Monday, September 23, 2013

Shake Shack (New York)

Burger reviewed: The Double Shack

Venue: Shake Shack

Date: 17 August 2013

Continuing on the Burger Friday Fellows journey around America, our next stop on tour is the Shake Shack.

If you like burgers and have not heard of Shake Shack then you might as well have been living under a rock. Nine years ago, New York's, and arguably the world's, hamburger landscape changed forever when an unassuming shack began serving up humanely raised 100% Angus beef.

Started by Danny Meyer in Washington Square Park in NYC, this little roadside burger cart grew into a hospitality group and a cultural phenom, and the rest is history. Since then, Shake Shacks have been popping up worldwide developing a market, alongside companies like Five Guys, into what is now known as the Better Burger market (i.e., above your McDonalds or Burger Kings, but below your gourmet burgers). As the Fellows like to dabble in cult phenoms, as well as food which falls into the Better Burger market, Shake Shack was high on our list of food to try in NYC. This and the fact that almost all of the fellows burger loving friends were continually yabbering about it before we left.

So while in NYC, the Fellows headed to the original Washington Square Park site on what was a glorious summers day to try the most talked about burger in the world to see if the hype lived up to the bite.

Greeted by a line curling around the Parks walkway, the Shack almost blends into the surrounding greenery, with the only give away being the connecting fairy lights and the hundreds of people mingling around in excitement. After about a 30 minute wait to order and another ten whilst it cooked, our food arrived.

In true Burger Friday tradition we ordered the signature Shack burger and decided to do it with a double pattie because, as with beef and beer, two is always better than one. The Shack burger is a 100% Angus beef pattie served with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles and a special Shack Sauce, all squeezed between a marshmallow-like soft bun.

The incredible simplicity of the ingredients listed above, belie the complexity of the flavourings and sensations that exploded in my mouth on that very first bite. While almost everyone I know has talked up this burger as being almost orgasmic, i had found it hard to believe the hype until I could taste it to prove it. So after that first bite, I was a believer. This is a great burger.

The burger literally melted into your mouth with every morsel, dissolving into a beefy and savoury remnant. I would say that this is without doubt the softest burger I have ever eaten. Think of velvety cake like substance that just happens to taste like burger.

While small in size, it was extremely rich in flavour and by the end I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed by choosing the double.

Although it may seem sacrosanct to criticise the burger, and that this act may cause Shack devotees to seek me out for directed acts of revenge, I did have some things I did not like about the burger.

The hero and the villain for me was the Angus beef pattie. Cooked to a perfectly juicy medium from reportedly ground fresh daily beef, it was so buttery soft that it hard to determine where it stood on the liquified to hockey puck pattie cooking ratio. For mine if it had an offsetting somewhat less soft bun, it would have been perfect. Ala the M&M effect. Or, alternativel,y with the bun it had, I would have liked to have seen the pattie charred to give some contrast in texture. (What's soft on the outside and hard on the inside? - maybe avocado?)

The super soft bun, plus the soft pattie meant that there was too much of the sameness, and towards the end of the burger it got a bit blah.

The other thing which I thought it could have also used was slightly more tang. Whilst the Shake Sauce was zesty, I found myself adding American mustard which was freely available from the condiments stand.

The accompanying chocolate shake and crinkle cut fries were both solid and a good addition to the burger, in flavour and at making sure my daily calorie intake was met in a single serving.

In light of the hype, and the overwhelming softness of the burger, I am going to dub this the Wayne Gretsky. Like Shake Shack, Gretsky is universally known as one of the all time greats. While it might be hard to argue that he was truly soft, rumour has it that whilst teams usually have an enforcer who fights your battles on the ice, Gretzky supposedly took it a bit further by having a bodyguard roam the rink just in case things got too out of hand. Regardless it is still a hall of fame burger and I can testify the hype.

If in New York, or a Shake Shack is near you (they are expanding at a rapid rate), definitively go try it out to see what the fuss is about for yourself.

Burger Friday rating: 42/50

Friday, September 13, 2013

Prospect Espresso

Burger Reviewed: the Prospects Burger

Venue: Prospect Espresso - 2A Prospect Hill Rd, Camberwell

Date: 15 July 2013

On a stereotypical Melbourne day - torrential downpour followed by blue skies and sunshine - we ventured to Prospect Espresso in Camberwell. Espresso is the type of cafe that makes a name for itself through word of mouth; the type of place that you could be forgiven for overlooking on your way past the many shopfronts on Burke Rd, but fortunately for us this place has started to make a name for itself in burger enthusiast circles. Needless to say, we were not disappointed.

In a world where first impressions count more so than ever before, we were greeted promptly by an energetic and bubbly waitress who quickly found us a seat at the large wooden communal table. A growing trend in Melbourne hospitality, the table dominates the d├ęcor but is complemented by a mixture of smaller tables. Although space is at a premium, it is a well organized layout which fits nicely with the rustic furniture and fittings. It has somewhat of a refurbished inner-city warehouse apartment feel to it and although quiet loud, it still has a homely and welcoming vibe.

Although Prospect Espresso receives rave reviews for it's coffee, we ventured to this cafe to sample the house burger - house minced beef, bacon, cheese, pickles, lettuce, chips and aioli for the fair price of $18. It came out in good speed for what was a busy Friday afternoon but most impressive was the presentation. While some of us here at Burger Friday prefer the look of a greasy, juicy, American-style burger, I am one who prefers the postcard burger. This would be right at the top of that list (unfortunately my camera work on the iPhone 5 doesn't do this justice). Credit must be given for the use of props; the inclusion of the traditional (albeit miniature) frying basket to hold the chips is a great look.

The burger was smaller than what we're used to, but what it lacked in size it made up for in flavour. The burger was cooked to perfection, it was charred on the outside trapping in the moisture and juices from the gelatinous pattie. The ground and hand pressed pattie was lightly season and while some might have preferred a bigger statement from the pattie (in terms of herbs and spices), the precise cooking makes this pattie a winner. Many outstanding patties have been ruined by the chef (or should i say cook), but this was mastery of a fry pan at its finest.

It didn't stop there though. The bacon was equally impressive as it was crispy and charred, with enough rind left on to provide a salty crunch. While no one wants a pork belly rasher of bacon (i.e., 90% fat), the burger does benefit from having some of the natural fat stay on the bacon. This was evident here as the saltiness of the bacon balanced tang from the aioli. This rivals the Trunk Diner for best use of bacon on a burger - a real pleasure.

When you have two genuine stars like the pattie and the bacon, you can be forgiven for overlooking the other accompaniments. There was nothing to fault with these, the lettuce was crisp and the pickles provided a nice savoury touch. They were able contributors to a two starred attack, not too dissimilar to Jack Gunston or Pau Puopolo to the Hawthorn attack.

I have already touched on the presentation of the chips, but it is one thing to look impressive, it is another thing altogether to meet (and exceed) those expectations. These chips were top-notch. Golden brown, crunchy, seasoned yet fluffy and light in the middle. They were perfectly suited to the aioli which was fresh and light.

My only real gripe with this burger was the absence of a boutique beer, or any beer for that matter, to wash it down with. Hardly relevant in our culinary quest to find Melbourne's best burger, particularly given the number of licensed venues in close proximity, but there is something extra special about a soothing ale to accompany a delicious meal.

I had some difficulty, and agonised long and hard, as to who I would liken this burger to. Ultimately, I settled on Daniel Geale. The little known Australian boxer (which is changing quickly) is a no-nonsense, honest and rugged fighter. Where the likes of Mundine have polarised the Australian boxing public, Geale is a contemporary gentleman in a sport that is characterised by ego, salesmanship and bravado. Although he recently lost his IBF world title, he retained his humility and will be back fighting in those ranks before too long. Like Geale, the Espresso burger is understated and unpretentious and also has the potential to be a household name on the burger circuit. A relative unknown; it won't last for long.

Do yourself a favour and go sample this burger now. You will not be disappointed.

Burger Friday Rating: 41/50

Prospect Espresso on Urbanspoon