We are big fans of Danny Meyer and his restaurant group, so when we started going to the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park many years ago we had high hopes that for once somebody would bring the frozen custard I grew up with to the NYC area. What started as a cart in Madison Square Park in 2001, then a kiosk in 2004, is now a multinational chain. This New Jersey location is part of that multinational expansion.
In sum, here is my assessment of this Shake Shack -- it's a mixed bag, not unlike the other locations we've visited, and I wish Karl Kopp would have acted on my plea to bring Kopp's Frozen Custard to the NJ/NYC area! Here are the pros and cons to Shake Shack ...
Great cheeseburgers. Some folks say they are greasy, but they're proper cheeseburgers which necessitates a delicious fattiness. They have nice soft buns, are cooked beautifully and include fresh toppings and a great sauce.
Crinkle cut fries. Thankfully Shake Shack listened to the masses and went back to their crinkle cut fries -- get them with cheese sauce.
The place gets cleaned continuously. Unlike other "fast food" establishments I often see a staff person washing tables and Windows, etc.
They have good root beer on tap. It's Abita, which I was not familiar with, but it's lovely.
Local elements. Every Shake Shack that I know of includes some menu items that are in some way connected to the specific location. At this location, for example, you can get a "concrete" (frozen custard with mixins) called the "Bergen County Blend" that is made with Balthazar Bakery sticky buns , among other things, and donates 5% of sales from this item to a local charity. Other local elements include that the walls are made with wood salvaged from a NJ barn.
They try to do some good, sustainable stuff. They source a lot of ingredients from farms and ranches that practice more ethical, sustainable ways. They also work to reduce waste.
The staff are often disorganized. This has been our experience at other Shake Shacks, too, and it is perplexing to me since one of the things we love about Danny Meyer restaurants is that we can always count on excellent service. While at times they can be efficient, it is never surprising that they are not here. Today I came in to get some takeout burgers and fries and they got my order wrong. They were quick to refund me the incorrect item, add the correct one and send me off with more food than I ordered to make up for it, which was appreciated.
The frozen custard. It's better than what usually passes for frozen custard in this area, but it just isn't as good as the stuff in Milwaukee. Shake Shack uses the correct kind of frozen custard machines (they don't show them prominently in this store) -- "real" frozen custard is not made in a soft serve ice cream machine, fyi. I actually get frozen custard shipped to me from WI and have compared it to a pint I pick up from this location and even with being shipped across country in dry ice, the Milwaukee stuff has better flavor and texture and after-taste. Shake Shack's flavors-of-the-day somehow just have not been wonderful -- since I'm a consumer and not a chef, I don't know why, but their special flavors don't seem balanced and integrated like the special flavors I can get at Kopp's. Still, if you don't hold it up to my Milwaukee standards, it's not bad. I would recommend you try a vanilla concrete with marshmallow sauce and banana here (my own concoction).
They don't serve breakfast. There are a few Shake Shacks that do serve breakfast (like the one at Grand Central and JFK and a couple of others), so I'm hoping that this location will expand their menu and hours to include breakfast for all of the folks driving down Rte. 17 who could use a great breakfast sandwich!
All in all, you can get a really good higher end fast-food meal here, sometimes with a few glitches, and with good (albeit not Milwaukee standards) frozen custard.
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