Thursday, July 20, 2017

Shake Shack

Update Review, Summer 2017

Shake Shack is most known for their burgers of course, but, they do also offer a few desserts, all of the frozen variety. The desserts center around frozen custard, which can come as a cone/cup, a milkshake (classic burger pairing), or a "Concrete" with mix-ins, several of which I've tried before (like the Lobstah Shell on my first visit, where I liked the custard but not the mix-ins, and the Blueberry Pie Oh My on my second, where I felt about the same, and vowed to get just a cone next time).
Frozen Custard.
This time, I went for just the cone. Well, with sprinkles of course. Because, sprinkles.
Newbury Street Location.
I visited a different location this time, in Boston proper (Back Bay) on Newbury Street.

It was rather adorable. If you didn't know there was a Shake Shack here, you'd never guess this was a big chain location.

Since the floorplate is small, inside is two levels, with ordering, kitchen, and some seating upstairs, bathrooms and additional seating downstairs. They also had seating on the sidewalk out front.

Really, the most adorable chain restaurant I've been to!
Frozen Custard, Cone, Single Dip, with Rainbow Sprinkles.
"Our dense, rich and creamy frozen custard is the real deal – spun fresh daily at the Shack!  Our vanilla and chocolate recipes use only real sugar, no corn syrup, and milk from dairy farmers who pledge not to use artificial growth hormones. "

I opted to just get a cone.

My choices were limited to vanilla or chocolate. Shake Shake used to offer a flavor of the week, but they did away with that, and have moved to monthly special shake flavors instead. This makes me sad, as I was there for the simple custard, but, alas, the custard is mostly used as a base for the other treats. Good vanilla (usually soft serve), in a cone, with sprinkles though is a nostalgic summer time treat for me, so, I just re-created that.

My options were cup or cone (only one type), single or double scoop.

I ordered a cone, and this is how it was served. I have no idea if this is normal or not. I gave a look when I went to pick it up, as I certainly expected to be handed a cone that I could lick. Why was it face planted into the cup? Was it made as a cone, and then just stuck in a bowl? Or was it made in a bowl, and then had the cone placed on top? Very strange.

The cone was a fairly classic sugar cone, sweet, crispy. I haven't had a sugar cone in ages, but it almost seemed longer than I remember? This is the only type of cone offered.

I also asked for rainbow sprinkles, since I knew they had them for Concretes (they actually have tons of mix-ins, and I'm surprised they don't offer sundaes or toppings on bowls of custard), and I love my ice cream in a cone with sprinkles. My server didn't really know how to ring up sprinkles on a non-Concrete, so she gave them for free. The sprinkles were standard, fine.

I also ordered a single. This seemed fairly large to me, but, maybe this is a single? Not sure what a double would be.
Cone: Salvaged.
Anyway, like I said, I wanted to re-create my childhood summer ice cream stand classic order: vanilla, in a cone, with rainbow sprinkles. While not soft serve, frozen custard is softer than traditional hard ice cream, so I knew it would be similar.

I grabbed a spoon, scooped the custard onto the cone, and went out into the sun to enjoy my treat. It was 90 degrees out, *perfect* ice cream weather!

The custard was very creamy. It was quite soft, certainly more like soft serve, but it actually melted way too fast. I licked and licked and licked, but honestly couldn't keep up with how fast it was melting.

However ... I didn't really like the custard. It was very plain, without any real flavor. I couldn't detect "vanilla". Just plain. And it was too rich. I know custard is all about that richness from the added egg yolks, and I love rich things and custards in general, so I was surprised to feel this way. But, it was just too rich, perhaps just for the weather?

Overall, just very meh, and I'm not sure I'd get another. Maybe I'd try it in a dish with a fun topping?

Update Review, Summer 2016

As always with update reviews, I encourage you to go read my original posting first, as it contains all the details on the establishment.  This post just contains specifics on the items I tried on my recent visit.
 Shack-cago Dog. $4.25.
"Dragged through the garden with Rick's Picks Shack relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato,
sport pepper, celery salt, mustard."

I was craving a hot dog when we visited Shake Shack.  And, since Shake Shack was originally a hot dog stand (did you know that?), I figured it was worth giving the hot dog a try.

I could have tried the standard hot dog of course, but, instead, went for the "Shack-cago Dog" (heh, get it?)

The hot dog was good.  I appreciated the bun, soft and fluffy, but, grilled.  The hot dog was split and seared, so, a bit crunchy with more surface area than usual, which I really liked.

The toppings really did mask the hot dog itself though.  They were good, but, actually, I felt it was a bit much.

Next time, I'd get the plain hot dog.  Maybe I'd add cheese or Shack Sauce.  But, I actually just want less toppings, so I can enjoy the dog itself more.  I know, for once, Julie doesn't want all the toppings!
Crinkle Cut Cheese Fries. $3.99.
On this visit, our group got several orders of fries to share.  I knew I didn't like the fries at all last time, and suggested this time that we try an order of cheese fries too.

They were much, much better.  The fries were still the same crinkle cut fries that reminded me of oven baked frozen fries.  I didn't like the fries.

But the cheese sauce was good.  The consistency was just right, smooth, almost runny, but not too watery.  Not too thick.  It was like a thinner version of Cheese Wiz almost.  Or liquid american cheese slices.  Really a thing of wonder in how well it coated and stuck on the fries.

Still, I wish the base fries were better, but I enjoyed my cheese fries, and I'd gladly share them again.
Blueberry Pie Oh My Concrete, Single, $4.59.
"Rich and creamy vanilla frozen custard blended with a slice of Four & Twenty Blackbirds blueberry pie and topped with whipped cream."

On my previous visit, I got a concrete, and didn't love it due to the soggy nature of the lobster tail shell.  This time, I was prepared to make my own concrete out of ingredients I like, as I'm convinced I would like concretes (I mean, frozen custard and quality mix-ins, what is not to like?).  And then I saw the summer special, the Blueberry Pie Oh My.  I still nearly got the concrete I wanted originally, but, at last minute, I changed my mind.

This was better than the Lobstah Shell Concrete I had last time but, I still didn't love it.

The base vanilla custard was good, creamy, sweet.  It melted nicely.  So, that part was good.

The pie however was really sweet, loaded with blueberry pie filling.  It made the entire thing actually just a bit too sweet.  There were also chunks of pie crust, which, like the lobster tail shell, wound up soggy, an aspect I didn't care for.

The whipped cream on top was just standard whipped cream, I believe from a can.

So, overall, fine, but too sweet, and still not the textures I was looking for.  While blending a full slice of pie into ice cream sounded great in theory, it just didn't work out that well in practice.  I like to eat pie and ice cream together, but, turns out, not blended together.

Next time, maybe I'll just get a custard cone, not a concrete?

(Oh, in case you are wondering, Four & Twenty Blackbirds is a famous pie shop in Brooklyn.)

Original Review, Summer 2014

Time for something a bit different.  A chain restaurant.  And not just a chain, a casual burger joint!

You've probably heard of Shake Shack, even though there are no locations on the West Coast.  Shake Shack started in New York as a hot dog cart, but now has locations in a few different East Coast states, and several international locations too.  The menu is pretty simple: hot dogs, burgers, fries, and frozen custard based desserts.

Perhaps the reason you have heard of Shake Shack is that (gasp!) Michelle Obama went there and ate a burger, fries, and a shake!  OMG, serious newsworthy item there.  Or maybe you have friends in New York who are crazy about the place.  I really don't recall how I first heard about Shake Shack, but, I've certainly known about it for a few years.

Burgers are the big draw, but I was most excited for the desserts, as I'm a bit of a dessert-o-holic.  But, I did also want to try the burgers.  From time to time, I'm known to enjoy a burger.  I don't always need fancy burgers, although the burger from Alexander's is still my number one burger of all time, and I did appreciate the infamous Spruce Burger.  I was far less impressed with the West Coast's trendy burger joint, Umami Burger.

But back to the Shake Shack.

They take ingredient quality seriously.  Burgers are made from fresh ground, 100% natural Angus, no hormones or antibiotics.  Hot dogs are hormone, antibiotic, and nitrate free.  Fries are trans fat free and cooked in soybean oil.  And of course, the ice cream is made with real sugar, no corn syrup, and no artificial growth hormones.

The location I visited was near the Chestnut Hill mall in Chestnut Hill, MA.  The lines were long, and the place was packed.  The lines were smartly broken into two however, one for people just getting drinks and ice cream, the other for everyone else.  Once you ordered, you were given a pager.

The wait for our burgers and fries wasn't too long, enough time to find a seat (inside or out, we went for outside since we were there enjoying the amazing east coast summer), fill up some containers with ketchup, and get ourselves ready for a feast.  However, I went back to order dessert later on, and, apparently the computers broke down, so orders were lost, and things got very, very backed up.  I waited about 30 minutes for my ice cream, only to find that my order was among the ones that was lost.  I wasn't alone, many others had their orders lost, and were being given free fries to make up for it.

Overall, I'm quite glad I got to try Shake Shack, and I'd return if I was craving a simple burger, and I'd definitely return for the frozen custard!
Hand Cut Fries. $2.85.
You can't go to a burger joint and not get fries right?  Plus, I heard that Shake Shack makes decent fries, from real potatoes, not frozen mush.

The fries did look like they came from real potatoes, with skin still on.  But, that was their only redeeming quality.  The fries were soggy, limp, and totally unseasoned.  Mediocre doesn't even describe these fries.

The only other option for sides is the same fries, topped with cheese sauce for $1 more.  There were no non-fried options, nor even onion rings.  Very weak selection for sides.

Even though there aren't any other sides, I'd still skip these in the future.  They just weren't good. Fries are also offered only in one size, which was certainly large enough that two people should share.
Single ShackBurger.  $4.85.
For the main attraction, your choices are burgers or hot dogs.  The hot dogs are split and griddled, available in chicken or classic beef.  Burgers are available in only beef (or, a vegetarian portabello mushroom "burger").  Standard toppings of lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and bacon are offered.

I went for the namesake ShackBurger, a "cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce."  (A standard cheeseburger has pickles and onions in addition, but no ShackSauce, for $0.50 less).

As you may notice from the photo, the lettuce was perhaps the most significant part of the burger.  It was a huge leaf, very fresh and crispy, unlike any lettuce I've ever seen at a fast food or fast casual establishment before.  The other vegetable inside was tomato, 2 slices, fairly fresh, smaller sized, perhaps from a roma tomato.  Again, much higher quality than I expect from a fast food chain.

The cheese was impressively perfectly melted, but there was a bit too much for my taste, it somewhat overwhelmed everything else.  I wonder if it is possible to order half cheese?  The "ShackSauce" was classic special sauce, creamy, likely a combination of mayonnaise and ketchup.

Now, for the main components.  The bun was soft and fluffy, griddled on the inside.  It was fine, but not particularly remarkable.  Like the lettuce and cheese, it seemed to overwhelm the rest of the burger, as there was far more bun than burger.  I ended up using only one half the bun, doubling up the burger.  )Of course, you can also order a double burger in the first place, rather than a single, but I didn't want a bigger burger, I just wanted to be able to taste the one I had!)

And finally, the burger.  It was cooked medium-well, but was still a bit juicy.  The plentiful cheese and ShackSauce also helped make it not seem dried out.  The beef was quite good, very well seasoned, and, well, beefy.  It wasn't a high end burger, it was cooked more than I'd normally order, but, it was very very good for what it was.

So, overall, certainly the best fast food, or fast casual, burger I've ever had.  The produce was remarkably fresh, the cheese perfectly melted, and the beef tasty.  Not something I crave often, but, there is a time and a place for a casual burger, and this was a good one.  $4.85 price was incredibly reasonable for the quality.
Lobstah Shell Concrete. Single.  $4.25.
And, the part of the meal I was most looking forward to: frozen custard!  You know I like ice cream, but custard is leagues above ice cream, and such a rare find.  And, I always prefer soft serve versions of frozen dairy treats, and, the custard at Shake Shack is soft serve.

Now, I was pretty full from my burger and fries, and already had ice cream earlier that afternoon, but there was no way I could resist trying the custard.  Available in vanilla or chocolate, plus a special flavor that changes every day.  I absolutely love soft serve custard, and I really don't understand why more places don't offer it.  (Well, I guess I do, froyo is the trend these days, and, nutritionally, custard is just about as far from froyo as it gets.  But ... it is so much more delicious!)

The custard is available as a simple dish or cone, or can be made into a shake or float, or, into a "concrete", described as "dense frozen custard ice cream blended at high speed with mix-ins."  When I did my research, everyone recommended the concretes.  Plus, how do you resist mix-ins?

For concretes, there are 3 predesigned options, or you can make your own.  The predesigned options are all location specific, and generally feature ingredients made locally.

The first custom one at this location was the "Shack Attack", made from chocolate custard with fudge, chocolate truffle cookie dough, and Mast Brothers Shake Shack dark chocolate chunks, topped with chocolate sprinkles.  Since I avoid chocolate in the evenings, that one was out.  Next was "Revere's Tracks", made from vanilla custard, with cheesecake blondies, peanut butter, and chocolate sprinkles.  This sounded good, but the final option is the one that really caught my attention: the "Lobstah Shell", made from vanilla custard, lobster tail pastry shell from Boston's North End, strawberry puree, and ricotta cream.  It sounded like the most special and unique to the location.

Of course, I also had the option to make my own, picking vanilla or chocolate for the base, plus any mix-ins I wanted.  However, the pricing made no sense to do so.  The base concrete was $3.25, plus $0.60 for each mix-in vs $4.25 for a pre-designed one.  So if I wanted just two mix-ins, the price was already higher than one of their designed ones.  Plus, I figured they knew what ingredients worked well together.

The custard was pretty much perfect.  Soft, creamy, rich.  So good.  Unfortunately, I didn't like the mix-ins.  The lobster tail pastry was soggy and a bit off-putting.  It reminded me of the also soggy waffle cone pieces in Ben & Jerry's Americone Dream.  I like crunchy mix-ins.  The strawberry puree was too sweet.  And honestly, I never tasted anything ricotta-like, not sure how I'd distinguish it from the custard itself.

Even though I didn't like my mix-ins, I liked the custard itself so much that I devoured this in seconds.  I'd love to try another type of custom concrete, or, more likely, I'd just like it in a cone ... with sprinkles of course.

$4.25 was a bit pricey compared to the food options, but not that much higher than other ice cream or frozen yogurt shops.
Shake Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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