there are not many things new yorkers will wait for. we tap our foot impatiently in the express line at whole foods, judge restaurants before they've decided on a wall color and loathe wide-eyed, slow-moving tourists in times square delaying our commute. shake shack is one of those glimmering exceptions. i'm not sure what butcher pat lafrieda slips into the propriety beef blend of brisket, sirloin and chuck to make drooling carnivores wait up to an hour (sometimes more) for the precious hand-molded patties, but i'm guessing it's illegal. to appease mass craving (read: addiction), restaurateur danny meyer, of big hitters union square café and shake shack's delicious potato buns are a rarity: so obedient that the bun yields to your touch, condensing down toward the patty where it belongs. gramercy tavern, opened a shack on the upper west side in 2008, in addition to the original madison square park location and the newer citifield branch.
just a block from central park on the corner of 77th and columbus sits shake shack. lines are considerable at lunchtime, but nowhere near as long as they are at the flagship. during the day you'll find calm neighborhood folk, lunch breakers from midtown who've made the trek and tourists taking a time out from sightseeing. the atmosphere is decidedly lower key at night, when workers and tourists have gone home, leaving locals to enjoy their block's newish treasure. dinner is not a bad idea at shake shack in these trying times, despite the bare bones interior. they are pretty serious about their beer and wine. in addition to standard options, the shack has created its very own shakemeister ale with brooklyn brewery, along with a shack chard and shiraz made with marquis philips, with which to gulp down your savories. ah, yes, the food.
originally known for its fancy chicago-style dogs, the burger is now king at shake shack. that many patrons order two at a time is a testament to the burgers' small west coast-style size. you also have the option of ordering a double patty hamburger, cheeseburger or shackburger (a cheeseburger with house sauce). although they will not divulge the clandestine contents of this thick sauce, observant consumption leads me to gander it's a sweet combination of ketchup, mayo and spices. all beef burgers, ranging in price from $3.75 for a single patty to $9.50 for the famous shack stack (two cheeseburgers plus a 'shroom burger), are topped with greenmarket fresh lettuce and tomato, with onion and pickle upon request. burgers are cooked to a healthy medium (no pink) while remaining tender, with juice to spare. the potato bun, to me, is probably the best thing about the burger. it's rare to find a billowy fresh bun so obedient that it yields to your touch, condensing down toward the patty where it belongs.
complaints are minimal and can be summed up by wanting more. a few bites and the single-patty burger is gone. and no, i don't have a particularly big mouth. also, the patties could stand for a touch more seasoning and on some days, especially without the shake sauce, could even be considered bland. the wavy fries are crispy as advertised and come in little retro-style paper containers. they are made from frozen yukon gold potatoes and for $2.75 a pop (a buck more for melted cheese) there could be a few, you guessed it, more.
if you don't like burgers, shake shack takes pity upon you by offering the aforementioned vienna all-beef dogs, a chicken and apple bratwurst for poultry fans and a 'shroom burger (portobello mushroom) for herbivores.
one good thing about the smallish portions is that it leaves room for shake shack's frozen custard. it's what you've always dreamed of: high-quality fresh ice cream, made soft. the custard has many incarnations, including the traditional hand-spun shake, floats, cups, cones sundaes and a little something called concretes. concretes are basically a high quality mcflurry. the custard is blended with a variety of "mix-ins," including almonds, bananas, shortbread cookie and chocolate truffle cookie dough. truffles at a so-called shack, you say? danny meyer welcomes you to manhattan. now get in line. -- shake shack 366 columbus ave. at 77th street 646-747-8770 burgers and dogs: $3.75 to $9.50 frozen custard: $5.25 to $6.75