100 Austin Burgers: Shake Shack
Hours: 11am-10pm Sun-Thu; 11am-11pm Fri-Sat
Also at: 11228 Domain Drive at the Domain, 512-717-0422
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 12.08.16
When Shake Shack opened on South Lamar in 2015, it tapped into the notion that anything worth Instagramming is worth standing in line for. Fond as we are of waiting in line, the phenomenon was hardly particular to Austin. The lines began back in 2004 when restaurant firestarter Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Cafe, Tabla, Blue Smoke) opened the first Shake Shack in New York, building on the unlikely success of a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park. The South Lamar lines have thinned out, ceding to a fading novelty factor and a second location that opened in the Domain this year. Now Shake Shack has to prove itself in a competitive Austin market already packed with P. Terry’s, Hopdoddy, Hat Creek and restaurateurs with the same will to power as Danny Meyer.
► ShackBurger: In his 2006 memoir “Setting the Table,” Meyer wrote: “I never assumed that the Shack’s success was going to be defined by someone saying, ‘This is the best hamburger I’ve ever had.’ ... It’s just about impossible to create the ‘best’ version of anything when the context is comfort food. It’s pretty tough to compete with the warmth of deeply emotional food memories.” In that context, this humble burger seeks its own emotional ground. Built on a soft potato roll, it’s a simple union of fresh sirloin and brisket with a good sear and sunburned center, Bibb lettuce, plum tomatoes, American cheese and a ketchup-mayo style sauce. My objection is this: It’s the size of a White Castle slider, a $5.29 dollhouse burger in the land of big hands. A bargain in New York, maybe. A value lost in translation here.
► Lockhart Link Burger: Shake Shack reaches out to the locals when it assimilates a new city, and so Austin got a piece of Lockhart for this barbecue hybrid, with half a horseshoe link of Kreuz Market sausage. The result is salt and smoke and fat that throws the little burger out of balance, with a showercap of a bun that barely keeps the meat, pickles and cheese in check for those moments when we can’t live by meat alone. ($7.59)
► On the side: I like a good crinkle-cut fry in a paper boat. Shake Shack serves them short, clean, crisp and dry for $2.99. A friend asked me why I went easy on an Ore-Ida knockoff. Because I'm trying to find something nice to say, that's why.
► Wash it down: Sweet vanilla custard with an egg cream afterglow gives the Shake Shack shake a solid foundation that blends into a perfectly drinkable texture. There’s the trinity of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, plus peanut butter or coffee. But I like the low dairy tang and crosscurrents of salted caramel best. Like most eveything here, overpriced at $5.29, plus 50 cents for whipped cream. They also pour wine and a handful of local beers on draft.
► A word on the Shake Shack “Concrete”: Let go of your fast-food prejudices and admit the virtues of a Dairy Queen Blizzard, especially when they turn it upside down to show you how it will stick to your arteries like drywall spackle. The Concrete at Shake Shack works on the same principle, blending frozen custard with things like cookie dough, toffee, peanut butter and Mast Brothers dark chocolate. But for $4.59, what I got was a tiny cup with the elements clinging to the sides like they’d been whirled in a centrifuge, the center an empty void like a broken promise. The Shack’s Austin-exclusive Uchi-koncrete — spiked with miso blondies and huckleberry jam — had the gummy texture of top-shelf tackle box, an ill-suited ambassador for Austin’s all-star restaurant brand.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)