First Taste

So, What's the Big Deal With Shake Shack? Beats Us.

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Shake Shack  
Location: 7014 East Camelback Road, Scottsdale
Open: Less than a week
Eats: Burgers, hot dogs, fries, shakes
Price: $10+/person 

Unless you live under a rock, you've probably heard of Shake Shack. The fast-growing chain of burger joints started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in New York City; it's since expanded to include more than 30 locations all over the country and globe, the newest of which you'll find on the northwest corner of Scottsdale and Camelback roads. Until last Friday, metro Phoenix residents wanting a taste of the Shack's famous burgers and shakes had to drive to Las Vegas. Now, they can experience the hottest burger in the country right in their own backyard. 

At any given time, Shake Shack fanatics can hop on the restaurant's website to see a live view of the line (because, apparently, there's always a line) outside the original Madison Square Park restaurant — a queue that, by the way, can sometimes be hours long when New York weather lends itself to standing outside and waiting for a cheeseburger. At the Scottsdale restaurant, there's no camera, but you might find a line. On our late-night visit Monday, we waited almost a half-hour to place our order at the Shake Shack altar. 

On the upside, the wait gave us time to familiarize ourselves with the menu, having never dined at one of these fetishized restaurants before. Burgers at Shake Shack range from the basic ShackBurger® and Hamburger to somewhat more complex creations including SmokeShack™, a burger topped with applewood smoked bacon, chopped cherry pepper, and the spot's signature ShackSauce. And hot dogs — touted for being made with 100 percent all-natural Vienna beef — come dressed Chicago-style or plain, with the option to order a Chicken Dog (though that's a downright un-American option, if you ask us). 

By the time we'd made our selections, we still had plenty of time to wait, which we used to check out (read: stare at) the interior of the shiny new restaurant. Valley residents may remember when this particular space at Scottsdale Fashion Square mall used to house Sam Fox's stunning Modern Steak restaurant, a spot that may have shuttered but was hands down one of the most impressively designed eateries to ever exist in this town. Well, Shake Shack doesn't even come close to living up to its predecessor's style. It's a surprisingly stark and somewhat dark space decorated with snazzy wood paneling and picnic-style tables that may have been intended to create an outdoors-y, dining-in-the-park sort of vibe but end up feeling like more cheap patio furniture.

When we finally stepped up to the counter to place our order, we had a clear view into the Shake Shack kitchen — as in, the place where from which the magical burgers come. We scanned the stainless steel-covered space expecting to see something . . . special, something worthy of waiting to pay for and waiting then even more time to actually eat. What we found instead was a typical fast-food restaurant scene: employees dumping bags of frozen French fries into a deep fryer and pumping cheese sauce into tiny plastic cups. 

Still, we forged ahead in our maiden Shake Shack voyage ordering a single ShackBurger®, Chick'n Shack™, Shack-cago Dog®, fries with a side of cheese sauce, and a CamelShack custard concrete — all for the sake of thorough reporting, naturally. 

Some 10 minutes later, we found ourselves facing down a full spread of Shake Shack offerings. 
We started with the burger. The single ShackBurger® is about as basic a burger as they come: a 100 percent all-natural Angus beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce, assuming you order it straight off the menu. The patty was thin, almost so thin as to be imperceptible to the naked eye when tucked under the cover of lettuce and sliced tomato, but it did offer the distinctly beefy flavor that can only come from well-raised, quality beef. The hearty potato bun was even better, toasted to a golden yellow on the inside and not excessively fluffy. We could hardly detect the ShakeSauce at all, making this a solid — if ultimately underwhelming — burger experience. 

The chicken sandwich suffered from the same issues. While the crispy batter was nicely seasoned and the thick chicken breast was tender and moist, the toppings of lettuce, pickle, and herb mayo failed to raise this sandwich above even Chick-fil-A standards. And we could hardly find the split and griddled hot dog under the layers of relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, sport pepper, celery salt, and mustard. With the addition of the thick, potato roll bun, this hot dog looked more like a vegetarian dish than an All-American classic. 
Finally, it was time to dig into our carton of previously frozen crinkle-cut fries. These were perhaps the biggest disappointment of all. The fries lacked the exterior crunch that comes when fresh potatoes get dipped in hot oil, and after just a few minutes of sitting on our table, the entire order became hard and cold. And the accompanying side of cheese sauce quickly established a rather unappetizing plastic sheen. The cheese sauce flavor was also somewhat puzzling; we detected a subtle hint of something that reminded us distinctly of breakfast sausage. 

Despite the underwhelming savory offerings, we couldn't resist a bite or two of our Camelback custard concrete, which didn't entirely disappoint. Creamy, rich vanilla custard mixed with pieces of chocolate and banana flavor, though we didn't detect the salted caramel sauce advertised on the menu. 

By the end of our meal, we were certainly satisfied, though not necessarily excited about the Valley's newest burger eatery. We've had better cheeseburgers elsewhere (including at In-N-Out, where we don't have to exit the car to get our fix and can do so at a significantly lower price point) and better Chicago-style dogs at spots such as Chicago-based Portillo's. Maybe there's something we're missing, but when it comes to Shake Shack, all we can say is we just don't get it.  
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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria