Have it their way
by M.B. Lewis
From the December, 2019 issue
New to the east side of town, the fourth Shake Shack burger joint in Michigan (and one of hundreds worldwide) is drawing diners of all ages in such numbers that they are challenging the limits of the Arbor Hills Crossing parking lot. Parking's not required though, because the streamlined menu is well suited for customers to order ahead for pickup. On a recent weekend afternoon, there were eighteen staff members working and about forty diners--but brown paper bags branded with the snazzy green burger logo were piling up steadily in the big pickup rack.
Choices are limited to straightforward options, like one patty or two on a burger, lettuce and tomato, or cheese sauce on your fries or hot dog. Your burger is cooked medium unless you specify well done (rare is not an option), and only a couple local beers are offered alongside their proprietary ShackMeister Ale. You get a sense that too much variety would confound that fast-moving kitchen crowd.
This kind of "have it our way" menu can be frustrating unless it's very well crafted with good ingredients. And therein may be the key to Shake Shack's success: most everything here is high quality and darn tasty. In fact, the SmokeShack and Chick'n Shack could be the best fast-food sandwiches you'll taste this year.
Spicy little diced cherry peppers get your taste buds tingling in the SmokeShack, while its mayo-like sauce and fresh bun cushion a seared beef patty and flavorful Niman Ranch applewood-smoked bacon cooked just crisp. This seven buck sandwich could satisfy even without the burger.
The Chick'n Shack, meanwhile, is built around a hefty inch-thick chicken breast, which comes out of the fryer crispy on the outside and still juicy inside. Crunchy pickle slices, buttermilk herb sauce, and fresh lettuce and tomato complete the flavor picture.
Younger and lighter eaters should also be pleased with the Chick'n Bites: cut segments of breast meat with your choice of good barbecue or
honey mustard sauce for dipping. Paying an extra buck for cheddar cheese sauce gets you a denser, though not necessarily better meal. "It's not the same as that queso sauce you see everywhere," the cashier said, but, aside from a paler color, it didn't seem that different; mostly it seemed like a bland and unnecessarily heavy blanket on the already fine chicken or fries.
Cheesiness also overwhelms the 'Shroom Burger, the signature vegetarian entree. Portabella fans may feel shortchanged by this preparation--a thin mushroom cap is slit and filled with bland Muenster and cheddar then fried with a thin crispy coating. It's a mushroom burger more suited to people who aren't fans of mushrooms than to those of us who are. (The cheese is mandatory--there are not vegan options.)
There are three varieties of floats and seven different shakes (more if you upgrade to malted). I loved the coffee shake--it went really well with the burger. And if you want a full-on dessert, the Shack offers several kinds of "concretes" (think DQ Blizzard), including the seasonal "Pie Oh My" made with chunks of Zingerman's pumpkin pie and the very chocolate Shack Attack with chunks of Zing Black Magic Brownies (super yummy). Well-displayed calorie counts can help keep the dive into self-indulgence from going too deep.
When you're in that beautiful naturally lit space on a Sunday afternoon, watching the big-screen Lions start their usual fourth-quarter "rally" (sigh) while teenage dates in Dexter Dreadnaught jackets are giggling nearby, it's nice to relax, take the cook's day off--and dig into a great sandwich and over-the-top concrete chaser. Shake Shack is the only place in town for that.
3030 Washtenaw (Arbor Hills Crossing)
Sandwiches $3.49-$10.29, sides $2.99-$6.99, shakes and desserts $3.89-$6.89.
[Originally published in December, 2019.]
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