This burger was different a couple of years ago. In 2014, I stopped into Clark Food and Wine, then a recent addition to the ever-changing Greenville restaurant bustle, and had an interesting burger. A single grilled patty, topped with a disc of stained-glass crispy speck and house jardinera. It’s probably the first time I’ve had pickled carrots and cauliflower on a burger, and, surprisingly, it wasn’t weird. It definitely wasn’t simple. The patty was medium rare, but it was missing out on that ecstatic flavor of fire from the grill.
Today, their burger has changed. It's going around these days: Upscale cheeseburgers that call up memories of simple cheeseburgers. Gone is that crispy, hammy speck and the pickled vegetables. Clark’s burger is now two grilled patties topped with American cheese. Whirls of iceberg lettuce, enjoying a bath of their “sloppy sauce,” rest underneath the patties. Two thick pickle discs, and pink pickled onion like fine strings, are pinned on top of each other over the soft bun. It has a more familiar look.
So, is it always better to do simple, old-fashioned cheeseburgers? My favorite burgers on the planet are simple cheeseburgers with melted cheese (American always works), pickle and finely-sheared onion, but not every burger has to feel the same. A burger isn’t made great only by being simple. The greatness comes in the impeccable attention to simple details.
The thin patties are now packed with good, smoky char from the grill, but it needs that hard sear you’d want in a double cheeseburger. Bunches of iceberg lettuce feels excessive beneath the patties. The “sloppy sauce” is tangy and memorable, but it isn’t a substitute for stupendous meat juices.
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Several bites in, I'm feeling like something's missing, like a guitar with a couple of strings out of tune. I untangle a few pickled onions and put them below the patties. It adds a puckering crunch. The fries are delicious.
It makes sense to revitalize the look and feel of a cheeseburger based on what works. If it ain’t broke, and such. But Clark Food and Wine’s burger still feels like it's reaching.
Clark Food & Wine Co., 1920 Greenville Ave.