In the late 1960s, when restaurant meals were less common and restaurant hamburgers were an even bigger treat, my grandmother would pile us grandkids in her sedan and head to what she called a drive-in restaurant.
There, at an outdoor picnic table, we'd be treated to griddle-cooked hamburgers and frosty bottles of soda followed by ice cream cones. They'd run down our wrists in the heat of summer.
I was reminded of all this on the patio at the new Shake Shack in Boca Raton, where Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group encapsulates my childhood memory with a flawless restaurant experience. Shake Shack was born a dozen years ago as a summertime hot dog cart in New York's Madison Square Park. This is the third South Florida location after Miami Beach and Coral Gables, but you can find Shake Shacks in Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, along with London and Dubai.
Shake Shack operates with the kind of efficiency that comes from multiple locations and a training system that turns college kids into skillful "team members." Why can't more restaurants do the same?
The brand-new building on the east side of University Commons looks almost like a silo from the Glades Road side. Facing the parking lot, however, is a big patio with a menu board mounted on the wall. This is where the lines start and, yes, there have been nothing but lines since Shake Shack opened in April.
ShackBurgers ($4.85/single, $7.45/double) are made with vegetarian-fed, hormone-and-antibiotic-free Angus beef. The patties are cooked on a very hot griddle, topped with cheese and then placed on the softest Martin's potato roll before lettuce, tomato and mayo-based ShackSauce are added.
The ratio of bun to burger is perfect. The toppings complement instead of overwhelm each bite. But if you don't like the soft texture that comes from griddle cooking, this burger won't appeal to you. I like this one.
Unlike most burger restaurants, Shake Shack doesn't offer dozens of topping choices and relishes. There's a cheeseburger called SmokeShack ($6.30/single, $8.90/double) with Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon, chopped cherry pepper and ShackSauce. The vegetarian 'Shroom Burger ($6.95) is excellent, with a crispy fried portobello mushroom filled with melted Muenster and cheddar cheeses that ooze as you bite. The Shack Stack ($8.95) is a combination cheeseburger/'Shroom burger. A basic hamburger costs $3.85, or $5.95 for a double patty.
I recommend looking at the menu online and writing down your order before arriving.
Aside from burgers, there are five hot dogs ($4-$4.40) — split and griddle-crisped — and I was reminded of how long it's been since I've had a Vienna all-beef dog when I was overwhelmed by salt. The dogs can be had Chicago-style or with sauerkraut or cheese sauce.
Crinkle-cut Yukon potato fries ($2.70) are the only side item, and they clearly are freshly fried.
Wash all this goodness down with a draft beer: the ShackMeister Ale ($5.50/15-ounce), made for Shack Shake by Brooklyn Brewery. Napa Valley's Frog's Leap Winery supplies the wine ($7.50-$8.50 per glass).
It wouldn't be right to come here and not indulge in frozen custard. Along with vanilla and chocolate, flavors of the day include black-and-white cookie and oatmeal crème pie. A single-dip cone costs $3.45, but you can create your own custard creations, called concretes, with such mix-ins as cheesecake blondie, fudge sauce and marshmallow sauce.
The Glades Donuts concrete ($4.25/half, $6.50/ regular) features vanilla custard, glazed caked doughnuts from the Sugar Monkey bakery in West Palm Beach, peanut-butter sauce and chocolate toffee. Five percent of sales goes to Boca's Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.
1400 Glades Road, Boca Raton (also Miami Beach and Coral Gables)