ShackBurger, Shake Shack

It’s been open since November, but you’ll still find a line at the River North outpost of New York restaurant mogul Danny Meyer’s burger chain. OK, the lines aren’t the Biblical-length ones you’ll see on spring afternoons in Madison Square Park, the ones that make New Yorkers look like hordes of starving refugees, but we midwesterners sure seem to like our new Shake Shack. Unlike the overrated Umami Burger, Shake Shack makes more than just a nominal attempt at fitting in, serving Vienna Beef hot dogs, a Publican Quality Meats pork sausage, and incorporating ingredients from Vosges, Glazed and Infused, and Bang Bang Pie Shop for its concretes. But the lauded ShackBurger and its variants are a legitimate draw.

The signature burger is a less-sloppy version of the typical southern-California-style burger popularized by In-N-Out. It’s a style I generally dislike, mainly for the Thousand Island-style “spread” that slicks the whole thing down, sending its constituent parts squirting out of the bun.

But the patty itself is a delightfully crusty smashed burger, said to be inspired by Steak ‘n Shake, a style that’s uniquely midwestern as pointed out by Friend of the Food Chain Titus Ruscitti. Maybe that’s why we’re so keen on Shake Shack. It has a powerfully good beefiness that Umami’s unadorned patties don’t even approach. A blend of chuck, sirloin, and brisket, it’s pure umami without all the distracting bells and whistles, contrasted with tomato, crisp, lettuce, a judicious application of the tart and creamy sauce, and a soft, squishy bun with the structural integrity to hold it all together without disintegrating. You can order singles ($4.95) and doubles ($7.65) and if the signature formulation isn’t to your liking, you can have it your way, or order an equally appealing SmokeShack, topped with cheese, sauce, bacon, and piquant chopped cherry peppers ($6.45/$9.15), or order a single topped with the vegetarian mushroom burger $6.90).

SmokeShack, Shake Shack

The Publican pork sausage is terrific; it’s fat, coarsely ground, and topped with cheddar-and-American cheese sauce and crispy fried shallots, a good value at $5. They do a respectable Chicago-style dog, with a kind of pureed relish ($4). The custards are powerfully thick and rich, and best expressed in the concretes like vanilla with bananas and Glazed and Infused salted caramel donut chunks, or vanilla and chocolate with chunks of Bang Bang’s s’more pie. And then there’s a wide range of non alcoholic liquid and proprietary Shake Shack beers and wine to wash everything down. And dog treats.

The one thing I don’t get is the appeal of Shack Shack’s crinkle-cut fries. They’re terrible; cottony, larval nothings fried from a frozen state, that take me straight back to the elementary school cafeteria where they were commonly deployed in air strikes. The Shake Shack overlords seem to understand this too. A few years back they tried to replace them with fresh-cut fries and nearly incited a riot.

It’s hard for me to justify waiting in line for anyone’s burger. But at least the line for Shake Shack’s moves briskly.

Shake Shake

Shake Shack, 66 E. Ohio, 312-667-1701,