2/08/2013 09:30:00 AM

First Look: Juicy Burgers and Artisan Dixie Cups at Clarke's Standard

When we first heard that P.J. Clarke's was opening a fast-casual burger joint with artisan ice cream Dixie cups, we had an immediate Liz Lemon reaction: "We want to go to there." When we found out those artisan ice cream Dixie cups included flavors like cinnamon donut and salted caramel, well, game over. We had to go to there.

Let's get something out of the way first: this isn't the new Shake Shack. But it is a very cool new spot, with a retro look inspired by old-school New York soda shops and delicatessens and a burger that was worth the visit.

"Sherry" was playing as we walked in, the first of many jukebox classics we'd hear during the night. Everything about the place screamed 1962-milkshakes-after-the-sock-hop, from the vintage-looking ketchup pumps to the "1st in Beef" sign behind the counter to the old-fashioned refrigerator storing the Little Clarke's Ice Cream Cups.

We decided to try The Standard, a $7.50 burger topped with American cheese, tomato, butter lettuce and a slightly tangy, slightly spicy "Standard sauce," served on a semi-hard St. Joseph's roll. It may be called "The Standard," but this is not your typical fast food burger. The patty is thick and juicy, made with 100% freshly-ground, USDA-certified organic Angus beef, and the roll is substantial enough that it doesn't get soggy from the juices of the burger (or the sauce). We ate it in about five bites - it was that hard to put down. Our only complaint was that the bun was maybe a little too big for the patty. Our first bite was all bread and lettuce, no meat, and that's never a good thing. (But once we got to the patty, holy Angus!)

Instead of shoestring or sweet potato fries, we chose the cheesy tater tots on the side, and we were glad we did. We weren't sure what kind of "cheesiness" to expect, and we were pleasantly surprised when they came out dusted with Parmesan. Pro tip: dunk 'em in Sir Kensington's spiced ketchup.

Now, to the best part of all: the Little Clarke's Ice Cream Cups. This is where Clarke's Standard really gives its competitors a run for their money. The salted caramel cup we tried was dangerously good - rich, creamy vanilla ice cream woven with thick ribbons of sea-salted caramel. We've had some awesome Shake Shack Concretes in our day, but none that ever came close to Little Clarke's level of ice cream glory. For a second, we thought about buying 30 of them (to stock up for Nemo, right?), but - thankfully - came to our senses and decided against it. (If we change our mind as the snow's coming down, good news - they deliver!)

The Deets: 636 Lexington Ave. (54th St.), 212-838-6000

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