Southeast corner of Madison Square Park, near Madison Ave. and E.23rd St.
Of all Danny Meyer’s acclaimed restaurants (some I have been to and some I have not) I think I will always remain loyal to the Shake Shack. Not that the other restaurants don’t trump the Shack in terms of elegance, but really, does any of that matter in the face of the perfect hamburger? Of course, I realize I have just placed myself wide open for the ongoing debate as to who has the best burger in NYC, but I frankly am ready for the challenge. As I have already demonstrated in my Spotted Pig review , I am not opposed to thicker burgers (in particular, those cooked medium rare and slathered in Roquefort cheese), but when it comes right down to it, I am a girl who likes to fit the entire burger in her mouth, and comfortably at that.
Yes, it is true—like many Americans, I started my love affair with hamburgers at the often scorned McDonalds franchise, but with all that salt and the ingenious toys that accompanied the meal—can you really blame me? (I am still searching for those collectors glasses from The Great Muppet Caper circa 1981). As a teenager, I moved on to diners (always a bit too inconsistent for my adolescent taste buds) and the new (at the time) franchise of In-N-Out burger. I thought I had finally found my burger haven with the grilled onions, crispy lettuce, mostly ripe tomatoes, the secret mayonnaise based sauce, and just the delightful size of it—big enough to eat all of the layers at once. Being able to experience all of the flavors of a single dish at once is somewhat paramount to me—I think that this is most often where all of the magic happens, the chemistry of all the ingredients coming together in one bite.
My love of In-N-Out has been tested by the culinary quest to locate my favorite burger in the city. After becoming smitten with the Shackburger ($4.75 for a single), I have not been able to feel the same way about In-N-Out. I first discovered the Shake Shack several years ago with Dave Freedenberg of Famous Fat Dave’s Five Borough Eating Tour. It was the perfect end to a day long extravaganza of cheesecake, Italian rice balls, Orange Julius (!), soul food, whitefish, and Patsy’s pizza. Of the many incredible tastes we had that day, my first Shackburger left the most enduring impression.
Meyer’s burger has a remarkably similar concept to that of In-N-Out -down to the useful paper wrapping that covers half the burger, keeping it from falling apart. This isn’t really a concern with a burger of this type — it is simply constructed and flies in the face of fancy, over the top burgers (think Daniel Boulud’s Kobe beef and foie gras burger at db Bistro Moderne). Not to say that it isn’t made with incredible ingredients- it is a mix of freshly ground sirloin and brisket along with ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and American cheese. It is grilled just enough so that it has a crisp slightly chewy edge and is amazingly able to retain the full flavor of the beef without being cooked a bit bloody as with the other hamburgers I have grown to love in NYC.
I am also a fan of their crinkle-cut fries($2.50), and this is where Shack Shack leaves In-N-Out in the dust—their fries are not only edible (unlike the cardboardesque fries at In-N-Out), but are incredibly flavorful. Though the fries are not the burger’s main competition for star of the shack—that honor falls to the incredible thick as can be shakes made with delicious frozen custard. If you want something to satisfy the most decadent sweet tooth urge you are ever likely to have, one of the contenders should be the caramel shake ($5.25). The shake is made with the richest dulce de leche (a Latin-American concoction of caramel and sweet cream) and frozen vanilla custard, and is magnificent. All this comes at the price of a very long wait, even at off hours—which is why their live Shack cam should be consulted before heading over.
Be sure to go soon-- it closes for the winter in mid-December!