Although the Shake Shack on the Upper West Side was scheduled to open today, it already opened during the weekend. Its owners, Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, had been a bit coy about announcements, one assumes in the hopes of a) not giving any one journalist a jump on the story and b) generating as much excitement as possible.
The powers that be gave me a walk-through of the new Shack last week. Well before it took place, we continued our "Why do you serve frozen french fries when you know fresh are better?" debate. When I saw Danny Meyer at a book party last week he gave me his best "I'm a smoother politician than Barack Obama" answer; he said, "Because people love our french fries."
While it is true that people love just about any french fries except for the ones made with potato particles, that's not the point. The Union Square Hospitality Group would never sell frozen french fries at the Union Square Cafe. Why? Because the ultra-classy organization knows deep down in their food soul that fresh french fries are way better. They have very high standards and they know what good is, but they've obviously made a business decision I don't happen to agree with.
The debate continues at my walk-through after the jump. But even at this point I want to know: Do you agree with me that the Shake Shack french fries should be fresh and not frozen?
The Union Square Hospitality Group graciously gave me a tour of the brand spanking new Shake Shack in the old Jacque Imo's (and before that, the Museum Cafe). When I left home to walk over (the new location is four blocks from house), my wife called out to me, "So, you're going to your new home away from home in the neighborhood." Busted, as they say. Frozen french fries or not, I will be an all too frequent visitor to the UWS Shake Shack.
When I got there, Shack Shack's Randy Garutti and I continued the good-natured french fry joust. "I just left my doctor's office and the receptionist said to me, 'You're going to have those great Yukon Gold french fries at the new place, aren't you?'" When I pressed Randy on the issue he said, "I've been thinking about this a lot because I knew you were coming. I'd rather have a good consistent frozen french fry like ours than inconsistent fresh french fries that are sometimes great and sometimes not."
Who wouldn't, Randy? At that point we both started to laugh. I did feel compelled to point out that space at the new Shack Shack wasn't an issue—there was plenty room in the big kitchen to fry up french fries from scratch—but I wasn't going to win this battle either by knockout or on points. I decided to move on.
When I finally got the tour, I immediately noticed the cool new gadgets they have equipped the new Shake Shack with:
- A hamburger bun toaster that toasts a buttered hamburger bun in ten seconds (no more wasted time or griddle space given over to hamburger buns)
- A hot dog bun steamer they discovered on a trip to classic Chicago hot dog joints like Superdawg
- A high-tech griddle that sears the burgers to a golden brown in under two minutes
- A three-barreled custard maker that allows them to make vanilla, chocolate, and the flavor of the day at the same time
I even got to have a cheeseburger and an order of fries. The cheeseburger cooked on the new griddle was magnificent, fantastically well-caramelized, juicy and beefy even though it was medium, and it had the trademark Shake Shack salty crust.
The french fries? Psst—I kind of liked them. They were golden-brown, crunchy, and crispy and golden brown on the outside, kind of tender on the inside, and again, they had plenty of the Shake Shack's not-so-secret-weapon, salt. I could be churlish and say they weren't fresh, but what's the point?
There was no custard to be had. I guess I'm going to have to wait on line with everyone else for that. Here's some news: The new non-food line is called the C-line, and unlike at the original location's B-line, here you can even get shakes on it.
My wife's right: Even with the frozen french fries, the UWS Shake Shack is going to be my new home away from home. But I'm still not giving up on the fresh french fry issue. So Danny and all you other nice, gracious folks at the Union Square Hospitality Group, beware—this isn't over. And don't be surprised if I bring my own fresh french fries from the neighborhood (Nice Matin's are excellent) to accompany my cheeseburger and custard.
366 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY 10024 (b/n 77th and 78th; map)