Food & Drink

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Two burger bars vie for a piece of the meat market.

If 2014 was the year of ramen in Baltimore, could 2015 be the year of the fast-casual burger? How else to explain why hundreds of burgerheads waited in line for hours in subfreezing temperatures in February for patty meat served between buns?

Shake Shack is a regional chain based in NYC, where it has been hugely popular from its days as a hot-dog cart. The Baltimore location is a big, bright space, focusing on using top-notch ingredients to produce exemplary specimens of the burger-fries-shake triumvirate. Their burger style involves thinner 4-ounce patties (available in single and double) cooked on a steel flat-top, and served on a buttered and toasted bun. The ground beef (a proprietary blend of cuts, rumored to include sirloin, brisket, and short rib) is notable for its ability to yield an incredibly juicy sandwich, with deep beefy flavor.

Crinkle-cut fries ($2.95), fashioned from Yukon Gold potatoes, are ultra-crisp to withstand even extended periods in a to-go bag. And frozen dairy offerings include frozen floats ($5.25) and “concretes” ($4.50/single), along with the namesake shakes ($5.25). Shakes are deftly spun—rich, thick—and available in rotating specialty flavors, as well as the usual flavors. Additionally, there’s wine and beer on tap.

Further north on I-83, another new burger joint features a truly unique twist. Clark Burger is an independent operation next to the Senator Theatre specializing in burgers ($6.20), but also in Canada’s signature poutine—fries with cheese curds and gravy. The patties here are flat-topped, but slightly larger and have a more compact texture than the burgers at Shake Shack. The flavor is also milder, which makes for a perfect canvas to paint with Clark Burger’s array of toppings.

Nice touches include a toasted bun slathered with sauces on both sides and toppings being added underneath the patty for a more direct taste-bud interaction. The fries ($2.95) are superb—skin-on and hand-cut, fried to a satisfying crunch. They are designed to be the ideal vehicle for toppings, including classic poutine ($6.20).

Milkshakes ($5.25) are available in vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate and are creamy, thick, and sweet. Although there are several tables in the dining area, the bar dominates, with a full selection of adult beverages on offer. Whether that is a trump card in the burger game is anyone’s guess, but we’ve never met a vanilla milkshake that didn’t benefit from a shot of Kahlua.

Shake Shack, 400 E. Pratt St., 443-973-3630. Hours: Mon.-Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Prices: burgers $4.19-9.49; fries: $2.95-3.95. Clark Burger, 5906 York Rd., 410-323-2356. Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 12-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 12-11 p.m. Prices: burgers: $6.20-11.20; fries: $2.95-7.90.