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.

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.

The steakburger, "all the way"

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