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July 24, 2013- By Steven E. Greer
We previously reported that the “Better Burger” concept is a big business, with dozens of places trying to copy Shake Shack. We estimated that Shake Shack would be worth more than $1 Billion if they expanded to only 100 stores. Therefore, it is no surprise that the copycats in New York are numerous.
PJ Clarke’s sit-down restaurants have received acclaim for their hamburgers over the years (for reasons I cannot understand), so the logical next step for them was to make a chain of better burger joints called Clarke’s Standard. There are four locations now, all opened recently this year. We tried out the one in Fidi on 101 Maiden Lane.
Giving credit where credit is due, the design of the stores is nice and the staff are friendly, much like Shake Shack. In a year, will this still be true and stand the test of time as genius Danny Mayer has achieved? Who knows. The menu offerings are also convenient, offering tater tots, chicken sandwiches, etc.
I ordered The Cadillac with fries. Upon opening the hamburger out of the attractive packaging, a big red flag went up. The bacon was undercooked and not anywhere near as good as Shake Shack’s. Bacon is an ingredient that can only be made well by a grill team with skills and good management (I saw no managers). At times, even Shake Shack bacon has dipped in quality, causing immediate irate complaint emails from this author.
The hamburger patty was also too “juicy”, meaning they likely use 80% lean ground beef, when 90% lean is ideal. I did not like the thick patty either, and the french fries were very much like State Fair or carnival fries, to me.
After trying Bill’s Burger and Clarke’s this week, Union Square Hospitality Group and their Shake Shack team should be somewhat relieved that two competitors in the “better burger” industry are nowhere near the caliber of Shake Shack.
The best hamburger of all, that I have tested this year, is the Blue Smoke cheeseburger. The meat is lean and the in-house made buns are outstanding.