The Times's new restaurant critic Pete Wells is doing things his own way, and to prove it today he turns his powerful perch in the direction of a dining destination you would normally expect to see reviewed in the paper's "$25 And Under" section. That's right, the Grey Lady has examined the Shake Shack and found it wanting.
"Shake Shack’s pitch is that, yes, even in New York, we can all return to a simpler, cleaner, friendlier place and time," Wells writes. Unfortunately, it "delivers on that pitch most reliably in its shakes and custards." And while the the lines and the hot dogs are consistent across the joint's many locations, the rest? Not so much! The Shake-haters among you (and yes, we know you are as legion as the lovers) are going to be nodding in agreement as Wells bemoans what many deem a gold-standard burger:
How the burger could change lives I never divined, but on occasion it was magnificent, as beefy and flavorful as the outer quarter-inch of a Peter Luger porterhouse.
More often, though, the meat was cooked to the color of wet newsprint, inside and out, and salted so meekly that eating it was as satisfying as hearing a friend talk about a burger his cousin ate.
Even when the burgers were great, they could be great in one of two distinct ways. In the classic Shake Shack patty, a tower of ground beef is flattened against a searing griddle with a metal press and made to stay there, spitting and hissing, until one surface turns all brown and crunchy. A patty handled this way takes command of a Shackburger, standing up to its tangy sauce, its crisp lettuce, its wheels of plum tomato.
Sometimes, though, the grill cook hadn’t had the energy needed for smashing and searing. Instead the patty was tall, soft and melting, so pink inside that its juices began to soak the bun at the first bite. Good as this version was, it was anomalous.
But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln? Well, Wells spends a good amount of time praising the hospitality of Danny Meyer's workers—which isn't a surprise to anyone who has ever eaten at a Danny Meyer restaurant. He doesn't hate the place, he just (possibly reasonably) argues that there are now lots of just as good options in town without the wait.
Fine. But we still want to respectfully disagree with the Wells on the burger front—over the years we've had (multiple) Shackburgers at every Shake Shack in the city and really haven't experienced anything close to the inconsistency Wells has. We will, however, agree with him about one aspect where the burger mecca does come up short: The fries really do need work.