20th and Sansom
Center City Philadelphia has just gotten a lot more eatable. The new Shake Shack Philadelphia is a stomach-altering moment for me. Here's why:
- Shake Shack grills traditional quarter pound hamburgers and does so extraordinarily well. A welcome break from the bistro megaburgers found everywhere nowadays. Above the Shack Burger - cheeseburger, lettuce, tomato and Shack sauce. To the right, the Smoke Stack - a cheeseburger topped with Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon.
- Shake Shack grills hotdogs, serves them on real hotdog buns (a rarity among specialty hot dog joints hereabouts), and shows reasonable restraint with toppings. That's their signature Shack-cago dog above - their take on a Chicago dog but without poppy seed bun or neon green relish.
- Shake Shack serves frozen custard. Real frozen custard. Rich, silky smooth, a world above "soft serve." Shown, their flavor of the day, blackberry buttermilk. The same frozen custard goes into their shakes. I opted for their Fair Shake, blended with Fair Trade arabic coffee. Deep coffee flavor.
- Shake Shack is friendly and comfortable. Retro Happy Days. The kind of place I can just drop into and get really good eating. No need to dress up or to deal with servers interrupting me mid--bite, asking how everything is.
- Fair pricing. I can get three Shack Burgers for the cost of a bistro pub burger, not that I want three Shack Burgers at a sitting any more than I want a half pound bistro pub burger that requires a dislocating jaw to bite into.
So why only four grease stains? Their fries - frozen and boring. I just don't get how a place goes above and beyond to serve great burgers and frozen custard - and then takes the easy way out with frozen french fries rather than fresh cut. I couldn't really knock them at their original Madison Park location, it's so small. But there is no reason the Philadelphia Shake Shack couldn't pull off fresh cut fries here - They have the space, the volume, the staff and the chops.
The lunch and dinner lines are sizeable. I've done a couple of mid-afternoon lunches without much of a wait. There is also a cold-only line for frozen custard. I recently bypassed a half hour food line and was able to buy a cup of custard (Coffee and Federal Donuts - the flavor of the day) in five minutes. The lines will also likely move faster once the counter folk master the computer registers.
As the burgers and most everything else are prepared to order, Shake Shack gives you a numbered pager that goes off when your order is ready. Figure five to ten minutes, much less for frozen custard.
So close to perfect, the Shake Shack is. Damn those frozen fries!