P. J. Clarke's: A Pub That Doesn't Serve a Pub Burger
According to Wikipedia, "In the AMC Television series Mad Men, the employees of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency frequent P.J. Clarke's."
I've been to P. J. Clarke's a number of times—the original in Midtown East and the one near Lincoln Center (but not the one downtown). But the thing I always have to remind myself before I go is that, even though P. J. Clarke's is a pub, it does not serve a "pub burger."
What I mean is that P. J. Clarke's burger is not a gargantuan ten-ounce slightly flattened-softball-shape burger. You don't need a snake jaw to eat it, unlike so many of the sandwiches served at bars known for their burgers (I'm thinking Donovan's, Molly's, etc.).
Instead, you get what I'm guessing is closer to a five- or six-ounce patty, perfectly cooked to temperature, perfectly seasoned (OK, maybe just a bit too salty), and with just the right amount of char on it to give the surface some crunchy, chewy bits to play against the soft, juicy interior.
This is one great burger.
Juiciness factor: Not off the charts, but pretty darn moist. Check it out:
Hamburgers are $8.90, but you can add cheese for 95¢ And why wouldn't you? Look how awesomely they melted the cheese above (I opt for American goo 95 percent of the time).
The Clarke's burger comes with a thin slice of raw onion, a hefty pickle spear, and nothing else. No sides. No limp, lame leaf of lettuce or flavorless tomato to automatically discard. I regard this as a plus, while others might expect a little more for their $10. But since I find most french fries a distraction at best, I'm happy that there are none here to litter my plate.
Instead, you can get sides of fries ($4.10), home fries ($4.95), onion strings ($5.65), or bubble and squeak ($3.60). On a recent visit, we tried everything but the fries.
The home fries were good. Solid. Fried with just a bit of onion. Nothing else in there that shouldn't be—like cumin or rosemary. Could have used some salt, but that's what the shaker on the table's for.
The onion strings were good enough but mighty greasy. I'm more a fan of onion rings, because the strings seem to have too many nooks and crannies to trap oil. Still, these were better than the bubble and squeak, which purported to have bacon somewhere in it; we couldn't find it.
Lest We Forget the Mini Cheeseburgers
An order of mini cheeseburgers comes three to a pop. On the menu, the mini cheeseburger plate is listed as including bubble and squeak, all for a little more than $14. But you don't have to stick to bubble and squeak; you can sub in one of the other sides.
The mini cheeseburgers were cooked just as expertly as their big brother. Check out the autopsy below:
It's difficult to do mini burgers to temp—they're often overcooked—but Clarke's gets it right. The mini cheeseburgers here beat any of the fancified Kobe-beef bullshit you get at the Johnny-come-lately fancy-pants hipster places that serve them. Still, with a regular burger this good, I'd go for that option instead.
What You Should Know Before Going
Be Prepared for a Wait: The P. J. Clarke's is in Midtown. Near a lot of high-powered corporate office buildings. And it has a well-worn, wood-and-brass clubby feel to it. Those factors combined mean that it is absolutely packed with businessfolk during lunch and right after business hours. It's the neighborhood cafeteria for people who don't have office cafeterias.
If You're Looking for a Softball-Size Burger, Head Elsewhere: As stated above, this is not a "pub burger" in the sense that we typically use the term here on AHT. It's an easily manageable size that won't leave you feeling bloated.
No Toppings, No Sides: The only topping you'll get is a thin slice of onion. Sides will cost you extra.