Note: For some unknown reason, I had the tendency to type “Shack Shake” instead of “Shake Shack” while writing this blog post. I’m pretty sure I caught every instance, but apologies if there are still a few “Shack Shakes” floating around.
Earlier this month, I turned 24. Ouch.
I know, I know. I’m not old. My culinary school program at L’Academie de Cuisine just ended, which is probably a good explanation for the way I’m feeling. I’m still working at Cashion’s, but I’m trying to figure out my next course of action. Sometimes this task gets a bit overwhelming.
Although I worked on my birthday, I had the morning and a small part of the afternoon free. I went for a bike ride and then a run, enjoying the weather outside.
Afterwards, I decided to treat myself to lunch. I biked past Shake Shack on the way home and instantly knew that’s what I wanted. Since opening over a year ago in Dupont Circle, this New York City burger joint has quickly become a popular spot for a quick bite in D.C. I had meant to stop by for months, but could never find a good enough excuse to indulge in a burger, fries and shake.
Shake Shack first opened in 2001 as a street cart in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park. Due to its success, the cart moved to a small building (or “shack” I suppose) in the park in 2004. In 2008, Shake Shack expanded into a larger restaurant in the Upper West Side. From there, the business continued to grow and opened locations in neighboring states.
The first time I learned of Shake Shack was from a New York City native and good friend of mine in college. I can remember her voice, You’ve never heard of Shake Shack??? What planet are you from?!
Just because I’m from North Carolina doesn’t mean I’m a hillbilly. After all, we’ve got Chick-Fil-A. Waffle fries, BBQ sauce and chicken nuggets. Oh my god.
Speaking of cult followings, Eater.com reported that customers apparently waited up to an hour in line for a burger on Shake Shack’s opening day in Dupont Circle. Clearly, Washingtonians were excited about its arrival (pictured on the left is the D.C. Shack with quite a line outside).
Inside, the lively and upbeat restaurant is almost always crowded with customers and loud with thumping pop music. The order and pick-up windows are located in the front, while seating is in the back.
As I stared at the large menu posted on the wall, the age-old question popped into my head – What the @#$% do I order? When faced with a situation like this, I think it’s best to stick to something fail-proof and basic. I ordered the Shack Burger with a single patty, lettuce, tomato, cheese and the special “Shack Sauce.” To accompany, I chose fries and a chocolate frozen custard.
After about 10 minutes my food arrived, arranged neatly in a brown paper Shake Shack bag. I loved the presentation and how every component had its own spot in the bag. Unfortunately, this seemingly nifty bag would prove quite problematic.
The bag was rather stiff and rectangular shaped, making it difficult to fold and seal the top. There was no way this bag going to fit into my small backpack for the bike home either. Frustrated, I sealed the top as best as I could, turned it vertical on its side and stuffed it into my backpack. All I could do now was pray that my precious trio of deliciousness would not be smashed into an unrecognizable mess of chocolate, fries and meat.
While there was a bit of damage to my meal, it was not nearly as horrific as I perceived. The burger was partially crushed from the ride, the fries weren’t as hot as they had been, and the custard was partially melted. Overall, though, no major harm. See for yourself.
From the bright red tomatoes to the green leaf lettuce that peeked out from the bun, this burger was damn good looking. The beef patty was a thin, always-well-done fast food style patty, but it appeared hand-packed and the cheese was melted evenly over it. The bun itself was soft, but did not have that squashed appearance that you might see from other fast food buns.
Presentation wise, this burger was a winner. But how about taste? Aside from the slightly tangy Shack Sauce, which I discerned to be some kind of flavored mayo, the taste of this burger is straightforward. Melted cheese and meat. Mmm, good.
I understand that a well-done beef patty does not have same juiciness as a medium rare patty does, but that’s not what Shake Shack is about. The place aims for consistency, like all fast food joints do, but with the added bonus of quality ingredients. The ripe tomato and crisp lettuce strongly contributed to this burger, when they so often are treated as afterthoughts.
Shake Shack’s crinkle-cut Yukon Gold fries were not as strong as the burger. I found the fries under seasoned and bland, but they did have a nice texture. Perfectly crunchy on the outside, soft, pillowy potatoey goodness on the inside. Dip them in ketchup and you’re good to go.
At this moment, I became nostalgic. I remember sitting in Wendy’s with my friends when I was in middle school, eating a chicken sandwich, never a burger. I HATE Wendy’s burgers. The square shape is the most shameless reminder of mass-produced factory meat I have ever seen. In addition to the burger, I always ordered fries and a Frosty. We’d laugh about how weird it was to dunk our fries in our Frostys. We didn’t know what it was, but there was something oddly appealing about it. Maybe the combination of salty and sweet? Crunchy and creamy?
It was now, while enjoying my Shack burger, fries and custard, that I didn’t feel so “old” and overwhelmed. Having to go to work in a few hours suddenly didn’t seem so daunting, either.
It’s comforting to have a place like Shake Shack nearby, especially with all sorts of crazy innovations in food like molecular gastronomy going on right now. You know what you’re going to get, and you know it’s going to be good. Sometimes, you just want something simple.
Shake Shack takes the fast-food concept to a whole new level. They have their own beer, called “Shackmeister Ale.” They even have a menu for dogs. Minus the Frostys of course, Wendy’s doesn’t hold a candle to that.
(Photo credit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/going-out-gurus/post/shake-shack-finally-puts-dc-on-the-map/2011/05/17/AFBuTr5G_blog.html)