Note: Shake Shack opened at the Mall of America on Thursday, and it's arguably the biggest restaurant leasing coup in the mall's 24-year history. (Let's face it, the competition -- Hard Rock Cafe, Benihana, Tony Roma's, Hooters -- isn't exactly steep, but that's beside the point). I visited the original Shake Shack in New York City for Burger Friday back in May 2014, so here's a truncated, updated version (find my original post here).
The burger: Restaurateur-to-end-all-restaurateurs Danny Meyer launched this fast-food phenomenon from a hot dog cart in Manhattan's Madison Square Park. Twelve years later, the company now operates 95 locations worldwide. (FYI: Meyer's empire, which has amassed a staggering 25 James Beard awards over the past 24 years, started a few blocks away at the Union Square Cafe in 1985).
The burger definitely occupies a berth on the upper end of the fast-food hierarchy. The patty was fresh and sizzling hot (the kitchen grills to a uniform medium) and spilling out from a soft, eggy bun. Plenty of melty American cheese was insinuating its way into the beef, the tomato slices actually boasted some flavor and juice (and a pleasingly deep red color) and the lettuce leaf was crisp and garden-fresh. The swipe of "Shack sauce" -- a proprietary concoction of what I'm guessing is some combination of ketchup, mustard, mayo and seasonings -- added rather than distracted from the overall taste sensation. The words "old-school" apply, in a very good way. Yes, a fine fast-food burger.
Price: $5.29 for a single patty with cheese, proof positive that eating well doesn't have to be an expensive proposition. Make it a double for $8.09.
Fries: Extra. After watching them come out of the fryer -- and getting showered by some pretty serious salt action -- I regretted not ordering a basket of the thick, crinkle-cut fries ($2.99), cut from Yukon potatoes. Next time, right?
Wisconsin terrritory: The shakes of the restaurant's name are crafted from the kitchen's own vanilla frozen custard. It's a Culver's-like product, only richer, milkier and less sugary. I indulged in the coffee version ($5.29). It was a wickedly creamy delight, and each slurp brimmed with a dark-roast bite.
Locally grown: It's refreshing to see that the company isn't just dropping in a factory-made widget of a restaurant into the Mall. Instead, this Shake Shack sports several distinct Minnesota qualities. The burgers' beef is being sourced from Revier Cattle Co. in Olivia, Minn., and the bar is tapping beers from Summit Brewing Co., Lift Bridge Brewing Co., Badger Hill Brewing, Brau Brothers and Grain Belt. The restaurant's walls are clad in Minnesota-sourced reclaimed barn wood.
Oh, and here's a sweet touch: there are two only-in-Minnesota concretes, which are Shake Shack's Blizzard-like blend of frozen custard and mixed-in goodies. "Butter Coffee Blend" spins butter-coffee caramel sauce and shortbread cookie into vanilla custard, and "Malt of America" blends peanut butter sauce, marshmallow sauce, crumbled sugar cone cookie and malt powder into vanilla custard. Singles are $4.69, doubles are $6.79.
Definitely order the latter, because Shake Shack donates 5 percent of "Malt of America" sales to Open Arms of Minnesota, which provides free nutritious meals for Twin Citians living with life-threatening illnesses.
Ready, set, go: I dropped by the megamall on Thursday to catch the opening hoopla. I counted 87 people patiently waiting in a queue when a spirited percussion band launched the first sale at 11 a.m. (Also in attendance: "Bizarre Foods" talking head Andrew Zimmern, doing the meet-and-greet thing that he does so very well).
One of the first enthusiasts in line was Kenny King of Minneapolis, with his family. He caught wind of the opening on Twitter, and headed over. "We love Shake Shack," he said. "We go to New York for work, and we always eat there. Now that it's here, we won't have to wait."
On the subject of waiting, check this out: King was probably five minutes past the moment when his credit card was swiped when his Shake Shack pager went off, alerting him to pick up his food. That's fast. It's roughly the same timing that I experienced during a recent visit to the company's outlet on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Minnesota's first Shake Shack is located on the edge of "Culinary on North," a vast food court on the third floor of the Mall's new north-side addition. (This particular Shake Shack is also the company's first mall location).
It's wedged between the new JW Marriott Hotel and the mall's new office tower, and it's something of a knockout, a sleek, airy, sunlight-filled space. Well done, Mall of America. Now if only the powers that be could lure more Shake Shack-like tenants to fill the place. Sorry, but Qdoba and Panda Express just don't cut it.
Foreshadowing: Here's what I wrote in 2014: "Since opening in Madison Square Park in 2004, the Shake Shack has sprouted an additional five Manhattan locations (none come close to the original's sublime setting), along with three in Philadelphia, three in Miami, three in Washington, D.C. and one in suburban New Jersey. A Texas outlet (in Austin) is planned for this year, and the company also operates a dozen overseas branches. A part of me would like to see a Shake Shack energizing a Minneapolis park -- Loring, maybe? -- but in the end I'd prefer to see a local operator in that position, following in the successful footsteps of Sea Salt Eatery, Sandcastle, Bread & Pickle and Tin Fish. Perhaps the powers-that-be behind the Mall of America’s $325 million expansion can latch onto the company's growth curve and lure the Shake Shack to the megamall. Can someone get on that, please?"
Address book: Mall of America (322 North Garden), Bloomington, 952-466-6056. Open 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at email@example.com. Burger Friday's regularly scheduled programming will return next week, with a (delicious) visit to Lowry Hill Meats.