Sunday, July 5, 2009

Shake Shack: Now I Get It

I was in SoHo yesterday, running some errands and enjoying the bright blue sky, when it hit me: I had one final errand to run, the most important errand, actually. Before I returned to Westchester, I was going to discover for myself what was at the end of those long lines at Madison Square Park. Was a Shake Shack burger really worth a two-hour wait? I had my doubts, but I also had my hopes, given that that the Shack was created by Midas-touch restaurateur Danny Meyer (Union Square CafĂ©, Gramercy Tavern, Tabla, Eleven Madison Park, The Modern). Meyer wouldn’t slap his name on just any roadside stand.

The tummy wants what the tummy wants, so I began the trek from Soho to Madison Avenue and East 23rd Street. I arrived at the park at 4:00 p.m. The line looked daunting, stretched passed the outdoor seating area, almost to the park entrance, but the people seemed quiet and patient, even a little excited. I stepped to the end of the line, and within moments, five people swarmed behind me.

Here I am, at the 10-minute mark (I'm waving!):
Fast forward an hour, and I had reached the “A” counter (there is a shorter B-line, where customers can get all sorts of drink items, except shakes). At precisely 5:10, a surprisingly pleasant woman took my order. She had a big smile, and in no way rushed me. I paid for my food, and was given a receipt and a buzzer to claim my order at another counter. In the meantime, I could find a seat.

Shortly after I found a table in the shade (only about a five-minute wait), my little gadget started buzzing. It was just an ordinary buzz, but at the moment, with my feet aching and my stomach growling, it sounded like The Vienna Boys Choir.

My food was waiting for me at the counter, neatly placed in cardboard boxes for easy transport. Let’s take a look at what’s inside:
Naturally, there are ShackBurgers in there ($4.75 each): a single patty, with lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and Shack Sauce (from what I could tell, nothing more than a lightly flavored mayonnaise). You can ask for pickles and onions, too, which I did, but I only got two slices, one pickle for each burger. Boo.

There is a hand-spun vanilla shake ($5.25), which was everything a vanilla shake should be. Thick, rich, creamy, truly delicious. The price was a little hefty, however, and the cups are kind of small. I would’ve been happy if they lowered the price or increased the cup size. But maybe I’m just a greedy American.

I also ordered French Fries ($2.75):
The fries were pretty good. Extremely crispy and not too greasy. It says on the menu that they’re made from Yukon Gold Potatoes, and contain 25% less fat than average fries. (I wonder what an average fry is?) Not a huge fan of the crinkle cut, so nothing to wait an hour for. Maybe if I got the cheese fries I’d be changing my tune. Cheese fixes everything.

Here’s a pic of the Shack-cago dog ($4.25).
You can’t even see the hot dog under all that stuff: mustard, relish, onion, cucumber, tomato, pickle, sport pepper and celery salt. This was good, but let's face it, it’s not the star of the Shack. The Vienna all-beef dog was actually a little salty and didn’t have the crunchy casing I adore in Nathan’s hot dogs. The toppings were pretty great, but the poppy seed bun was a tad stale.

Bottom-line verdict for Shake Shack? The line was a huge pain in the ass. I even have to wonder if the food tastes so delicious because people are starving by the time they get to it.


That burger really is something to behold. The patty was juicy, a little fatty-tasting even (in a good way) with a deep, chargrilled taste. The griddled potato bun was soft and light, the accompaniments fresh and crisp. And I'm already dreaming of another vanilla milkshake.

I can’t say The ShackBurger is the best burger I've ever had (although it’s close, and definitely the second best). First-place honors actually go to a burger my brother Bill made for me. One poker-playing Sunday, he grilled a Gourmet Big Y Burger (the Bacon Cheddar variety) and served it on a sweet, waxy brioche bun. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted. (“This is a really good burger,” I kept saying over and over, as I took everyone’s money.)

Would I wait in line again? Sure, if the weather cooperated, and I wanted a really great burger. Should you?

It’s something to do at least once.

Shake Shack (Madison Square Park)
Southeast corner of Madison Square Park
(near Madison Avenue and East 23rd Street)
(212) 889-6600


  1. Waiting on line when you're very hungry and seeing people at the tables already eating is sheer torture. But I will wait for a Shake Shack Burger and one of their shakes.

  2. I was just there the other day. They are consistently good, which is an important quality for a restaurant. That is why the lines are so long. Not to say that a 1-1/2 hour wait doesn't suck...

  3. I am a bit of a burger connoisseur (in my own mind) but that seems like too long of a wait. In Westchester, the best burgers are at Broadway Tavern in Irvington. Get the ‘tavern’ or the ‘el blanco’ and you’ll be traveling an hour out of the city instead of waiting an hour in it. Oh and the sweet fries are crispy, unlike any other sweet (not crispy) fry I’ve ever had.

  4. Todd, thanks for the tip. I'll give Broadway Tavern a try and let you know what I think. I know the Shake Shack wait sounds ridiculous, but if it's a nice day, it's really not too bad (also, the park is beautiful). And that burger really is special. The more days that go by, the more I realize I need another... very, very soon.