You are taking a trip to New York City. You lucky thing you.
You tell anyone and everyone you are taking a trip to New York City. You start actively talking up pre-orders for ‘I heart NY’ t-shirts. You ask your foodie friends where to eat. You will get your ear bent for yonks. They send you huge long lists of places, nay spreadsheets of places peppering every corner of Manhattan and bits of Brooklyn.
The topic will get around to burgers. You will be told you simply have to go to Shake Shack.
Hey, we will sermonise the virtues of the Shack at you, whether you like it or not, with the aplomb of Clint Eastwood shouting at a chair. It’s fucking brilliant. AND they serve booze.
There is somewhere that does it just a tiny shred better.
Nearly seventy years ago, Steak ‘n Shake set up their first restaurant in Normal, Illinois, banging out signature Steakburgers, even grinding the T-bone, sirloin, and round in front of the punters to prove it. Back in January, they not-so-inconspicuously announced their arrival in NYC by setting up shop next door to the Ed Sullivan Theatre, home of The Late Show.
It hasn’t obtained the same ravenous reputation as In-n-Out or Shake Shack purely because it’s in bits of America you probably wouldn’t visit out of choice. Mapping their locations puts them in a nice wide slice of the US, starting at the arse end of Michigan and Illinois at the top down to Texas and Arkansas at the bottom. Their HQ is in Indiana.
They are, by association, GOP sandwiches. But they’re now reaching in to New York, and with that comes global recognition and a broadside challenge to the Shack’s dominance.
Designed to be busy, you walk into a queuing system. And it is swish: the colour aesthetic is bold, the milkshake station looks like a Pick ‘n Mix, and the soda fountain has a fucking touch screen. The kitchen is open, and the girls at the front taking orders are fully dolled up. Short red dresses and matching lip gloss. Subtle it ain’t.
The Original Double Cheese looks much akin to its Shake Shack cousin: the colours are vibrant, they use the same lettuce, the onions and pickles peek out at you. And similarly, it is really fucking good.
The patties are smashed, like REALLY smashed, to the point that it splatters out past the rest of the meat, creating an outrageously crisp, salty crust on one side like nothing else we’ve seen. You might worry that this might make it dry and crunchy. It doesn’t: the rest of the beef is soft and full of juice, the crust preventing it from seeping out. Each bite has a touch of resistance that then easily yields, revealing a strong meaty flavour.
The butter-toasted buns are fluffy and springy, the richness complimenting the meaty patties. Finely chopped stringy onions are fresh, and thin pickles add a vinegary tweak. The entire forest of lettuce is a bit much, but with the solid tomato adds the necessary vegetation, while the mayo’d bottom and mustarded top provide good contrast. The cheese, whilst not cloched, is put on just before serving, so that’s it’s just succumbing to the heat of the meat as you unwrap the burger.
The combination succeeds in making it a really flavourful experience, and a great example of a well-made, cheap, fast food burger. Putting the two competing Shakes next to each other is like the meat equivalent of the Pepsi Challenge. Both great, both similar yet unique. But for us, Steak ‘n Shake is the Coke in that scenario. And by Coke we mean the better one, obviously.
If you get to go to New York, definitely visit Steak ‘n Shake. And get us an ‘I heart NY’ t-shirt would you?
- Rob & Simon.