Clarke’s Standard

I’ll admit it: I’ve never been to P.J. Clarke’s. Everyone raves over their hamburger, but I have an inkling that it isn’t really that good. To me, P.J. Clarke’s is in the same camp with Donovan’s, which, in my estimation, never served a decent burger in its existence, yet had “Voted Best Hamburger in New York City” emblazoned on its facade. We all have our opinions.

clarke's standard's burgers

clarke’s standard’s burgers

Yet, when I heard Clarke’s Standards were popping up all around the city, I knew I had to try one. So, I picked the Clarke’s Standard most convenient to me (the one in Flatiron/Union Square) and gave it a go. I wasn’t disappointed.

The interior of Clarke’s Standard is cool, clean and comforting. Black-and-white photos of butchers of yore are plastered onto the walls. Friendly employees greet you and comment on your choices (“The Cadillac is the best burger on the menu,” one told me, when I whispered my selection to MDP). Clarke’s Standard is definitely an upgrade from the goodburger outpost that once stood in its place.

Now, the food. Clarke’s Standard boasts interesting offerings in the burger department. The Standard is, as you may be able to tell, a standard cheeseburger. Then, there’s the Cadillac that comes with white cheddar, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and their special sauce, which is something like Shack sauce, but not quite as thick. They also offer a Brooklyn Au Poivre edition of the burger, accompanied by cracked pepper sauce, gouda, and a few other toppings. There are several additional burgers on the menu, but these mentioned stood out to me as being the ones I’d like to try.

clarke's standard's cheesy tater tots

cheesy tater tots

And I was certainly impressed by the Cadillac. The ground angus beef was obviously fresh and extremely flavorful. Though my burger came out looking a bit disorganized, the delicious bacon and cheese added a hearty touch to the sandwich. I enjoyed the sauce, but felt there could have been more ladled on. MDP opted for the green chiles cheeseburger, which has American cheese, charred green chiles, garlic aioli, and mustard on top. I felt the chiles were apparent and bursting with flavor, but MDP did not see it this way. He experienced the heat of the peppers, but not the flavor–interesting dissonance.

We had to order the cheesy tater tots just because they sounded marvelous, as well as the natural cut fries. But the tots came out rolled in parmesan cheese, as opposed to having melted cheese dripping all over them. This was a minor disappointment. However, the tots were still pretty good–potatoy and crisp. The fries were definitely delicious. I might like these fries better than the Shake Shack’s fresh cut fries. “Might” is an underestimation–I definitely like Clarke’s Standard’s fries better. Unlike the Shack’s, which are flaccid and lacking flavor, Clarke’s Standard fries are medium-cut, rigid (in a good way), and chocked full of potato goodness.

All in all, Clarke’s Standard is pretty good. I’ve read some terrible reviews of it on Yelp, but this doesn’t surprise me. Just an aside: People don’t know what they want, unless it’s to complain, which is all they ever want to do on the Internet–and that’s about all Yelp is good for.

Clarke’s Standard

Multiple locations

New York, NY

BurgerFi

I love New York magazine’s restaurant reviews. They’re the best in town—far better than Time Out New York’s attempts at recommendations and superior to even The New York Times, which strives to delineate the entire back story of the food they’re eating. Really, I just want to know whether it’s good or not.

So, when the Underground Gourmet recommended BurgerFi in the “cheap eats” edition of the magazine, I figured I had to try it.

burgerfi double cheeseburger

double cheeseburger

Situated on 2nd Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets, BurgerFi loudly claims its spot two doors down from the low-budget Insomnia Cookies and a few steps away from a frozen yogurt shop. Bright colors—blues, greens, yellows—invite you in, where you will undoubtedly meet a long line of patrons who have likely also read the “cheap eats” issue. The seating situation isn’t especially crazed, but, should it cause you anxiety, you should know you can always take your food to the East River park.

So, how was the menu? Well, decent enough, but a complete, blatant rip-off of the Shake Shack. From custard to concretes to Martin’s potato rolls, BurgerFi eagerly emulates the gold standard burger stand. But there are a few problems with BurgerFi’s approach. One, the meat isn’t nearly as good as the Shake Shack’s LaFrieda blend, nor is the sear as perfect. Two, their standard burger is a double, and that may alienate some (not this eater, though). Three, the fries are wooden and in desperate need of salt, unlike the crisp, crinkle cut fries with ample salt shaken upon them from the Shake Shack.

burgerfi fries and onion rings

onion rings and fries

The meal had its moments, though. The onion rings are fantastic. Gigantic circular pieces of onion are deep-fried, resulting in a delicious, thick coating that certainly doesn’t need ketchup. And the soda machine is redeeming. They have one of those special soda fountains that allows you to select which soda you’d like to try—from a panoply of options—and which flavoring you’d like in your soda. I opted for the Coke Zero with raspberry syrup—very good.

The verdict? Don’t bother with BurgerFi. If you happen to be on the Upper East Side with a hankering for a burger, just go to the Shake Shack on 86th. Its spacious outdoors area is the perfect venue for a summertime dinner or lunch.

BurgerFi

1571 Second Ave. (between 81st and 82nd streets)

Yorkville, New York

Take the 4/5/6 to 86th Street and walk east a few avenues, then south. 

Blue Collar

The only motivational thing about Blue Collar in Williamsburg is the presence of the phrase “Good job” all over the restaurant. I spotted it on the spare menu board and on one of the condiments containers, I believe. The rest of Blue Collar requires an acquired taste, most notably their poor overhead lighting and sparse seating arrangement. But, the burgers are pretty good.

blue collar burger

burger

Blue Collar’s menu features burgers, hot dogs, shakes and fries. Unofficially, there are also floats and chicken tenders to be had. I noticed a neighboring guest eating chicken tenders, and wondered where they came from until the woman behind the counter mentioned them to a prospective customer on the phone. So, anyway, ordering is pretty simple, since the options are fairly straightforward, and the prices are quite cheap.

MDP and I each ordered a cheeseburger and our very own orders of fries. The cheeseburger was small (1/4 lb.?) and I wish I had ordered the double because it was just that good. The meat is juicy and flavorful, and its special sauce adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the dining experience. Blue Collar thoroughly toasts their potato rolls, so you get a bit of a char flavor. If the place were nicer, and in a better neighborhood, I’d suggest you go there every weekend.

blue collar fries

fries

But, one drawback of Blue Collar is the matchstick fries. They’re wooden and flavorless, although I was so in the mood for fried food that I ate my entire bag (and some of MDP’s).

For dessert, we opted for the peanut butter shake which was rich and creamy, and tasted quite like peanut butter, as it should.

I recommend Blue Collar for a weekend lunch or a summer dinner–sometime when the sunshine is still present and you can navigate the neighborhood without the fear of getting mugged.

Blue Collar

160 Havemeyer Street (between 2nd and 3rd streets)

Williamsburg, New York

Take the J/M/Z to Marcy Avenue or G to Metropolitan Avenue, or for the fearful, take the L to Lorimer and walk south.