I'm from Chicago, so I've got my favorite hot dog and hamburger places . . . but elsewhere in the country, so many places get it wrong! I've seen sloppy hot dogs, burned and raw hamburgers, hot dogs thrown on top of hamburgers like the dog's dinner. I've seen menus that have hot dogs, burgers, crab cakes, lamb chops and spaghetti -- all waiting for the nod to be thawed in the microwave.
Keeping things tightly edited, doing a few dishes simply and perfectly, that's why Danny Meyer's Shake Shack has lines in locations around the world now. It's not empty hype, either, like so many global chains turned out to have. I have no dog in this hunt.
I went to the Shake Shack in Battery Park, NYC, part of the complex anchored by the Conrad. That's a great advantage . . . so many times while traveling, I wanted to get a simple meal, but was intimidated to go wandering around by myself at night.
The atmosphere at Shake Shake is unique: there are lots of communal tables, with a few booths. Hamburgers are made to order, with a reasonable thickness: they are cooked throughout, not black and blue, not frozen hockey puck patties. They turn out juicy, flavorful, properly seasoned. There a few condiments you can add to the sandwich, classic items like crisp-fried Portabello mushrooms, but they don't offer a million crazy items. It's like the old saying, "Jack of all trades, master of none." Shake Shack masters what they do.
Similarly, the hot dogs come in a couple of varieties, not a cacophony of flavors.
The prices, even in Manhattan, are shockingly reasonable! Everything's under $10.
Cheese fries are made with real cheese, not oily, indigestible fake sauces. Trust me -- when you're traveling, your tummy will appreciate the difference, as well as your taste buds.
They do have wine, local beers and locally made chocolate for dessert. They also do mix-in shakes, but the one I ordered just didn't "do it" for me. The "Downtown Butter Brown" has streusel and raspberries . . . it was a little too sweet and too berry-heavy for me.
Danny Meyer has written a highly acclaimed book on hospitality -- Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business -- which was on my radar to read, but now it really will be a priority.
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