Shake It Up Baby

Sometimes it snows in April. Or it rains real hard. I got the marvelous notion in my head the other day to see what all the hype was about the Shake Shack. This wasn’t my first attempt. No, last year I went determined to try the infamous vanilla custard which Grand Crew member Jay says I gotta have. I rushed down there, only to discover that the shack was closed for the season. Strike one.

Fast forward to April 2006, and after a long workout, I convinced myself to give her a whirl. Thursday night, beautiful skies, body count in line – 250 strong. Genius. Strike two.

Saturday, thirty degrees and April showers – Eureka. No line, no wait, no hassle, just me and the shack. Where would I sit? Deal with that later. What to order? Order the works.

The FAQ board that is posted by the menu explains various policies and recipes the Shake Shack is known for, such as the inability to serve the masses in a fast food nation sort of way, especially because everything is made to order, and even offers advice as to the best time to come – rain. Duh!

I ordered a Shack burger with fries, a Chicago dog, a black & white shake, and a vanilla custard. A good cross-section, I felt. Besides I wasn’t famished or anything.

The service was friendly and prompt, and under storm-like conditions, I needed all the warmth I could get. The burger reminded me of something from my youth, good flavors on a potato bun. The fries were crispy and delicious. The hot dog seemed like a vegetarian’s dream. The shake was adequate but the balance between chocolate and vanilla was off. So far, not a bad experience, but nothing to write home to Kansas about. I imagine on a cool summer’s eve, eating under the clouds and stars, feeling very suburban, in a New York County Fair sort of way.

There’s a very short, but proper wine list if you’re the type who likes champagne with his burger or a riesling with a hot dog – I am certainly a fan.

Then I slipped a spoon of vanilla custard into my mouth. And fan or not, it was the best I ever had. A cup of ethereal firm whipped vanilla flavor, unceremoniously served in a plastic cup that says “sweetheart”. This is no gelato from Roma, or even an helado from Manresa, but stack it up there with the best of American classic desserts.

Applaud chefs like Danny Meyer who try to offer better, fresher food to the masses. It’s about time we upgrade our choices and transition to better “fast food”. I was well satisfied, and could even see myself trying the Shake Shack again. Maybe when it snows.