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Archive for June, 2006

Shaking it at the Shack

Really, how can you go wrong with greasy food and cold milkshakes on a summer afternoon in the middle of a manicured park?

I first hit Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack two summers ago. I was volunteering at a nearby three-star restaurant, spending one day a week chopping, dicing and julienneing my way around their kitchen. Being a newbie to this whole professional kitchen thing, I spent most of my day in fear, either that I was going to slice off my finger with my spanking new Global chef’s knife or that I was going to be yelled at for “wasting product” – i.e. too many scraps in my trash bowl. So by the time family meal came around, even though I was instructed by most of the more experienced line cooks there to cut in front of every and any waiter who dared take food before those who prepared it, I was mostly too wound up to eat. After my shift was over, I’d go and decompress in Madison Square Park. That’s how I first became enamored of the Shack. Once I relaxed and stretched out a bit, I would realize that I was absolutely, ravenously starving. It became a weekly ritual – crispy golden fries, icy lemonade and my cute little Shack Burger, tucked neatly into a paper bag.

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Now I’m not in that neighborhood so much anymore, and my appetite for grain-fed beef has definitely dwindled a bit. (Hello? Has anyone else out there read The Omnivore’s Dilemma yet?) Anyway, a few days ago, a friend suggested that we meet up there after work. It was a nice day outside, and both of us were trying to stick to budgets.

My first indication that the Shack I held a special place for had transformed into another beast entirely was visible immediately. A line, perhaps 50 people deep, snaked out from the order window and down to the corner of 23rd and Madison.longline.jpg

I knew the Shack was good, but that good? Granted it was about 6:30 p.m. and a lot of other New Yorkers probably had the same idea we did, but still, time is money, right? And then there was the issue of securing a table. We quickly realized that Shack visits now work best for parties of two or more: one person to hold down the line position and one person to stake out the crowded seating area.

Forty-five minutes and $18 later, we had in our possession two Shack Burgers, one order of fries, a lemonade and a milkshake, as well as a table under a tree.

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The burger was satisfying squishy, dripping with natural beefy juices mixed with Shack sauce, contained within a soft white bun that helped sop up the grease. Yum. The lettuce and tomato needed a little SOS, though — even the crispest of leaves can’t really hold up that long trapped next to a greasy, steaming patty, an as for the tomato, well it still is June, so did I really expect something better than a mealy, mushy tomato? Not really. The fries were golden and crispy, as they should be; the shake frosty and thick. The lemonade, however, deserves a special mention. Every person out there who thinks Country Time or Snapple is where it’s at needs to try a Shack lemonade. Clearly made from scratch, the lemonade sits on the fence, balancing between sweet and sour. In other words, it has real lemony flavor from real lemons.

We had a good time, sure. In some ways, the Shake Shack lives up to exactly what it promotes – cheap, good All-American food in a sunny setting.

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I have to say though that the Shack of my memory has disappeared. I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps my intense hunger and rattled nerves from two summers ago elevated the Shack experience into something more than it really is. But isn’t that true of most things? Given the long lines and waits, I just don’t understand the mystique. Danny Meyer even recently introduced a “Shake Cam,” which is perched above the building, it’s eye trained on the line. Now Shack devotees can sit at their computers all day and watch the image update itself every five seconds. I guess I’ll let them do that, and in the meantime, I’ll be seeking out shorter lines.

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Ready or not…

here we go!

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