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Photographs by Robyn Lee

Schnipper's Quality Kitchen

620 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018 (at 41st Street; map); 212-921-2400; schnippers.com
Service: Sometimes fast, sometimes slow (typical start-up issues)
Setting: Gleaming silver, white, and red interior with lots of seating and an open kitchen.
Compare It To: Shack Shack
Must-Haves: Cheeseburger, onion rings, chocolate malt
Cost: $15.50 for the above meal (yikes!)
Grade: B+ for the burgers, C+ for the rest of the food

Schnipper's Quality Kitchen is first and foremost a focused concept. It's a restaurant, it's an eatery, it's a burger joint, it's a comfort food emporium. It's all of the above, but most of all it's a concept. The Schnipper brothers, Jon and Andrew, know something about launching comfort food concepts and rolling them out. They successfully did just that with the more-than-decent Hale & Hearty Soups, which they created in 1995 and sold in 2006. Now they're back with Schnipper's, a comfort food concept that features burgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings, mac and cheese, fish tacos, salads, and shakes.

George "Hamburger America" Motz bestowed his seal of approval on Schnipper's, so Robyn and I figured we should go try the burger along with the other comfort foods that burger-obsessed George never got to.

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Schnipper's is shiny and clean. There's an open kitchen, a front area where incredibly friendly folks take your order, and plenty of seating in the back. When your order is ready, they trigger your buzzer, Shake Shack-style.

The burgers are made with a proprietary 80 percent meat, 20 percent fat blend of mostly chuck with some dry-aged prime scraps mixed in for maximum juicy, funky flavor. The meat is supplied by noted wholesale butchers Master Purveyors. The meat itself was quite tasty, although not quite juicy enough for me. While they use buzzers like at Shake Shack, that's where the similarities end; Schnipper's fails to get the salty crust that Shake Shack does.

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Top, green chile cheeseburger; bottom, hickory bacon blue burger.

There are some well put together burger toppings: the green chile cheeseburger ($8.99) made with poblano peppers instead of Hatch green chiles; the classic bacon cheeseburger; and the Schnipper's Classic ($8.99) made with cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, Schnipper's version of secret sauce, and, inexplicably, arugula. The hickory bacon blue burger ($9.75) read like a dream on the menu, but the blue cheese overwhelmed everything. Overall, the burgers were by far the best things on the Schnipper's menu.

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Hot dogs were a disappointment. They're Hebrew National hot dogs, so that means no natural casing and no desired snap. Although the hot dog toppings were solid, they couldn't overcome the characterless base hot dog. The green chile cheese dog ($5.50) sounded better than it tasted.

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Mac and cheese surrounded by a moat of sloppy joe.

The other comfort foods didn't fare much better. The mac and cheese ($6.99) was pretty standard and wholly unremarkable. The cheeses didn't stand out and the bread crumbs couldn't overcome the fact that the unbaked mac and cheese had no significant amount of crunch. The sloppy Joe ($5.99) was an undistinguished mix of ground meat, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. The sloppy mac and joe marriage ($6.99) arranged by the Schnippers is further proof that arranged marriages can cause many more problems than they solve.

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Fish tacos ($8.99) were made with dry chunks of mahi mahi that had obviously been grilled a long time before it found its way into my tacos.

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French fries ($2.75) are the carefully chosen frozen variety. The fresh crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside sweet potato fries ($3.99) are a better bet (skip the maple dipping sauce), as are the frozen onion rings ($3.99). The batter is thin and crisp, the onions themselves are sweet, and there is plenty of salt on them.

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The chocolate malt ($5.99), made with Gifford's Ice Cream from Maine and real malt powder, is a fine beverage to accompany your burger. The ice cream was just creamy enough and there was plenty of malt flavor in every spoonful-sip.

Schnipper's is a concept that at this point needs further refinement. Order a cheeseburger, onion rings, and chocolate malt (not exactly a radical concept) and you will likely be very pleased with your food. Order anything else and you might end up disappointed.

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