Enter Shake Shack, the burger phenom that created so many hyperlinks when it landed in Dupont Circle last month that a Facebooker could have been forgiven for thinking its owner — Danny Meyer, a principal of the New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group — was Justin Bieber rather than a restaurateur with the Midas touch.
At this point, the opening of another burger spot is about as exciting for some of us as watching paint dry. Aren’t we full? Having experienced my first Shake Shack at the race track in Saratoga, N.Y., last summer, I found it difficult to muster enthusiasm for another crusty patty served in a slip of wax paper and crinkle-cut fries pulled from the freezer.
Meyer, whose empire includes the starry Eleven Madison and the artful Modern in Manhattan, has a well-deserved reputation for being a host with the most; that is a detail I digest when I’m standing outside in 93-degree weather with about 30 other burger seekers. Chairs are arranged out front for those who might need them, and a server pops outside to distribute menus to anyone looking for a preview.
In addition to the expected beef burgers: a mushroom version, a hot dog, shakes in a rainbow of colors and “concretes” made with frozen custard, which are fun to watch being concocted inside through a big window. Ten minutes later, I’m in the door, where there’s another line. I entertain myself by scanning a wall of merchandise. (“If crying,” reads the front of an $18 onesie, “insert burger.”)
The green menu labels posted for all to read are a subtle way to reinforce Shake Shack’s eco-friendly philosophy, visible throughout the tidy, two-level, wood-and-brick interior. Check out the tables made from old bowling alley lanes. Note the low-voltage light fixtures and trash cans made from wheatboard.
Start to finish, it took me 15 minutes to place my order on a recent workday afternoon, at which point I waited some more, with a buzzer in hand to signal when my meal could be picked up at the stainless-steel counter.
Worth the wait? The shakes are agreeable, but not so transporting I wouldn’t swap in a not-too-sweet lemonade. While the crinkly fries were piping hot and super-crisp, my tongue picked out more salt than potato flavor. Washington Monu-Mint, a concrete of chocolate frozen custard blended with cookie dough and minty marshmallows, fulfilled its billing.
I’m partial to burgers that taste as if they came off the griddle of a diner, and by that measure, Shake Shack’s sandwiches deliver. The nicely pink, sufficiently juicy patty tucked into the lightly crisped bun is (fairly) fast food that pays a compliment to the genre.