Because my Facebook feed was cluttered with posts about the opening of the popular burger chain Shake Shack in Chicago, I decided that I should see what all the fuss was about. The chain started in New York in 2004, but the Chicago location (66 E. Ohio St.) just opened in River North on Nov. 4. I went there the weekend after it opened, and the line was still halfway down the block. Hoping that it would be worth the wait, my friends and I hesitantly joined the line.
To our delight, Shake Shack was clearly prepared to handle a big crowd. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the line moved quickly — it was about 20 minutes from the time we got there until when we placed our order. After we ordered, we were each given buzzers to notify us when our food was ready, which turned out to be just 10 minutes later.
Shake Shack keeps its menu relatively simple when it comes to burgers. Aside from a classic hamburger ($3.95) or cheeseburger ($4.95), it offers two special items: the smoke shack burger ($6.45), which has bacon, chopped cherry peppers and the chain’s signature shack sauce, and the ‘shroom burger ($6.90). I chose the ‘shroom burger because a portobello mushroom stuffed with two types of cheese (muenster and cheddar) then fried and topped with lettuce, tomato and shack sauce sounded too good to pass up. If you want to get all of that on top of a beef patty, it’ll cost you $9.15. When I ordered, the cashier warned me to be careful when I first bit into it, because they deep fry the cheese-stuffed mushroom, so the cheese can get pretty hot.
Fries do not come included with the burgers, so I ordered the classic crinkle cut fries ($2.90) to go along with mine. You can also order cheese fries for an extra dollar, which one of my friends did, but he noted the fries were good enough to stand on their own.
When I received my order, I listened to the cashier’s warning and carefully bit into my burger, which thankfully did not burn my mouth. The two types of cheese really stood out, the smoothness of the cheddar and the sharp flavor of the muenster made an excellent combination.
My only complaint was that the shack sauce, which seems to be some sort of spiced mayonnaise, was overpowered by the cheese, so I couldn’t really tell that it was on my burger.
The general consensus of my group was that the burgers were a good size, not so large as to be difficult to hold, but big enough to be satisfying. Everyone also agreed that what made Shake Shack better than an average burger joint was the quality of the hamburger meat. It was a thick patty that was tender and juicy. It tasted fresh — not like an over-processed disc someone had pulled out of the freezer.
My friend who ordered the smoke shack burger really enjoyed it, noting that the bacon was thick and the smokiness was a nice complement to the burger. I tried a bite and thought the spiciness of the cherry peppers was a little overwhelming.
To wrap up my meal, I ordered the shack attack concrete ($4.30 for a single). This frozen custard feat has five different types of chocolate in it: chocolate custard mixed with fudge sauce, chocolate truffle cookie dough (which tasted more like fudgy brownie batter, but that’s not a complaint), Vosges black salt caramel chocolate and chocolate sprinkles. The frozen custard menu offers chocolate, vanilla and a flavor of the day to be served in whatever milkshake or concrete concoction you can come up with.
What I appreciated about Shake Shack is that the restaurant makes an effort to integrate local Chicago culture into its menu. It features a “Shack-cago” dog ($4.00), Shake Shack’s take on the classic Chicago dog. It also has the salted carame“L” custard ($4.30 for a single) — a vanilla custard mixed with banana and a Glazed and Infused salted caramel old fashioned doughnut. Items like these make the restaurant feel personal to the city, and not just like another franchise.
If you enjoy trying new restaurants around Chicago, Shake Shack is a fun place to go with friends because it can support a big crowd, offers fast service and serves a quality burger. Hopefully some of the hype has died down so you won’t have to wait too long. But even if there is a line, know that it’s worth the wait.
Shake Shack is open daily from 11 AM – 11 PM.