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Sunday, June 24, 2012

My First Shake Shack Experience

It seems lately there's more hype around here every time a new burger place opens than when any other restaurant arrives. Naturally, I tend to pay attention because, well, I like burgers. And you may remember that I waited in a line for 90 minutes in 2010 to try to get a free burger at the newly-opened 500° -- though I only got a buy one, get one free deal instead. And I compared 500° to Five Guys.

Since I wrote that post Five Guys opened a second downtown location, as well as one at Grant Ave. near Roosevelt Blvd, which is a lot closer to my house. So when I get a chance I stop in either one of these locations.

Based on the comments I've seen online from New Yorkers, where the Shake Shack chain originated, I was very excited to hear that Shake Shack was opening here, at 20th and Sansom Sts. This is right next to one of the comic book stores I regularly frequented, which would be great if I hadn't cut back on comics after DC Comics decided to have Superman wear his baby blanket as a cape.

So the other day, after it had been open long enough (almost 2 weeks) that the lines during off-peak hours (such as between lunch and dinner) pretty much dwindled, I visited the Shake Shack. At 3:20 pm, the wait in line was maybe five minutes. And also because of the time, I was able to sit at a table with no problem.

After looking over the various menu items, I decided on a single ShackBurger, which is a basic single-patty burger with lettuce, tomato and their own special sauce.  I also got an order of fries, a regular-size soda and a dessert item. They have what they call Concretes -- described on the menu as "dense frozen custard blended at high speed with mix-ins." They have some that are Philly-centric, or you can just pick your own mix-in items. I ordered the "Center City Pretzel," which includes vanilla custard, "Philly-style soft pretzel," caramel sauce, marshmallow sauce and banana. I ordered the regular size instead of the half-size.

It took about ten minutes for my order to be ready. So how was everything?
Well, not bad, but not great. Service-wise, the only problem was one of the employees trying to take my tray  when my dessert was still half-full in the cup, just because I was talking on the phone and didn't notice him until he was grabbing at the tray.

The burger tasted fine. Interestingly, all burgers are cooked medium, unlike Five Guys, which makes their burgers well-done. The single ShackBurger is comparable in size to the Five Guys "Little Cheeseburger" -- at Five Guys the regular burger has two patties. The single ShackBurger is $4.55, the double is $7.10. The regular cheeseburger at my nearest Five Guys (remember, at Five Guys the regular is the one with two patties, not one) is $5.99.

The fries ($2.65) come in one size, in a paper bowl. They're good but they're kind of standard-order crinkle-cut fries. Compared to the wonderful Five Guys fries ($2.99 for regular size, $5.09 for large -- but there's no need for a large because you get so many in a regular order), they're a bit dull and definitely less plentiful.

Regular-size soda comes in a shorter, wider cup than is typical, which is a bit weird to me. When I see those cups I think they're for kids. More importantly, they fill the cup and give it to you, and no mention is made of possible refills. At Five Guys, you get your own directly from the fountain -- which means you control how much ice goes in the cup -- and free refills are allowed. Says so right on the menu board.

Of course, a large part of the Shake Shack experience (if you don't count beer and wine, since those are available, unlike Five Guys) is the dessert. I didn't order a shake, opting to try the Center City Pretzel Concrete. This was a mistake. Perhaps because it was prepared right away and then sat a while as my burger was being cooked, the "dense" custard was already starting to melt when I got my food. And because I didn't want to eat it before I ate the burger and fries, by the time I got to the concrete it was even more soft. The pretzel bits, however, were not very soft. They didn't seem like a Philly soft pretzel at all. I detected  hardly any marshmallow or caramel taste and only a little bit of banana. Perhaps it was blended too much and that, along with the melting factor, sort of made those flavors disappear.

The good news is they are donating 5% of the sales of the Center City Pretzel concrete to the city's Mural Arts Program, so my purchase added 32.5 cents (5% of $6.50) to the donation.

I can't say I won't visit Shake Shack again. But more than likely I'll just get a dessert item to go (there's a separate line for non-cooked stuff -- shakes, cones, etc.). That way, it presumably won't be melting when I get it. For the burgers, and especially for the fries, I'll stick with Five Guys.

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