Shake Shack

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 20 | Posted Jun. 28, 2012

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Center City's Shake Shack from New York restaurateur Danny Meyer is the latest burger joint to join the local dining scene.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

More than 60 years ago, a woman named Estée Lauder sauntered into Saks Fifth Avenue armed with a perfume that would eventually lead to an international cosmetics empire. Lauder “accidentally” spilled some Youth Dew and people wanted to know where they could purchase the fragrance.

Lauder, who lived to a ripe old age, was famous for creating excitement.

Following her philosophy in the world of restaurants often leads to success. Stephen Starr has been doing this for many years. In New York City, it is Danny Meyer.

I first met Meyer years ago at his Union Square Café. Meyer is a hands-on entrepreneur. He enjoys working his way through the dining room, greeting his long-time friends and meeting new people.

His organization has won 25 James Beard Awards. Although Meyer is famous for the up-scale, he created quite a culinary storm eight years ago when he opened a burger joint called Shake Shack in Manhattan. Shake Shacks are in many American cities with more planned. A few weeks ago, Shake Shack opened at 20th and Sansom streets. Every time we drove by, there was a long line down the block just to get into this fast-food restaurant.

I had to see for myself what all of the fuss was about. Why would people wait in line in the unbearable heat for burgers, fries, hot dogs, shakes and iced tea?

Fortunately for Sandy and me, there was no line to get into Shake Shack around 5:30 p.m. A hostess hands you a menu and you make your way through a winding lane much as you would in a bank. You step up to the gleaming, stainless steel open kitchen and order just as you would at McDonald’s or Burger King except Shake Shack has a license to sell beer and wine.

We landed a table for two in the back of the restaurant where we could watch sports on TV. There are a few booths and high tops as well.

As soon as I lifted the tray I realized these burgers are on the small size. I ordered the single SmokeShack ($6.25), which consisted of a grilled patty made with a mix of sirloin and brisket nestled in a waxed paper mitt. It was topped with a small piece of Niman Ranch all-natural Applewood smoked bacon, which is the brand I buy, a smidgen of American cheese, chopped cherry peppers, which added a bit of a kick, and ShackSauce, a thin Russian dressing. When I bite into a juicy burger, I want some juices dribbling down my chin. This did not happen. The burger was just OK.

The crinkle-cut french fries ($2.65) however, were glorious. Made with Yukon Gold potatoes, they were totally free of grease, slightly crunchy outside and imparted a marvelous, almost creamy potato texture inside.

“They remind me of the cups of crinkle-cut fries we would buy on the Boardwalk,” I said to Sandy.

Shake Shack fries are the best in the city.

Sandy ordered a single ShackBurger ($4.55) with lettuce, tomato and American cheese. We agreed the burgers are so small Edward could easily eat at least three of them.

Homemade iced tea ($2.40) for a large, unsweetened one was freshly brewed and delightful on a hot summer evening. Since Shake Shack does not stock lemon wedges, a woman at the counter gave me a cup of their homemade lemonade that I poured into my tea. It was delicious — I made an Arnold Palmer. The lemonade on its own was not at all sweet and wonderfully tart and refreshing.

I love the burgers at Rouge, The London Grill, Moriarty’s Pub and Cavanaugh’s Restaurant. They are plump and juicy. Shake Shack’s dare to be small and that’s OK, but I doubt I will return.

The line to get in snaked around the block by 6:15 p.m. I wondered if the customers, mostly college students, were first-timers or return visitors.

One tip of the toque to Shake Shack.

Shake Shack

20th and Sansom streets

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Comments 1 - 20 of 20
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1. Gretta said... on Jun 28, 2012 at 07:38AM

“I realize the pressure to be the first out there with a review, before LeBan gets there. But if a place is named Shake Shack, a reviewer should return for a second visit to sample the shakes, if not also the hot dogs and floats prominently advertised on their wall.”

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2. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Jun 28, 2012 at 09:41AM

“Dear Greta:

I am lactose intolerant and if I drank a shake - and I wish I could - I would become ill. However, several people have told me the shakes are very good.”

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3. Edward said... on Jun 28, 2012 at 01:11PM

“Did somebody say "Shake"? As in "shaken not stirred"? Gin not Vodka? Double not Single? :-)”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jun 28, 2012 at 01:31PM

“You have no taste buds and lack writing skills. It's tragic. Can't they hire someone new and refreshing?”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 28, 2012 at 02:18PM

“This is the South Philly Review, right? How about some reviews of restaurants in South Philly?”

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6. bsg said... on Jun 28, 2012 at 02:26PM

“The name is SHAKE shack-no review of the shakes -
but she did remember the Lemonade maybe she should have
AMAZING -well not really in this day and age”

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7. Victor said... on Jun 28, 2012 at 04:39PM

“It's amazing how presumptions these arrogant, elitist, "critics" like Stein-Novack and LeBan are. Yelp, with 88 posts from REAL customers rates the place way above average yet, for whatever reason, (they were bumped on the way to their table, not sucked up to enough, had a bad hair day, wrong vibe day of the week) they'll pan a place while writing in their column how good it is. Then dismiss the place's popularity with "They're first time customers". Yeah. They've been having "first time customers" around the block for 3 weeks.”

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8. bmk said... on Jun 29, 2012 at 12:55AM

“Hey Victor. Are you by any chance Victor Fiorello? If you are, you should know that you are the reason Phyllis is the 2nd worst food journalist in Philly.”

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9. Gretta said... on Jun 29, 2012 at 12:33PM

“I'm not sure the name-calling does any of us any good, but Victor at least puts up a name and a valid criticism. It leads me to ask this:

Does the reviewer here get subsidized for the meals of her dining partners?

If so, I will join the critics and suggest that Sandy could have darn well had a milkshake and commented on it. Or is the whole extended family lactose-intolerant? And Edward, who has a different set of genes? Before finishing the review you could have suggested he take his flask there and alternated sips of vodka with sips of a strawberry shake.”

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10. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Jun 29, 2012 at 02:25PM

“Sandy is also lactose intolerant. She always says "we have the Stein stomach.

Edward detests vodka. He had a meeting on the evening we visited.

Summer means iced tea and lemonade. Shake Shack's iced tea and lemonade were first rate. I have tasted wretched weak tea and ghastly oveerly sweet in so many places.”

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11. JS said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 10:19AM

“You shouldn't be faulted for not having a shake. It is unfortunate, however, that in a review for an establishment known for burgers, a more attentive description is given to the iced tea/lemonade. Additionally, Shake Shack's fries are widely known for being the weak spot in their menu, as they are frozen. I am sorry to be harsh, but your opinion that they are the best fries in the city weakens your credibility more than anything you have ever written.

And how exactly did you identify the restaurant clientele as all college students? If your observation was that Shake Shack is drawing a younger crowd, you can simply state just that.”

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12. Gretta said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 12:48PM

“JS, you are flat-out wrong. Plenty of attention was focused on the burgers in the review. Read it again. And what is this "widely known" weak spot on the menu? Name your sources. If the fries taste good then the reviewer should say so and she did. And guess what, JS, she's a "widely known" food writer in Philadelphia, so her opinion on taste is worth a lot, fresh or frozen. And please, she SHOULD be faulted for not having a shake at the Shake Shack...doh. And what's your hangup with the description "college students"? I can't think of a better description of 18-22 year old non-hardhat-wearing convivial people than that. Thanks for your comments but please get a grip.”

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13. JS said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 02:29PM

“Gretta- "When I bite into a juicy burger, I want some juices dribbling down my chin. This did not happen. The burger was just OK."

That is the only thing said about the burger, besides listing the ingredients that could be easily noted from the menu and a mention that the patties were on the small side.

Just because her reviews are featured in a publication does not mean they automatically gain respect. Restaurant reviews should offer descriptions that will be helpful or interesting to the readers. There is nothing at all helpful in this analysis of the food. Examples of what could have been helpful include; texture of the bun, seasoning and doneness of the burger.

Read the review from Pete Wells of the NYTimes and notice his colorful descriptions actual help a reader understand the picture, though inconsistent, of what they might receive at Shack Shake.

& it is an insult to the fine city of Philadelphia to claim that a chain's frozen fries are the best it has to offer.”

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14. JS said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 02:35PM

“Gretta- and the thing about college students just seemed strange to me. I don't get the point of the statement and why she said it in that way. Besides, there is no harm in asking your fellow diners if they had eaten there before- this is a newspaper right? Don't journalists/reviewers ask questions rather than speculating for no reason other than filling up space in an article?”

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15. Anonymous said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 03:36PM

“Your "glorious" fries are frozen. Your credibility is minimal.”

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16. Carly said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 03:55PM

“I haven't gotten to our Shake Shack yet. But I'm assuming the fries are the same as the ones they serve in Madison Square Park, right? Because I never cared that they were frozen; they were good, and more importantly, I love their cheese sauce. I wouldn't call them the best in any city (especially eaten without cheese) but I do really like them and think they work well in context. I also wouldn't say they have much in common with Curly's et al., because they don't, aside from ridges. But still, good enough that I'd get excited to stop and get some almost any time the weather was lousy or the timing was right that I knew the line wouldn't be too bad. (Again, this is all assuming they're not doing them differently here... I just haven't had a chance to try this new one.)”

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17. Carly said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 03:59PM

“Also, I couldn't help but smile at the way it sounds here like Phyllis just invented the Arnold Palmer. They sell them like that already, you know, right off the menu.”

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18. Anonymous said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 05:53PM

“Food fight! LOL

I've never seen as many as 17 comments before to this column which, let's face it, is written for a fairly small demographic. Must be the fries that get everyone writing with such passion.

Wait'll Phyllis & Sandy wander down to review a cheesesteak at John's House of Pork, allegedly the best in town. That'll start some arguments. 20 comments or bust!

P.S. Oh wait. Do cheesesteaks have lactose?”

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19. Anonymous said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 06:05PM

“Her review of adsum got about 50 comments bc for some reason she described the size of her foie as a half a premature baby foot. As if that is a pleasant image/funny/more useful than any other item to compare.”

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20. Gretta said... on Jul 2, 2012 at 08:18PM

“Anonymous#19, thanks for the tip about the AdSum review. The comments were a hoot. For those of you with time to waste and who enjoy vitriol, here's the link:”


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