In Spite of Letterman's Love Letter to Steak 'N Shake, Actual Food Disappoints

Figuratively speaking, David Letterman blew the chain in Macy's (or maybe we should say Marshall Field's) window.


The city has seen a recent influx of fast-food chains from other places, the most recent being Steak 'n Shake, specializing in the elemental combination of hamburgers ("steak," in hype parlance), french fries, and milkshakes. The city of origin is Chicago, as with the recently arrived Potbelly. The place is located at the north end of Times Square, next door to the Ed Sullivan Theater, where Letterman is taped. Almost two weeks ago, just as it opened, David Letterman -- ever the Midwesterner -- shamelessly touted the place in a lengthy comic segment.


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Chocolate shake, fries, "steak frank," and steakburger at Steak 'n Shake Times Square. But there's virtually no place inside to eat them.


The segment got me excited to try the food, so I biked up there yesterday. Yes, the place is gleaming and new, but so small that there is space for only around 10 to sit and eat, and another five or six to eat standing up. This despite three cash registers and lots of cooks on the line. Clearly, takeout is the main objective.

I'd scoped out the chain's usual menu online, and was most excited to try the Chicago-style hot dog. Unfortunately, when I saw the menu at the Times Square branch, it was severely curtailed, with some of the most interesting stuff unavailable -- including the Chicago dog. This is a dick move on the chain's part, since the Chicago-style hot dog is one of the few things missing from NYC's foodscape (Shake Shack's rendition notwithstanding).

There are two main hamburger choices, styled "The Original" (two eighth-pound patties, $3.99) and "The Signature" (one six-ounce patty, said to be made with organic rib eye and New York strip steaks, $5.99). Both come with fries. I went for the latter. The meat had a somewhat odd flavor, not like actual steak, but slightly off. It was nicely cooked, though, faintly pink in the middle, and topped with ripe tomato, lettuce, American cheese, good pickle, and raw onion. (Letterman's fantasy that he could smell fried onions was apparently a hallucination on his part.) The hamburger turned out to be the best part of my meal.


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The steakburger, "all the way"


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7 comments
Christian Hopps
Christian Hopps

I recently had a double with cheese onion mustard and mayo w/ Fries. I found the burger delicious as well as the fries. The fries blow away McD's IMO. But, my GF ordered the original no changes and her burger was cold. We found this bizarre since there were like 10 people working the line about 10 customers at the time. So Hit and Miss seems to be the story here.

Karin Rosner
Karin Rosner

I tried it. I had seen their employment ad for "spokesmodels" to work the counter, and on my visit, the black girl in your photo (who was also on the far left in the Letterman segment) was working the register. The food was a step-up above the other chains, and I have the same complaint about the chocolate shake I bought, along with an icy mess at the bottom - it wasn't blended enough. However, the wait was half the time of Shake Shack, and the cost was cheaper. I loved the skiny fries. I hope they ditch the spokesmodels cashier concept - this really bothers me.

Adam Kuban
Adam Kuban

I've had the Signature Steakburger a couple times now, to better or lesser results. First time I had it, it was great. Juicy, flavorful, and almost Shake Shack-esque. Second time, still good, but less juicy. The fries are bad. Last time I went, I tried to order the Steakburger without them. They complied and knocked about 20 cents off my order, but they still ended up putting fries in the bag. I'm actually a fan of McDonald's fries, and these are no substitute.

I don't know about the hot dogs. To me, going to Steak 'n Shake and getting a hot dog is like going to a steakhouse and ordering chicken. But you're right: They should do a Chicago dog if only to offer it as a unique item.

They made a lot of noise about that stupid Coke fountain there. BFD. I was in a Duane Reade the other day that had one. If Duane Reade has something, you automatically lose the right to position it as a WOWGEEWHIZ WONDER.

Also: SnS is headquartered in Indianapolis. The first one was in Normal, Illinois, roughly in the middle of the state and a bit away from Chicago, though there do seem to be a number of SnS in greater Chicagoland, if not the city proper.

Blah blah blah.

Tim
Tim

Steak 'n Shake is a Midwestern chain, to be sure, but none are located in Chicago...

Herbert
Herbert

You didn't put ketchup on that hot dog. 

Jerry S
Jerry S

Chicago folk (despite their horrendous deep dish pizza), actually have standards for their food

reader
reader

1. Then what's that red stuff in the photo (on the side of the frank opposite the yellow stuff)?A) He didn't, it was put on in the kitchen. :p Which raises* the question, why do they give you the hot dog with ketchup and alleged mustard on it instead of letting you put whatever you want on it?

*It does not beg the question.

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