After all the hype and delays, it’s finally open, right in the middle of Amazonland — what it's like to stand in Shake Shack's giant line, and is it worth it?
“All this for a burger?!” said a guy walking by the line stretched halfway down the block. A burger, sir?! Those waiting would have you know that this is Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s absurdly popular international burger chain, and that it’s brand-new in Seattle, and that your Instagram is sorely lacking.
To experience peak Shake Shack, my colleague Tan Vinh and I went to the fresh Denny Triangle/South Lake Union location during a recent lunch hour. The timing came at my insistence; as the resident Seattle Times Shake Shack expert, Tan’s waited for it before elsewhere, but I’d never been. To see if it’s really worth it, why not maximize the pain? (They’ve since begun taking same-day orders via the Shake Shack app, but only a limited number, which right now gives you slightly-better-than-lottery odds. Good luck!)
At 12:41 p.m., the line was 56 people strong, putting us right by the garbage and the exit emitting happy people with food finally in hand. The rain that was falling after weeks of eerily gorgeous autumn weather wasn’t Shake Shack’s fault, but the configuration of the outdoor tables and the overhang was — the drip line hits right at one’s shoulder, a real new-to-Seattle design flaw. Maybe they can borrow a bunch of Amazon’s loaner umbrellas? At any rate, it was wet and I was hungry, and some people in line had received samples of something that they were finishing up, throwing away the little cups in our new friend the garbage can, and we never got any. My notes from this difficult time say, in part, “Stupid idea.”
Points, however, to Shake Shack: The line moves faster than you’d think. After only 23 minutes of complaining, we arrived at the touch-screen ordering stations and beamed our orders into the kitchen. (BTW, any secret-menu desires require actual human interaction — Tan’s got all the info on that.) Then it required just three minutes of hawklike lurking in the small dining zone to get a table. (There’s not much that’s noteworthy about the functional, pleasant urban-contemporary interior except the track lighting trained for photo perfection; we just wanted to eat our burgers while they were hot.)
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An employee came by and asked with extreme politeness if she could wipe down our spotless table for us. We declined. Tan got his notification text message first, but it was a false alarm; he’d been in the day before, and they just wanted to make sure he meant to order something different (Shake Shack is watching you!). It took exactly 10 minutes for me to receive a text directing me to report to the counter. “Cue the Confetti: It’s happening!” it said. I noted the odd capitalization, as well as how disagreeable cutesiness is when one is hangry. Finally, we ate.
While your feelings may vary — maybe you have a school-cafeteria fetish — I found Shake Shack’s crinkle-cut French fries abysmal. I typed “dry mealy” into my phone with zero screen-grease issues; fries and phones should be natural enemies. Also: “devoid of fry-joy.” I can find a lot to love in many kinds of fries: floppy hand-cut fries, big steak fries, McDonald’s fries. These fries are bad. I would not eat them again, which is not something I’m sure I’ve ever felt about fries before. Tan informed me that New York Times food critic Pete Wells had the same reaction, with an ensuing fry-saga that we won’t get into here. Then he (Tan, not Pete Wells) ate all the rest of them, but somewhat listlessly, which for Tan amounts to harsh criticism.
The basic ShackBurger was very pretty, looking like the platonic ideal/emoji of its kind: golden dome of top bun, frilly green fringe of lettuce, two slices of tomato, yellow-orange melty American cheese, patty with an actual sear. The bun was toasted, a plus; its very high squishiness quotient made it a bit doughy in the mouth, but nothing unforgivable. The beef tasted actually meaty and ideally seasoned, with a proper level of salt; a coarse grind gave it a good chew. Tan noted that they use whole cuts of beef and admired the appropriate fat-factor while trying not to influence me too much. The meat’s also all natural, antibiotic-and-hormone free and humanely raised — all great things in a burger. The tomato was pale and sad, and the ShackSauce was not much in evidence, but the ShackBurger’s goodness overcame its hindrances.
I’d advise you to avoid the Seattle special-edition Montlake Double Cut unless you have partaken of a lot of our local legal cannabis, are prepared to immediately take a nap, and really, really love obscenely rich food. It’s huge — and it should be, costing $10.99 to the ShackBurger’s $5.59 — with two patties of grass-fed local beef, tons of caramelized onions, and globs and globs of Beecher’s Just Jack cheese on a Macrina bun. “I’ve never seen this much cheese on a burger,” Tan said, more aghast than impressed. Grease fully permeated the wrapper; this is a slippery and glistening beast, rich as hell, a very special gut-bomb. We couldn’t eat it. Note to Shake Shack: A burger specially made to suit Seattle probably shouldn’t be the super-over-the-top, massively indulgent one; we fancy ourselves smart and at least feign health-consciousness, and we also like good things.
In that category, there is the Shack Stack, which is a work of burger brilliance. Tan knew of its amazingness, and I thank him for ordering it because I never would — it’s got a veggie burger stacked atop a regular patty, and who needs the former if you’ve got the latter? You do, if you’re at Shake Shack, for their veggie burger is a portobello mushroom cut in half, stuffed with Muenster and cheddar cheese, put back together, panko-coated and deep fried. With the Shake Stack, you get all the goodness of the ShackBurger, plus a layer that’s mushroomy-umami-drippy-rich, fried-panko-crispy and almost-explosively-melty-cheesy. “That’s better than anything In-N-Out does,” Tan observed. He knows things. It costs $10.29 and you want it.
Lastly, it would be ridiculous to go to our hometown Shake Shack, wait in that looong line, and then fail to get the Seattle-only Coffee & Croissant dessert. This is made of Shake Shack’s luxurious vanilla frozen custard, chunks of Theo dark chocolate, coffee caramel sauce and the fresh-mashup-from-heaven known as Sea Wolf croissant brittle. That covers a super-creamy base, quality-chocolate-nugget surprises and caramelly-crispy croissantiness, for those keeping score. It costs $4.79 for a smallish dish, which is a bargain for one of the best things you may ever put in your mouth.
“It needs more croissant greatness,” I said as I dug through it, hopefully prospecting for brittle. Tan said the first time he tried it, it did have more — a lot more — and that he completely agreed. We’d still wait 23 minutes in the rain for it, though.
Shake Shack, 2115 Westlake Ave. (Denny Triangle/South Lake Union), Seattle; shakeshack.com/location/south-lake-union-wa