessed a complete transformation of the restaurant scene here (Have lived in Kinston for the past 15 years and beleive me it is much much better) it is nice to see an interest in improving it. However how is all the banter on this blog going to change what is on the menu. Open a restaurant Flying Monkey and FoodFan and put your money where your mouths are!

          • There are restuarants in this city that are pretty good. I myself put more to the flavour of the food rather than having it look like a piece of art. You can get food that looks messy and gross but boy does it taste good. Personally, I think too many people here think they are Gordon Ramsey.

          • No worries. I'm actually a pretty good cook, but I'm not a chef and don't want to be. My contribution to the scene comes elsewhere, mostly as a local agriculture and food activist, which I have been for a long time, and am now involved in the new Taste of Wolfe Island group set up this year. So I do put my money where my mouth is and always have, wherever I have lived.

          • Taste of Wolfe Island? First I've heard of it. Same format as Fare on the Square?

          • It's a new organisation bringing together innovative producers on the island. This year, there's been a small farmers' market on the island in the summer/autumn, and several of the members also sell in the Kingston market. We're also trying to form links with local businesses. The new Shanti yoga retreat centre on the island is a supporter for example. In the coming years, there are plans to expand and even try to do things like offer internships on farms etc.

            There's a proto-website here:

        • I'm new to commenting on these things so bear with me. I won't weigh in on the restaurant reviews at this time, but I have to agree with Flying Monkey on the "bigger issue": Kingston should be foodie-central and it is not. I've been noticing this for years.

          Yes, we have some very good restaurants here in Kingston but we are behind in many of the areas that make a city truly a destination for foodies. There's still lots that could be done in the areas of organic, free-trade, local, artisanal, just to name a few. I'm a person who is aware of the food scene here, and in other cities, and I think it's natural to be critical while also evaluating what constitutes "good food". Sure, there's a subjective element–everyone has their own taste in food. However, criticizing elements of the Kingston food scene (where, IMO there's lots of room for improvement, which many people tend not to acknowledge) hardly makes one a "food snob".

          I love to read restaurant reviews and find out what a place is like from all kinds of people. I've noticed, however, that once the discussion veers from issues like portion size and prices into the realm of ingredients, or even the contribution a food establishment makes to the local food scene, folks seem to get their napkins in a knot.

          To conclude, let me provide an example of one of the places I go to regularly and compare with Kingston in terms of food offerings: Prince Edward County. In fact, PEC is the centre of my food universe right now. Kingston could be every bit as good as PEC, albeit perhaps not necessarily offering the same types of foods. (Heck, PEC even has a Slow Food convivium, just to give an example of what a committed food community it is.) But I think ONE thing (among several) that may be holding Kingston back from being a "foodie central" is that it is resting on its laurels. IMO, many restaurants/food sellers/eaters believe that what K-town has to offer is the best, without necessarily having tried anything else. As I said, this is one of the problems; but another is what seems to be the reluctance of many folks to even begin to define what good food is. Many also don't want to criticize the status quo. I believe it is through regularly evaluating, and yes, comparing food, restaurants, etc. within and outside of Kingston that we can then begin to come to an agreement about what constitutes "good food". Of course, this is done not only by commenting or defending but also questioning and being critical, especially if you've been fortunate enough to try all kinds of great food.

          So yes, count me as someone who probably has a similar view to Flying Monkey in terms of what makes "good food".

          • Sorry guys but you obviously are not in tune with what is happening in Kingston's local food scene. Many restaurants have embraced the idea of buying local and often organic. Olivea, Le Chien Noir, Chez Piggy, the Tango, to name a few. They are all part of a new initiative called Local Food Local Chefs. Many of them Chien Noir and Olivea in particular run farm to table menus throughout the growing season. They host local wine dinners, Tango runs field trips to P.E.C. They all did chef demos in the market this summer using fresh market ingredients. So perhaps you need to reasess and delight in the fact that, albeit slow to come, Kingston chefs are truly making an attempt to move the food scene forward. To say that they are all resting on thier laurels is ridiculous, give your local spots some props for what has been a great effort over the past several years. Criticizm is fine as long as you are well informed and know what is going on. And sorry you do sound like a snob when you imply that the locals yokels have never eaten anywhere else, c'mon.

          • I for one am very well informed about the food scene in Kingston, thank you very much. I am completely aware of the local initiatives and know all about Local Food Local Chefs. I regularly support all of the restaurants you name, Realist, and keep abreast of their initiatives. I am delighted by the prospect of going to Harper's and their opening attests to the fact that the local food scene is indeed heating up, so to speak. I do applaud the efforts of everyone involved in the local scene. However, as you put it, the local food scene has been slow coming (and could be promoted way better, if you ask me, but that's another issue I don't want to go into), so that's ONE of the reasons I've often headed to other cities to explore food.

            I never once said that ALL restaurants are resting on their laurels. Please reread my previous post. In Kingston, there are many more restaurants who are not part of these initiatives than are. I simply meant that many people I know frequent Kingston restaurants and believe they are great without having experienced a wide range of food–here or elsewhere! I don't think I implied the local yokels have not eaten anywhere else and I certainly don't want to sound like a snob. There are waaaay more people with more knowledge and money who can eat out way more than I can. I'm just an enthusiastic foodie who has taken the time to educate myself about food. I'm a hungry girl looking for a great meal. I really just wanted to agree with Flying Monkey that generally I think Kingston could do better. I also think it's okay to have a debate about food, to be critical of what we eat and where we eat it, especially if we know of someone else who is doing it better or differently. And I certainly think it's okay to try to define what good food is–even if we don't agree with someone's taste… and without being insulting.

            By the way, I would NEVER comment on this issue at such length if I didn't know a thing or two about food and the local scene. C'MON.

          • And that's exactly what's needed. I think we both want the same things, but you're just being rather defensive and I'm perhaps being too aggressive. And I'm certainly not a snob: probably my favourite spot in Kingston is Peter's Place! And as for 'yokels', I live on Wolfe Island, which makes Kingston look cosmopolitan! Anyway, I'll buy you a beer sometime if we ever meet at a Kingstonist gathering or something.

  • realist does have a point. Guys.. How many times have you tried to impress your date by saying "Let's go eat British" Never heard that

    • If she isn't impressed by good fish & chips and a pint, then she can't be very fun. :)

      The point of food in the UK is to be delicious, not impressive. That doesn't translate too well to high-ish end restaurants, where people go to be wowed by dishes they can't make at home.

  • I'm looking forward to trying the food at Harper's! But not too often because holy crap, that stuff's gotta be seriously fattening!

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