As the kind of writer who has been involved (unfortunately) with the concept of blogging since the tender age of 16, I’ve had the scope of enough crash and burn projects to pick up on a few trends. Some come and go, but most just stay the same. Like alliteration. The darling of every 10th grader with an overzelouse comma punch, alliteration plays itself out more on blogs than the proverbial bad pun. Consistent to form, I chose such a title for this post.
Maybe that’s why I’ve yet to land a fulltime writing job.
Potentially degrading writing habits notwithstanding, Shake Shack makes a damn freaking good hamburger. Not just damn good, mind you, but damn freaking good. And not just in New York City, either.
I was in Washington D.C. with friend of the blog Chris Lad the a few weeks ago when we decided to check out the hamburger BurgerDays so eloquently proclaimed as “f’ing good.” A transplant from its famous Central Park abode, the signature Shack Burger is described as follows:
A 4 oz. burger made from our proprietary blend of premium beef, ground fresh daily and hand formed. It is topped with American cheese, green leaf lettuce, plum tomato and ShackSauce on a grilled potato bun.
Proprietary blend, say you? Clearly, this is a burger to be taken seriously. With cult status equal to, if not surpassing the likes of Five Guys and In-N-Out, Shake Shack’s burgers routinely round out lists and rankings of the top burgers in the country. As someone who has experienced both Five Guys (my thoughts hyah) and In-N-Out (sharing the love there), it was naturally my mission to size up all the fuss.
Well, the fuss was right, because this was almost the perfect cheeseburger. We’ll get to the “almost” caveat in a sec, but first, the hallmarks of near bovine perfection. Obviously we start with the beef. Adam Kuban once reported the exact blend to be 50:25:25 in favor of Sirloin, Chuck, and Brisket, but I’ve also read that there is short rib in there. As someone who is on PETA’s most wanted list, I feel I have competent authority to say that either one of those blends tastes about right. What this means is that although it ranges on the almost default 80:20 meat-to-fat ratio, the flavors are intrinsically beefier than all but perhaps one hamburger I’ve ever eaten (that being from Charlottesville’s Boylan Heights.) Crust development is outstanding, with an oozing layer of beefy juices pouring throughout the loosely formed nooks and crevasses. Not even giving my usual preference of medium-well, the burger came out cooked perfectly, with the requisite salt and pepper seasoning which makes the meat standout with being drowned out.
On to the cheese. From a texture standpoint it was damn perfect, unlike that nonsense stuff that friend of the blog Malcolm has been eating. Not quite the liquid goo of In-N-Out, it does get an added bonus for being melted to the point of releasing its fat into the aforementioned griddle-seared crust. I wouldn’t call it overly flavorful, but I don’t eat American cheese for flavor anyways.
Sauce? It was fine I suppose. Honestly I’m not a big guy when it comes to Thousand-Islands type ”secret sauces.” I opted for it on the side and found it thicker in viscosity than what In-N-Out serves, but prefer Boylan Heights’ Boylan Sauce to all others (it’s a hot sauce, BBQ sauce, and maple syrup hybrid.)
Lettuce and tomatoes were fresh and added needed brightness and crunch, but my only concern revolves around the bun. Martin’s potato buns are favorites of mine, and in taste I found the bun’s mellow but malty sweetness to play perfectly with the salt and meaty flavors resonating with the beef. Likewise, the squishy give of the top bun half makes slowing down and chewing (allowing you savor the meat even more) completely necessary even for ravenous eaters. Yet I felt that the bun’s structural integrity on the bottom was insufficient for the entire assembly, and was slightly offput by the sheer amount of butter on the bun. It came off as less toasted than it was smeared, and I would have liked a little more firmness and support ala In-N-Out. Likewise, I wish I had known onions and pickles were not part of the burger. A little tang could have gone a long way…
A final word is in order about the fries. I’ve heard them called “just o.k” by some, but the hot and crispy outside and soft and fluffy inside was damn near the epitome of a french fry in my perspective. They had really great potato flavor and amazing consistency in texture, although they’re on the pricey side given how many an order gets you. Maybe it’s for the best though, considering pulling a Michelle Obama and getting a burger, fries, and shake will put you in the 1700 calorie range. But who are you kidding, you didn’t come here for carrot sticks.
Inevitably, people are going to ask how it shakes (get it, ha! I’m hilarious I know) out compared to In-N-Out and Five Guys. My take is that at a similar price point it far outshines Five Guys, which can’t nail the melted cheese on a single patty and doesn’t offer the same beefy flavor or crust development in their beef. In-N-Out? It’s close, but I give the edge to In-N-Out based on the “x-factor” of the experience, as well as the Bible verses on cups, flavor and texture of the melted cheese, and the superior construction of the end product. But you know what, it’s damn close, and all things being equal, I think I’ve found my go-to burger spot the next time I’m anywhere close to D.C.
Check them out at ShakeShack.com.