If you've lived in New York for any reasonable amount of time, there's little to no chance that you've not heard of Shake Shack, Danny Meyer's Madison Square Park outpost. The Shack started as a summertime hot dog cart serving the area's office workers (myself included - I worked at Eleven Madison Avenue from 2002-2004) with ingredients prepped in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park and Tabla, just across the Avenue.
Since 2004, the Shake Shack's home has been a permanent hut in the southeastern corner of the park, surrounded by gravel/dirt and innumerable little green tables and chairs. The bare bones accomodations and exposure to, alternately, rain, wind or blinding, burning sun do nothing to keep the crowds away. On a 45-degree day in March, the line for Saturday lunch stretched for an hour.
Today (75 degrees and sunny) I was lucky enough to arrive early, and only waited about 25 minutes before placing my order at the window - a Chicago dog (organic hot dog with cucumber, pickles, onions, lettuce, tomato and hot pepper), fries, and a Concrete Jungle (frozen custard with bananas, peanut butter and hot fudge mixed in). By the time I got a table and sat down to wait for my food, the line stretched to the west side of the park - a good hour and a half.
You used to have to lurk by the window waiting for the Shack's staff to call your name, and then fight your way through the aggressive types blocking the counter to claim your burger. (The counter-blockers are the same people who stand RIGHT NEXT TO the luggage carousel in the airport, effectively preventing anyone else from getting their own bags off the thing.) No longer. Now, like Chili's and T.G.I. Friday's before them, the Shake Shack has implemented a buzzer system, so it's easy to grab a table and enjoy the sunshine in peace.
Five minutes later, my buzzer did indeed light up and shake, cueing me to fetch my food from the nice people in the Shack. I grabbed some napkins and some mayo for my fries, and then tried to figure out how to eat my Chicago dog with one hand while talking to my mother on the phone. Turns out, not so easy, since the dog is piled high with fresh and pickled veggies. The cucumber adds a nice note of freshness to balance out the hot, pickled pepper. Celery salt takes the whole thing to a new level of savory goodness - really, it's much more than you typically expect in a hot dog. Reminds me of my friend Kirsten, who used to make this shockingly tasty meal out of the tasteless veggie burgers in our kitchen cafeteria. They had a slice of tomato, some mustard and mayo, some salsa, and a couple of other things. Sometimes throwing the kitchen sink at something actually works.
Shake Shack makes excellent fries - crisp but meaty, and tasting distinctly of potato rather than oil. Not much else to say here other than have them.
The concrete was disasppointing...I suppose it's possible that the extremely melty consisteny was my own fault, since I only tackled it upon finishing my hot dog and fries. But I don't think so. I only spent about 10 minutes on those, and there's no excuse for something this huge and expensive ($6.25 and about 10 oz.) melting that quickly, since it would have taken me more than ten minutes to eat it, had I been able to. As it was, I pretty much fished out the banana hunks and tossed the rest. I'll give it another go later this summer, but I'm not sold.