Being a life long resident of Philly, I have to say I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to New York. Besides the ridiculous NYC attitude, it is seriously irritating the way they seem to assume that the whole world revolves around them (ps nyc: your town smells like pee). So when I heard that the burger place that is all the rage up there was coming to Philly, I shrugged. Yes, I shrugged. I shrugged when someone said “You gotta check out Shake Shack“.
First of all, expensive burger places are nothing new around here. In fact, Jose Garces’s Village Whiskey was going to be right across the street from the proposed eatery, and they have expensive burgers as well, along with about 900 kinds of whiskey (true story). Plus, there is PYT in the Piazza, Bobby’s Burger Palace, Good Dog and a million other places. One more overrated burger joint wasn’t going to get me excited.
Aaaaand then I went there…twice.
One night after doing the open mic at Helium Comedy Club, my friend Hot Mess Jess mentioned to me that we should stop at Shake Shack. It would be an easy stop because it happens to be on the corner of the block where Helium lives. I mulled it over for about 6 seconds and off we went. Usually there is a giant line outside the place, but we got lucky and it was almost empty since it was around 10pm. We did get a pager, ala The Olive Garden, but the wait was only maybe 8 minutes or so.
The place is pretty standard as far as burger joints go. The menu is giant and bolted to the wall, like the one at Bobby’s Burger Palace. There are a few booths and some tables and some high tops to sit at as well. They have a liquor license so you can get a beer with your burger if you choose (they have outdoor seating but as of the day I went the second time, you still couldn’t take the booze outside yet. I think they are waiting for the permit).
I got the Double ShackBurger for $7.10. It comes with lettuce, tomato, cheese and ShackSauce. Hot Mess Jess got ShackStack, a burger with a fried Portobello mushroom on it. We also split some fries.
First off, let’s talk about the Double ShackBurger. Let’s start with the condiments. The lettuce was fresh, the tomato was juicy, the cheese was…cheesy. I still don’t really know what Shack Sauce is, but it’s a nice mild addition to anything. The bun was spongy enough to hold the mess of a burger but not over chewy. More on that in a bit.
The meat. Oh, the meat. The menu says that they use “100% Angus Beef without any added hormones or antibiotics.”. But is it good? The answer is an unequivical HELL YES.
For years, chefs on tv have been telling people that all you need is a little salt and a little pepper to season a burger. There is a reason for this! Let the flavor of the meat shine! The people at the Shack understand this. Grind it, lightly season it, patty it, flat top it (no pressing or squeezing please) and serve it up. If you looked up “kick ass juicy burger” on dictionary.com, this burger would be pictured prominently. With a big blinking frame around it. And a little band playing a jig. And possibly some fireworks. Yeah. It’s that good. Oh, and they cook all burgers to medium unless otherwise specified. Do yourself a favor and just take it the way it’s meant to be: Welcome to flavor country!
Hot Mess Jess also had an interesting burger. One patty of meat and one patty of Portobello mushroom. She loved it and said it was delicious! You can also order it without the meat (as The ‘Shroom Burger) and have a very fine vegetarian burger! If the bun is vegan (and I am not sure if it is), you could even have an awesome vegan shroom burger with the L&T and they also offer pickle and onion. As you can see, they are not skimpy with the sauce!
One incredibly smart thing I noticed while stuffing my face full of delicious meat was The Hinge. I don’t know if they do this on purpose, or if it just happens with the buns they use but it is GENIUS! You see, the burger is really juicy, the melty cheese is messy and it could end up being quite a mess. And overall, it is a bit messy (neat eaters need not apply). However! With a regular bun, things start sliding around (and sometimes right out the back, which is why you need to eat burgers without The Hinge with The Claw, which is something I will write about some other time) and then you end up with a a disproportionate bun to meat ratio. That makes me angry, like, Hulk angry. MUST SMASH BURGER! HULK SMASH MESSY BURGER!!…ahem…anyway…This bun has a hinge on the back. It keeps the top and bottom from sliding around and it also catches a lot of that juice and cheese so that when you are done, it’s like a sponge of deliciousness. It is also a sponge of genius-ness!
We also got some fries on the side. They were good…basically for crinkle fries that I am sure some kid in the back had to either cut or defrost. They don’t salt them, which I find odd and a little irritating because they come out right away (for the most part), and fresh out of the fryer fries are the best to hit with just a little bit of salt. But, at $2.65, they weren’t bad.
A few weeks later, I revisited Helium with my friend Jackie O to see some friends in a showcase show, and she suggested that we stop at Shake Shack as well after the show. Who am I to say no to my friends? Plus, Jackie is the best! We both got some burgers, but we also got something else they do at Shake Shack. Yeah, this place is not a one trick pony.
They offer something called a Concrete: dense frozen custard blended at high speed with things mixed in. You can make your own but they also have set ones they have that you can order. Jackie O and I both ordered The Center City Pretzel (Vanilla Custard, Philly Style Soft Pretzel, Caramel Sauce, Marshmallow Sauce and Banana).
This thing was pretty kick ass. The Caramel and Marshmallow Sauces kind of blend together, and the banana mingles around the middle, but it all somehow comes together and is dotted inside and out with pieces of pretzel. Be warned however, it is more of a Super Pretzel then a real Philly Soft Pretzel. There is a big difference, but in this case it does work. It would be cool if Shake Shack worked with a local vendor, like PYT does to make their pretzel rolls for the cheesesteak burger, but that’s up to them I suppose.
Anyway, the frozen custard is blended smoothly and each bite feels like you are mingling with all the ingredients. While doing a blend isn’t anything new (Dairy Queen’s been doing blizzards foreeeverrrr), they are doing it well. At $4.25 for a half and $6.50 for a regular, it might be a little high but worth every penny.
So, while I wouldn’t eat at Shake Shack every day (mostly because I’d be dead by the end of the month), it is on my list of places to visit if I am in the area. It might not be as internationally known like Capogiro or the Jose Garces’ place Village Whiskey across the street but it does what it does well! Try and hit it on an off hour and there won’t be much of a wait (I spontaneously combust if I wait in lines for too long for stupid things). I also found that the prices were in line with what they were offering, perhaps on the high side, but the flavors make it worth the trip and the lightening of your wallet.