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Shake Shack vs Mikey’s Burgers

May 8, 2011

So having slowly migrated back up through the mid-Atlantic to New York, I’ve picked up a taste for a variety of regional foods. While I’ll be sure to talk about various southern foods and of course barbecue at some point soon, today I’d like to focus on one of the few high points of Washington DC; burgers. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, or just no where near the East Coast, there has been a burger revolution that has centered itself in what I lovingly refer to as the Capital Wasteland.

Everyone by now is familiar with Five Guys, the family-run business that has now exploded into a massive national franchise with one of the most intense expansion clauses for a restaurant of their size (I believe it is 5 within 3 years for each franchisee). People in the District however can indulge in all manner of delicious burgers: BGR is in every major population center, then Z-Burger aka Five Guys with Shakes, Good Stuff Eatery, Rogue State until some touchy lawyers had it shut down, and that most heavenly of all places Ray’s Hell Burger. Of course, these are just places in DC that make burgers their specialty. There are countless other places that serve a massive menu that also have fantastic burgers. Leaving behind these fantastic and cheap gourmet burgers was a pain that was almost too hard to bear when I left DC. Granted, in exchange I get a dizzying array of ethnic foods as well as being able to finally have good pizza and bagels again. Still, when one wants a burger well, you need a good burger.

When I first arrived in New York City, I discovered that my immediate area is devoid of such burgers. The best one in the area, I was told repeatedly, is DuMont Burger and frankly they have yet to impress me for their price point (a 12 dollar burger should be the size of my face and covered in bone marrow DuMont). Luckily, Manhattan has a few good places creeping about, such as the silently ever-expanding Mikey’s, and of course fairly priced Shake Shack.

Mikey’s burgers offers a tight-knit lunch counter atmosphere where everything you order will be fresh. With the base burger being roughly five dollars and made literally within your sight, you’ll begin to add their small offerings of delicious things like chili or corned beef hash. For three dollars you walk away with enough fries to make you worry about your arteries, and they too are delicious and lovingly seasoned. The true great thing here though are their more exotic burgers, the lamb burger is generally kept up all the time while the duck and fish rotate in and out depending on the day. All of these carry with them special toppings that are clearly carefully planned to bring out the flavors of the meat. Finally, they offer a number of fantastic shakes and floats that are about as expensive as one of their burgers. The one last thing to write home about Mikey’s is that they keep a nice lightly spiced mayo, a homemade ketchup that also has a little bit of heat, and finally none other than the mother of all spicy sauces itself, Sriricha, all on the tables and counters. In my opinion, what more could I ask of a burger place?

“Frozen Custard and Booze!” Is what I imagine an anthropomorphic Shake Shack would shout. I decided that Shake Shack would also enter into my places to try after I discovered that they had been exploding across New York City, and apparently produce tasty enough food to console Mets Fans. With several locations sprinkled cautiously in hot spots of New York, I ended up ducking into the one with indoor seating one February evening (and several times since) in the Theater District (NW corner 44th and 8th). The first thing I realized as I stood out in the cold while an employee in a coat was handing out menus was that Shake Shack is not a place to dally. You should know what you’re ordering when you get up there because they give you ample opportunity between the menus being passed down the generally long bust fast moving line to the wall-sized menu to decide on what you want. Furthermore seating is tight, so I suggest you go in a group and have someone steal a table as soon as there’s space available.

On my first go around I was fairly hungry, grabbing a plain burger, “Shack-cago” Dog, fries, and a Sixpoint Diesel (the other option was a specially made for them Brooklyn brew, Shake Shack you know how to score points). I knew that I had struck gold when I found myself trying not to bite my hand as I devoured the plain burger. The meat was fantastic; clearly hand-packed, light pink in the middle, with a slight greasiness to it that added that extra deliciousness only brought on by fat. The fries are a great crinkle-cut that are crispy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside, which is in my opinion the perfect fry consistency. Best of all, despite the burger having a slight greasiness, the fries were dry and lightly salted with no lingering grease to them. Sadly though, their attempt to deliver the Chicago dog goes to show why mastering the hot dog as a sandwich is something Americans need to work harder at. The taste was uneven; there were peppers jutting out in the wrong places causing some bites to be extra spicy while others were overly sweet because of the relish and potato roll. Luckily the burger and Sixpoint were able to wash away this horror from my mind. On return trips, I’ve found myself going for the Shack Burger with their rich and creamy shack sauce along with fries or just an Arnold Palmer or fresh squeezed lemonade. My few dips into their near endless pool of cold treats have been extremely rewarding though can be tough on the wallet if combined with a meal. As warmer weather begins to creep up on us, I’m sure a nice walk through Union Square might be accompanied by a cold concrete or malted or shake from that location while the burger is eschewed as too heavy for the heat.

Which to pick though? This is titled ‘vs’ implying some sort of competition with a winner. Sadly, it comes down to preference. Would you prefer a simple menu that is going to give you exactly what you expect along with an adult beverage or thick shake? Or do you like to occasionally adventure into the more experimental depths of burgers, and think a little bit of heat can improve any meal especially if paired with a classic root beer float? Location might also be a factor, Shake Shack keeps itself in the respectable and nice parts of town (Theater District, Union Square, Citi Field). While Mikey’s clearly knows who it’s catering to with their location wedged next to Iggy’s Bar on Ludlow, and now with another location in Gramercy on 3rd Ave. If you’re from out of town, in the area, or just want something simple but solid go to Shake Shack. But if you’re adventuring through the lower east side and your possibly chemically lowered inhibitions make you crave a lamb patty satay style with onions, jalapenos, and mint, than Mikey’s has your back.

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From → Restaurants

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