The Inner Harbor's just-opened Shake Shack outpost is garnering big headlines but it's not the only new burger joint in town. On the northern edge of the city, the talk is all about the independently owned restaurant Clark Burger.
Clark Burger, which opened in January in the boxy space next to the Senator Theater, specializes in burgers (no surprise) and poutine, the trendy Canadian dish of fries topped with gravy and cheese curds.
The menu focuses on variations of those two dishes, and it does them well — and quickly, which is a bonus for moviegoers who don't want to miss the previews.
Scene & Decor A month after its opening, Clark Burger was already a hit with its neighbors. When we arrived around 6:30 on a Thursday night, we snagged one of the restaurant's last open tables.
High ceilings and large front windows give Clark Burger the illusion of being more spacious than it is. It's actually a fairly small space and the tables are tightly packed — we learned that quickly, after having to navigate around our neighbors to get from the table to the counter (where you order and pick up food, and where you'll find the condiments). There were more than a few bumps and apologies.
Entrees The burgers, made with thin patties, are well-seasoned and cooked completely; there are no requests for medium rare here. The buns — often the unsung heroes of burgers — are glossy, toasted and sturdy enough to stand up to the meat and toppings.
We tried three varieties of burger: the Clark Burger ($7.20), Barque Burger ($8.20) and the Wake n Bacon ($7.55).
From a flavor standpoint, all three were hits. The Clark Burger kept things traditional: a cheddar and bacon burger with pickle, red onion and creamy "CB sauce." On the Wake n Bacon, cheddar and bacon were topped with fried onion and a fried egg, then saved from overly savory territory with Sriracha aioli that had just enough bite.
Topped with hunks of smoky brisket, onion, pickle and mustard, the Barque Burger was a treat. But after every bite, we had to reconstruct it. The brisket had fantastic smoky flavor and a beautiful deep pink color but it did not want to stay put.
We skipped the standard fries and opted for two types of poutine, the Classique ($6.20) and the Frere Jacques ($7.20). That was too much food for three of us — but hard to resist.
The Classique was a traditional take on poutine; the fries were topped with thick gravy (which has a meaty flavor but is vegetarian) and chunky cheese curds. The Frere Jacques added fried egg, garlicky chipotle aioli and bacon to the same gravy-and-cheese base.
Both were lovable, thanks largely to the gravy, which was well-seasoned with underlying herbs and pepper. While we liked the Frere Jacques' extra accouterments, especially the spicy aioli, the juiced up version wasn't better than the traditional poutine. We liked them equally.
Drinks Clark Burger has a liquor license; in addition to selling alcoholic beverages in the restaurant, it operates a bar inside the Senator. During our visit, we stuck with burger-friendly beers, including a 16-ounce Natty Boh ($5) and a Blackwing lager from Union Craft Brewing ($5).
Service Clark Burger's Senator-adjacent location gives the kitchen motivation to turn food around quickly and efficiently — and it does. Working in a narrow space behind the counter, the kitchen team fulfills its orders rapidly and consistently; no doubt the straightforward menu helps.
The busy tenor of the place doesn't lend itself to hand-holding or extra attention, but during our visit everyone on staff was upbeat and friendly. Though they were obviously working hard, the staff seemed to be having a good time, which gave the whole place a buzzy, fun atmosphere.
Dessert We wrapped up our meal with a vanilla milkshake ($5.25) that was pleasantly thick but lacked spark. Usually, we love vanilla flavors but this shake was more milky than sweet, without any of the drama that a good vanilla milkshake needs.
It was a small disappointment in what was, overall, a good meal. When we left, people were still pouring in the doors, grabbing quick pre-movie meals. Or, in some cases, a few pre-show drinks with a side of poutine.
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