Philadelphia: Cake Shakes and Round Burgers at Square Burger
200 N 6th Street, Philadelphia PA 19106 (map)
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A fancier version of McDonald's Quarter Pounder
Want Fries With That? They're decent, but there's nothing exemplary about them.
Price: Classic Cheeseburger, $4.75; fries, $2; Cake Shake, $4.75
In the middle of Franklin Square Park—behind a fountain and squeezed in between an overpriced carousel and a mediocre Putt-Putt course—there's a small hut that serves up burgers, hot dogs, fries, shakes, and desserts. It doesn't look like anything special (and if it weren't for an "order" sign you probably wouldn't even know that it served food), but if you read all the press it gets online, you'd swear that Stephen Starr's Shake Shack wannabe, Square Burger, serves up a burger whose creation rivals the invention of sliced bread.
If you can imagine a McDonald's burger assembled with care and quality ingredients, you would basically end up with the classic cheeseburger at Square Burger. Built on the familiar Martin's potato roll, the 4-ounce patty is a proprietary 80/20 beef blend sourced from Indian Ridge Provisions. Topped with American cheese, generous dollops of ketchup and mustard, and diced onions and pickles, it really is, more or less, a glorified quarter-pounder.
Important to note, I was not given the option of how well done I wanted my burger. After getting thrown on griddle, the patties all come back uniform in cross-sectional, done through and through. The patty is pretty average, certainly "beefier" in texture than most fast food offerings, but in terms of flavor, you don't really taste much past the mish-mash of pickles, ketchup, and mustard. Overall, the burger isn't awful, but is it really worth $4.75? Not really, especially considering the size.
As for all the great press they got after opening last year, did something change? I just don't get it. It's a scaled up version of McD's at four times the cost.
The story is pretty much the same with the fries. They're not bad, but they're nothing to write home about. Again, they remind me of the fries from a certain place with golden arches. They're moderately thin and wispy fries that afford a decent outer crunch. They're a good complement to a burger, but not worthy of standalone eating.
You're probably wondering, "Why are you writing about a place that serves overpriced and merely 'okay' burgers and fries?" Oh, because even though Square Burger falls short of most expectations (it really is just a failed attempt at mimicking Shake Shack), they do have one thing on their menu that is beyond words...
CAKE SHAKE. It doesn't matter if you're having a down day and need a sugar pick-me-up or if you're trying to kill yourself with heart disease—you need to try this shake. What is a cake shake you ask? Start with a base of vanilla ice cream, add in half-and-half (not milk), shove a package of Tastykake's butterscotch Krimpets inside, and blend the crap out of it while adding more butterscotch syrup. Aw yeah. Check out those bits of cake floating around in there. While it sounds over the top, it... okay it actually is. That doesn't change the fact that it tastes phenomenal and is entirely the perfect pairing to dip fries into.
I think it's pretty clear what I think of Square Burger: decent burgers and fries at elevated prices that will probably have you hungry pretty quickly, but home to an indescribably good shake that will probably shave years off your life.
About the author: Some people enjoy things like long walks on the beach, a good book, funny movies, and good conversation. Nicholas prefers hamburgers, the internet, Twinkies, and Maru the Cat. Read about things that he likes eating on his blog My Inner Fatty.