We tend to think of burgers and fries as being pretty much the most American cuisine there is, ranked right up there with apple pie and Hooters wings. But it seems that the Canadians have learned how to beat us at our own game, if Clark Burger (5906 York Road,  323-2356, clark-burger.com), a burger-and-poutine counter-service restaurant next to Senator Theatre, is any indicator.
The owner, James Clark, is a born-and-raised Canadian who previously was a bartender at Little Havana on Key Highway. Back when Clark Burger first opened in January, Clark told City Paper that he wanted his poutine—an eastern-Canada dish consisting of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds—to be as close as possible to what he had growing up. “We put a lot of time to get the gravy right, and double-frying our fries, and make sure the cheese curds we get are never frozen so they have that squeak, and that’s the trademark signature of real poutine,” he said at the time.
The effort pays off. The rich gravy* on the classique poutine ($6.20) is intensely rich and packed with the taste of herbs and black pepper. The flavor is almost overwhelming with the cheese curds and fries—almost, but not quite, thanks to the sturdiness and the quality of the double-fried hand-cut potato slices. And as promised, when you put the cheese curds between your teeth, you can hear them softly squeak.
In addition to the classic poutine, Clark Burger offers five other versions of the dish, all with different toppings. In addition to cheese curds and gravy, the alouette ($8.20) is topped with minced onion, dill pickle, spicy mustard, and pieces of Montreal-style smoked beef brisket that packed a surprising amount of smokiness that added an extra depth of savory flavor to the dish.
The highlight of the poutines we tried, though, was the Frère Jacques ($7.20). We let out a little gasp when we picked it up at the counter, because it looked like a goddamn magnificent artery-clogging marvel: fries, smoked bacon, cheese curds, and a fried egg, with a roasted-garlic chipotle aioli drizzled in lines on top of the egg. The aioli provided the perfect spicy kick to balance out the rich, savory combination of egg, cheese, bacon, and gravy, and we couldn’t stop shoving bites of the poutine into our mouth even when we had long passed the threshold of being full.
The poutine here is probably the best you’ll find in Baltimore, but that doesn’t mean you should pass on the titular entrees—the burgers also reflect Clark’s commitment to quality. The patties at Clark Burger aren’t the massive meaty behemoths that you’d find at most burger joints around town. They’re much thinner—you could compare them to Shake Shack, but that would be an insult to Clark Burger. Because the meat isn’t inches thick, the burgers can only be cooked well done, but the burgers are still tantalizingly juicy, enough so to satisfy even eaters who usually order their burgers cooked medium. (For those who insist on shoving large amounts of meat in their face, don’t worry: You can make any burger a double for $3 more.)
The quality of the meat patties was complemented beautifully by most of the topping combinations on the menu. The wake n bacon burger ($7.55), for instance, featured bacon, a fried egg, fried onion, white cheddar, and a sriracha aioli that provided a touch of spice to round out every bite. The egg yolk wasn’t too runny, which kept the burger from becoming too soggy and falling apart, and the bacon was expertly cooked, crispy without being burnt or dry. The charmer ($7.20), which was topped with bleu cheese, bacon, minced onion, and Tiger sauce, came with the interior of its bun blackened—a great touch that added more flavor and texture to the bun and complemented the toppings well.
The only burger offering that left us less than thrilled was the turkey burger ($6.60). While the patty itself was, like the beef version, juicy and satisfying, the Joppiesaus (a Dutch yellow sauce that contains onion and curry powder) didn’t feel wholly compatible with the turkey and the Swiss cheese, resulting in a slight cognitive dissonance of flavor combinations.
Clark Burger has the traditional libations meant to accompany burgers and fries: beer and milkshakes. It boasts a full bar with cocktails, canned and draft beers including local favorites from Union Craft Brewing and The Brewer’s Art, and wine by the glass. As for the milkshakes, we asked when we visited if we could have our milkshake with booze in it too, but alas, we were told they hadn’t figured out a good boozy milkshake recipe yet. We were still pretty pleased with our alcohol-free chocolate shake (small $4.25, large $5.25). Made with chocolate ice cream, the shake could have been thicker—less milk, more shake, please—but it was still a tasty sugary accompaniment to our salty, savory meal.
The service at Clark Burger is pleasant and prompt—on both of our visits, we never had to wait very long for our food. But if you’re really in a rush to catch a flick at Senator Theatre next door, good news: You can order Clark Burger’s poutine, burgers, and booze and they’ll bring it over to you at the Senator. Sounds like a pretty great way to spend an afternoon.
*A previous version of this story said the poutine gravy was vegetarian. While Clark Burger's gravy used to be vegetarian, it is currently poultry based. City Paper regrets the error.
Clark Burger is open Sunday-Thursday noon-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday noon-11 p.m.