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Shake Shack

February 26, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Shake Shack burger

[Evan Sung for The New York Times]

I have yet to eat at a Shake Shack. But I’ve wanted to know more, so I was delighted to see this morning, as I was going through the week’s NYT and about to toss Wednesday’s food section, that Pete Wells devoted his weekly restaurant review to them. Though his findings are mixed, he still finds Shake Shack worthy of a star, which I take to be strong praise. As Wells explains,

It is not every hamburger stand that achieves the prominent spot in the city’s consciousness held by Shake Shack. There are 14 of them now, uptown, downtown and out of town (Miami, Washington, Kuwait City). One respectable writer has spoken of the burger as life-changing.

From its origins as a hot-dog cart that the restaurateur Danny Meyer set up as a kind of art project in 2001, Shake Shack has become one of the most influential restaurants of the last decade, studied and copied around the country. Its legacy can be seen not just in the stampede of good, cheap burgers, but in the growing recognition that certain fine-dining values, like caring service and premium ingredients, can be profitably applied outside fine dining all the way down the scale to the most debased restaurant genre of all, the fast-food outlet.

Yet, Wells finds the burgers inconsistent, and the fries worse:

You can get better fries just about anywhere. Considered as décor, the crinkle-cut fries are exactly right, calling up images of the milkshake-with-two-straws past that is at the core of Shake Shack’s appeal. Considered as food, though, they are pretty awful. Freezing turns them mealy, and no amount of oil or salt can make them taste like the fresh-cut potatoes that are standard issue at some burger joints now.

The eponymous shakes are a different story, “smooth, not crunchy with ice crystals, and drinkable, not so stiff that they fight the straw. And the flavors are true.” And Wells lavishes praise on the hot dogs (from Chicago’s Vienna Beef, whose dogs we have ordered direct on occasion) and the “Bird Dog, a smoked chicken and apple bratwurst from Usinger’s of Milwaukee.”

Read the full review, and be sure to watch the slideshow, where you can see photos of the burgers, shakes, and dogs. Plus, Wells has an accompanying blog post in which he compares burgers from seven other restaurants. The Steak ‘n Shake signature gets the prize.

The first New York location of the Indianapolis-based chain offers an organic “Signature Steakburger,” and it’s fantastic, with a reliably browned surface and a fully rounded flavor. (Off topic but still important: The fries, fresh cut from russet potatoes, beat the pants off the ones at Shake Shack.)

I knew there were no Shake Shacks out this way, but I hadn’t heard of Steak ‘n Shake, so I just looked it up. Alas, no. They aren’t out west either. On the other hand, they’re in North Carolina, the subject of my last post, in which I described possible trip plans for April. Not in Chapel Hill, where we will be based, but Greensboro, the destination of the outing I described. I suppose we could make a detour. Then again, I was kind of looking forward to eating some local southern food, not chain hamburgers, no matter how good they are. It’s not like good burgers are unavailable here. We have Dick’s. We have Red Mill. And this is one case where I do believe there’s no place like home.

As for Shake Shack, Joel, if you do go up to DC next week, you might try it out for us. Pity is, we would have passed right by their upper east side location last September, on 86th between Lex and 3rd. We could have taken out. Next time.

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