Down the block from where I went to culinary school is Madison Square Park.
I certainly loved this place.It was a great place to hang out and relax amidst the kinetic energy of the city. I always used it as a meeting place for me and my friends before we’d go out to dinner or whatever fun thing struck our fancy. But MOST importantly, it was and is home to the Shack.
Allow me to explain:
I’d like to think that I was in Manhattan more or less at the start of the burger wars (yes yes, if you come here now you will see what I mean). First came the exclusive chichi burgers like the now oft copied DB Bistro Modern version: a burger stuffed with short ribs and foie gras, on a homemade bun. Yeah, I’ve had the good fortune of trying it.. it most certainly was a mouthful! Yummy even, but a bit overwhelming. For me, something to order once and then that’s it.
After that came all the big players coming up with their riff on the classic. One of them was Danny Meyer.
If there is anything that this guy knows what to do, it’s feed people very well. The owner of Union Square Hospitality Group, which several of the city’s top restaurants (like Union Square Cafe and Blue Smoke), he is definitely on top of his game. So what does he do? Open a burger place named Shake Shack in the middle of busy Madison Square Park.
Not just any burger joint, but one with his touch. The stand itself is specially designed to blend in with the rest of the park. His meat is from a man named Pat LaFrieda, a meat purveyor who’s fresh burger mix is the beef of choice among the burger cognoscenti. The Shack people use the freshest ingredients, make their own frozen custards (richer than ice cream!) and shakes, Chicago style hot dogs, fries,have great beers .. even good wine! BURGER HEAVEN.
Mix all this goodness and positive vibes, and you know what happens next, of course: lines snaking through the park. Despite it being overhyped, it was an instant success, and it still is - so much so that he opened other locations: one in the Upper West Side and one in a baseball stadium.
There are few things as satisfying as sitting in a table under the trees of the park savoring your juicy, burger.. enveloped in the loving arms of a crunchy bun. My other fave was the ‘Shroom burger, a.. ahem.. vegetarian creation: a breaded and seasoned portabello mushroom with fresh muenster and cheddar on a bun. Better yet, you could have them BOTH on a sandwich called a Double Stack (Well, I never tried that - my mouth ain’t big enough! It DID look quite good though..) Hotdogs were interesting, especially if you asked for a Chicago style dog which is “dragged through the garden” -- which basically meant topping it with all sorts of stuff like home made relish, tomatoes pickles, peppers and cucumbers. Yes, cucumbers. Not for everyone,maybe.. I’m a hot mustard and peppers fan myself. But it was definitely tasty, and worthy of a go when in the mood.
Another cool Meyer touch: on their website is a Shack Cam which you can view to see if the lines are too long. Isn’t that sweet of them? How can you not want to come for a visit? :)
It’s not my all time fave (I’m still a Taylor’s Refresher fan at heart), but I really really like it. And the locals? They are rabidly loyal. You’ll see why when you visit.
SHAKE SHACK Madison Square Park
SE Corner of Madison Square Park, near Madison Ave. & East 23rd St.
366 Columbus Ave. @ 77th St.
Citifield, Home of the New York Mets